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Carter Family tribute

Posted by pickNgrin on Sunday, March 2, 2008

Every serious student of Scruggs style banjo spends a lot of time listening to the master. Open the pages of the Banjo Newsletter to almost any interview with an accomplished three-finger picker, and you will probably find a recounting of their formative years spent dissecting the seeming simplicity of the Foggy Mountain Banjo album.

I have started thinking about young Earl's early influences. Can I really understand Foggy Mountain Banjo without knowing about the tradition of the tunes and culture that underlies it? One of the major influences on Earl's musical sense comes from the Carter Family... in fact the "Foggy Mountain" theme that crops up again and again with Flatt & Scruggs is a nod to the Carter's hit Foggy Mountain Top. Lester and Earl, along with so many other rural Southern folk, were deeply affected by the simple and sometimes haunting sounds of the Carters.

Listen to Little Darlin' Pal of Mine on the FMB album, then check out the Carter version of the tune upon which it is based. To fully understand the Scruggs version, I think you must also understand the Carter version and feel the heartbreak in the words.

I put together this video montage (set to the Carter version of the tune) which shows some pictures that might have been common sights in a young Earl's world. It has helped me connect with the tune... maybe it will for you too.

27 comments on “Carter Family tribute”

wrentree Says:
Thursday, March 6, 2008 @9:07:00 AM

This tribute is exactly what every student of banjo needs to hear and see when he starts to learn the banjo. Learn of the poverty and heartbreak and also the satisfaction of having a home full of love for all the family members that transcends any part of the outside world. That is, to a degree what I had when I was growing up. The poverty was not as bad but it could have if I had been born 20 years earlier when my Mother and Dad were. Thanks for posting. This should go on the H.O. too. Harold Wren

Banjo Mountain Says:
Sunday, March 30, 2008 @2:07:36 PM

Very good montage video! Excellent use of pictures too.

I actually really like the Carter family's version of this song.

hammeron Says:
Wednesday, April 9, 2008 @9:51:14 PM

What a nice tribute to the Carter family and even more importantly, you have provided a window in order to take a look at a long time ago, told through the expressions on those folks faces. I can just picture Earl as a kid, back up against a tree on a summer morning, chewing on a piece of grass, and moving his fingers in discovery over the head of his banjo. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

mark vann Says:
Friday, May 2, 2008 @8:11:10 AM

Hey Matt,  Thanks for putting that together! It was great! Remined me a little of my young yrs in the boonies in KY. Everyone was learning to play something, but the music was fun. We didnt have alot, but it was the best time of my life I think. For sure it helped shape my outlook on music.



Bird Dog Says:
Wednesday, May 7, 2008 @1:30:21 PM

This was a really wonderful piece of work - thank you! You're so right about connecting with the roots of the music. That journey never ends; to understand the music of the southern mountains, you need to go back to the immigrants, and then back to the old countries. I connect strongly with my Scots ancestors and their culture and music, and that feeds into the old-time music, and so on.

Connecting visually helps, too; these pictures are great. And if you're lucky enough to make a connection with actual artifacts...I once had the opportunity to play A.P. Carter's guitar. Oh man...

Luckiest of all was my chance during the '60s to meet many of the old-timers themselves.

You have much the same feel for the music that I do. Yes, there's nothing as exhilarating as playing with others of a like mind. Best of luck!



Lenwardg Says:
Wednesday, May 14, 2008 @11:42:57 AM

Excellent work Matt!!  I feel the same way you do about the history of the music and where the songs came from.  I've always wondered about how the "pioneers" of our modern day bluegrass were influenced and how they developed their style.  I've heard ones like Monroe/Scruggs/Osbornes/Stanleys, etc. talk about things like that and it's always amazing to hear when the "masters" share their stories.

Wes Lassiter Says:
Wednesday, May 21, 2008 @7:17:54 AM

Thanks Matt

That whole sequence was really touching and hit many old feelings I have being I spent a lot of my childhood out in the Denton area. I appreciate it so much.


