The Carter Brothers and Son

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(from http://www.newworldrecords.org, liner notes to CD 80236, “Going Down the Valley.”)

In their company ledgers, Vocalion executives described the several selections by the Carter Brothers and Son as “fiddling records with guitar accompaniment and vocal effects.” From this family trio came one of the most unusual string-band sounds to have been captured on disc.

An archaic characteristic of this trio is the “mouth music” or “diddling” in George Carter’s vocal—the use of nonsense syllables almost as if to make the voice into another musical instrument. There are parts of the world where this device still survives—for example, in the Hebrides Islands off the coast of Scotland; but it has been found only rarely in the United States. The Carter Brothers and Son recorded altogether thirteen selections in 1928; on most of them George used some mouth music, and many had a strong Mixolydian character either because of the final note on the dominant, as here, or because of a flatted seventh.

The song “Cotton-Eyed Joe” has been widely reported throughout the South from both blacks and whites, though in recent decades it has disappeared from black tradition. In 1925 folk-song collector Dorothy Scarborough described several persons who recalled hearing the song from antebellum plantation slaves. The text is usually rather skimpy—the Carters’ version is an extreme case—but Scarborough recovered enough words to suggest a rather complete story: Cotton- Eyed Joe was a black slave who stole the narrator’s girl and carried her off to Tennessee, luring her away with the aid of hoodoo. (See Scarborough, 68- 70.)

The Carters were from Monroe County in northeastern Mississippi; George was born about 1869, and Andrew probably in 1878. The elder Carters were primarily cotton farmers whose love for music brought them before the microphone) only a few times, but enough to have preserved for posterity their wonderful legacy.

Had not been for the cotton-eyed Joe,

I’d a been married just forty years ago.

Dum-da-di-la-di-da-da-dee-dila-di-da-da,

Ya-da-da-da-doo-di-da-da-deedi-lam-day.

Available here.

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3 Responses to “The Carter Brothers and Son”

  1. ndlxs (@ndlxs) Says:

    “That album is not currently available on ITunes”. Too bad.

  2. john bernays Says:

    I First Heard that on Down In The Valley- a Library of Congress Folk Album in Public Library, Hot Springs, Arkansas, when I was about 21 Years Old.

  3. Dayle Says:

    George Carter is my great-grandfather. My maternal grandmother is in the photo, as well, standing to the right of George Carter, who is holding the fiddle.

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