Dat The Carter Family en A.P. Carter in het bijzonder een grote rol in de muzikale carrière van Bill Clifton heeft gespeeld zal ondertussen wel duidelijk zijn want Bill praat veel over zowel A.P. Carter als The Carter Family in deze reeks interviews. Dat gesprek gaat ook in dit deel gewoon verder. Nu over datgene wat Bill Clifton bewoog om A.P. op te gaan zoeken nadat Bill geleerd had dat A.P. niet overleden was…
Undertaking to visit A.P. Carter
I would take that ‘Keep on the Sunny Side’. All my sisters got to know it very well. And they never asked me to take it off, they never did. They always enjoyed it too, I think. My father never cared for anything like that. My mother didn’t really did like that kind of music, she was into primarily people like Mantovani. Mantovani was her favorite; she had everything by him I think. I guess you would call it ‘elevator music’ nowadays, or whatever, but it was the kind of thing she really enjoyed so she never listened to the kind of music I played until I was playing it. And then she couldn’t avoid it because I was constantly singing and playing and playing records and listening to it. And even, you know, after I was able to get my own record player, I was a teenager by then, and I had my own record player in my own room. I had my own room and I could play the music and nobody was bothered with it much. But my mother would come back and sometimes sit and listen to a song or two and then leave. She was never really interested in it until I became totally involved in it and then she became interested.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to talk to The Carters? I really had decided that, I guess, very early on. I can’t remember when I finally figured out where they lived. But I knew that they lived in Maces Springs. How did I know that? I guess I had a songbook by Maybelle and the girls. Mother Maybelle and The Carter Sisters had a songbook out and their songbook had pictures of the house that… well, it was the house that June and Johnny Cash spent a lot of time at in the most recent years. It was the house that they were raised in, the girls, and it was out of the family for a while and then June was able to buy it back. I don’t know who it was who had it or who had it now but it was out of the family for quite a few years. And I saw a picture of that house, up against Clinch Mountain, with Clinch Mountain in the background and I thought: ‘Ghee, it’s so beautiful there’. So I knew that they lived in Maces Springs and I had made up my mind that, I guess right after I got that songbook (when I got that songbook I don’t know. It must have been 1946, maybe ’47, it could have been ’48 even) and around that time I was told that the RCA Victor man had told Felix, the fellow of the record shop in town said: ‘Well, the reason we don’t have any Carter Family records is I think the old man died’. He didn’t say he had died, he said: ‘I think the old man died’. But that was enough for me. I thought: ‘Well, no more records then by The Carters and I couldn’t think of any other reason why they wouldn’t have any. If he wasn’t dead why wouldn’t they have any?’
Things like divorce and separation were quite uncommon at that time. Well, nobody knew about that. That was totally unspoken of and even when I found out it was something that was so foreign to that part of the country that nobody wanted to talk about it. They certainly didn’t want it advertised. So I never spoke about it. When I travelled, when I started travelling around Europe, especially when I lived in England, I never mentioned that to anybody except maybe one or two people who I knew could keep it quiet and wouldn’t write about it but who would be interested to know about it. But I never talked about it to an audience, ever.
What kind of songs were in that songbook, all Carter Family songs or… ? No, Maybelle and the girls had songs that were written by Helen and by other writers, I don’t remember. Songs that they had recorded. I don’t think I ever sang any of those songs. I just remember buying it because I wanted to see the pictures and find out what I could about the family, on that side of the family. Although I never had, at that point, I never had any real interest in seeing Maybelle and the girls because they weren’t singing the kind of songs that I enjoyed. They weren’t making the kind of music I enjoyed. Helen was playing the accordion and there just wasn’t much in my style of music.
It wasn’t really old-time music? No, it wasn’t at all. No, it wasn’t. And it had nothing to do with Maybelle. Because I did want to see Maybelle and I did want to meet Maybelle but I particularly wanted to meet A.P. I don’t know why. You can ask me that until I die but I can just tell you that I just wanted to know him and I wanted to get to find out what made him tick, basically. I had great respect for his songwriting even though I wasn’t able to identify all the songs that he’d written. I knew that some of them weren’t his songs but I also knew that some were. Certainly ‘Clinch Mountain Home’ was and I felt that there were others that I could pretty well count on were his too. And I just wanted to see who this man is and what is he like and there was a driving force within me. Then as soon as I found out that he was alive I just couldn’t wait to get down there. I had obligations at the University of Virginia that kept me there and I didn’t have a lot of money to go driving around somewhere. In fact, that first year I didn’t even own a car so I had to, you know, make arrangements to get down there. So it was a thing I had to put off for a few months, but I only put it off about three or four months. I went down; I think it was in April when I finally went down. And I only found out he was alive in November so it could have been five months but I think it was more like four months.
Last time you mentioned that you went up to Maces Springs as often as you could. Yeah…
Like being [there] every two months or something like that? Well, sometimes it was more often and other times it was less often. But it probably averaged out to about six times a year, yeah.