RatLer Says:
Wednesday, July 16, 2008 @4:38:42 AM

Thanks Matt...reminds me of the sights and sounds of when I was a kid, but really brings back the stories of my parents and grand parents who actually lived the life in the Kentucky hills...maybe those really were the 'good ole days' have nothin' to very little but the will to live life and love family....Thanks again..,

dhwhite Says:
Friday, March 20, 2009 @5:34:52 PM

What a great blog!  Keep 'em coming partner!

sparksfurr Says:
Sunday, March 22, 2009 @6:07:03 PM


I don't know if it was the pictures or the wonderful montage that you put together. It was breathtaking. My family and I come from rural mining camp country of West Virginia and I have seen many pictures of the hard times they had during the depression. My grandma told me many stories. It was sad.  I am only 2 mths into my banjo learning and it hasn't all come together yet but it's getting there. I will try thinking of your montage as I'm learning.

banjobilly32 Says:
Monday, August 3, 2009 @5:41:16 AM

Nice job Matt. Many of your pictures sparked memories of my own youth! I spent about 3 years on a farm in rural Pa. without electricity or running water. We used to eat the game we'd get, or go without meat! My mother cooked up a few racoons in those days. As I recall they were something like chicken! I've seen the impliments pulled behind horses too!

Thanks for posting.

Pablo9364 Says:
Tuesday, October 12, 2010 @1:14:59 AM

Very nice montage of sound and pictures. Reveals the roots of old time music well. nice one
Thanks Paul

wb4yal Says:
Wednesday, November 3, 2010 @2:00:31 PM

Wow Matt,

AN excellent presentation! Definitely takes me back to my childhood memories. Thanks for your contribution,


Keith Madison Says:
Sunday, April 3, 2011 @4:55:01 PM

Great job Matt ! Keith

marcel Says:
Wednesday, July 27, 2011 @9:04:08 AM

Thank you very much for makin this available, very kind of you. I grew up throughout my teens in blowin rock n.c. inwhich that video reflects what i seen every day, fond memories of a great people

David M Says:
Thursday, October 6, 2011 @1:35:11 AM

Really enjoyed a look back into old rural America Matt, thanks.

They must have been hard times, but that's coming from someone living in our age of everything for everyone, they knew no different. That was how it was from birth for many a generation I should think and there's probably mountain families shunning modern luxuries for that out of the way wild living still, like depicted in the film Deliverance. I think all us banjo pickers envy the front porch family times where all played some form of instrument, danced or sang along, I know I do.

Best wishes Matt......David

Jim Yates Says:
Monday, November 14, 2011 @3:02:09 PM

Woody Guthrie was certainly influenced by this song when he wrote This Land Is Your Land.

From Greylock to Bean Blossom Says:
Wednesday, January 11, 2012 @10:56:34 AM

A very interesting thought process and very well done. You really brought that era back. There were some hard times in there.

MBCrawford Says:
Wednesday, January 11, 2012 @11:31:11 AM

That was great it reminds me of when I was young and also listening to my grandfather singing that while he was working in the garden.

pstroud1 Says:
Thursday, January 19, 2012 @2:57:22 PM

Here's another thank you Matt for putting this together. What a great job.
I love this song, twas one of my best friends favorites in WV, Bill Riffle, he got me to singing it.
Our family had many of those days and it kind made us cling together.
Appreciate your work on this.


JanetB Says:
Thursday, June 21, 2012 @7:16:54 AM

Engaging tour you've taken us on, Matt. The only two people smiling were the hunter with the raccoons (good money for the hides I suppose) and the pretty woman milking an enormous cow (food for the family and a trading commodity). The song is classic, so thanks so much for sharing.

pickNgrin Says:
Thursday, June 21, 2012 @10:34:31 AM

Interesting observation Janet. I think part of the reason for that is that in the old days people didn't smile for the camera like they do today. I checked out a video from our local library that shows film footage of the town I live in during the 1930s. The film would show people smiling and having a good time, but if somebody was taking their picture they would all get still and lose the smiles. As soon as the picture was done they would go back to having fun. I think that has to do with the longer exposure time that the old cameras needed.

wuzapicker Says:
Monday, July 2, 2012 @9:19:49 PM

Wow, what a reminiscent journey. My uncle used to sing that song with his guitar. I had the privilege of growing up in an area that changed little since the 1930's. I remember the ladies in their bonnets and a lot of things the video shows.


RB4picker Says:
Friday, July 13, 2012 @10:27:57 AM

Loved it Matt! Takes me back to simpler times (not easier).

banjocase Says:
Monday, October 8, 2012 @3:50:50 PM

This one says plenty! Enjoyed every second of your video clip and you wrote an excellent entry too. Thank you.

f#dead Says:
Monday, October 15, 2012 @9:01:24 AM

Well done Matt. Thanks for posting.

CliffK Says:
Thursday, April 24, 2014 @9:16:47 PM

Very cool. Nicely done! The Carters have great tunes and sound great today. Can you go back any earlier than them for recorded roots music?

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