On a pleasantly warm late-September afternoon in Nashville, Carlene Carter leads an informal tour of the charming 100-year-old Queen Anne-style home she shares with her husband, actor Joe Breen. New to the neighborhood since leaving their Santa Ynez, California, home after a decade, it hasn’t taken the couple long to adjust to life in a community largely populated by fellow creative types. Seated on the front porch, Carter chats with Rolling Stone Country while taking drags on an electronic cigarette, which she notes “smells like Skittles.”
As if on cue, a voice from a slowing vehicle calls out, “Hey, girl!” In the driver’s seat is fellow artist, neighbor and friend Elizabeth Cook, with whom Carter had recently shared the stage at a benefit for a local musician. Cook’s 2010 album Welder was actually the impetus for Carter to recruit producer Don Was for her most recent solo album, 2014’s Carter Girl. Now, Cook and singer-songwriter Lilly Hiatt will be the first artists to celebrate Carter’s homecoming in a series of shows that begin Tuesday, October 2nd, at Nashville’s Bluebird Café and continue through the end of the month. Curated by Carter, the series, titled “The Wonderful World of Women Who Write,” continues October 16th with Lauren Morrow and Pam Tillis, and concludes October 30th with Gretchen Peters and Matraca Berg.
“We’re going to have a big time,” says Carter, who was born in Tennessee on September 26th, 1955, to singers Carl Smith and June Carter (later June Carter Cash). “It’s going to be extra fun. I wanted to do something that was really sisterly-like because of my roots and growing up with women songwriters. I come from that matriarchal thing of being creative with other women.”
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As the granddaughter of pioneering guitar player Mother Maybelle Carter, music is at the core of Carlene’s DNA. Just as June Carter’s “Ring of Fire,” written with Merle Kilgore, transformed her mother’s life, Carter’s “Easy From Now On” — a collaboration with Guy Clark’s wife Susanna in the late Seventies — set Carter on her songwriting path when the song was covered by Emmylou Harris. It would make a further impact when Miranda Lambert cut the song for her 2007 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend LP. Carter also had her own brush with mainstream country music fame in the Nineties, scoring hits like “I Fell in Love” and “Every Little Thing.”
A mother of two before she was out of her teens, Carter now has eight grandchildren and can’t help but harness her feminine energy when exploring her creative side.
“I guess men have it too, but it’s a different slant on how the world looks,” Carter says. “We have all the same stuff, men and women, but women have that extra little feminine side. I know there’s two sides to every sex, but we deal with trying to be homemakers, trying to be mothers, trying to be wives, and being Southern women too, on top of it. We’re great at spinning plates. I’ve noticed that with just about every other woman writer that I’ve met. I just thought, wouldn’t it be great for us to concentrate on the fact that we are women that write?”
As adept at spinning plates as she may have become, Carter’s new house did have its share of perils when she first moved in last April. Not long after arriving, she fell and hit her head on the marble floor on her way from the bedroom to the bathroom, suffering a concussion.
“For about three months I was pretty messed up,” says Carter, who nonetheless was soon back on the road, playing shows in Europe. “I thought I was OK but when [the paramedics] got here they looked at my head and they said, ‘Oh no, you’re coming with us.’ I went to the hospital at about 10:30 at night in my pajamas, my cowgirl robe and Uggs, smoking my electronic cigarette with an ice pack on my head, waiting for the Uber driver at four in the morning. I’m thinking, ‘Where is the damn National Enquirer when you really need them?'”