The Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower”
Over the past two weeks I have been listening continuously to The Carter Family’s one-track song, “Wildwood Flower”. This song was the family’s best selling album as it sold nearly 300,000 copies of the album in nearly a years time ( a great amount for the time period). It was published in 1860 and then sung and recorded by the Victor Label in 1928. The song has been recorded and redone by many other artists as it’s never-ending popularity lives on through time.
The Carter family was from Southwest Virginia, Maces Spring, Virginia to be exact. Once becoming wildly popular after their first recording, “Single Girl, Married Girl” the group began to record more songs and play concerts. Unfortunately, these concerts were small as they were forced to play in small schoolhouses in Virginia due to the Great Depression. They became known as the “first country music family/ first country music stars” of the country music timeline. The family’s musical talents survived for three separate generations (from 1927-2007). The group never dreamed of becoming as popular as they did, and certainly did not expect to have such as large impact on country/ folk music history.
Wildwood Flower is about a girl who had met a man who taught her to love, but had then left as quickly as he had come, and in the end she discovers that it was all a dream in the first place. My initial reaction to it during my first time listening to the album made me think it was a depressing song based of the time that it was recorded, the coal mining revolution of the Appalachia as women were constantly being widowed from their men dying in the mines. Truthfully, it took me about three times of fully playing the song through to understand what the song meant. This song could be taken in one of two ways, a positive song where the girl is dreaming of love that she hopes for in the future, or in a negative way where she had lost her husband in some shape or form. I personally took this song as a negative way because of the present situation and condition of the Appalachia area.
I also listened to other songs that The Carter Family recorded and they all have the same sound as the others, this is for two reasons: the available technology of the time was limited, and Maybelle Carter’s iconic guitar style, “The Carter Scratch”. These components created songs that were perfect examples of music that one would think would come from the Appalachia region and songs that would become known as The Carter Family sound.
When listening to songs recorded in this time it is hard to train your ear to their sound, it is scratchy, rough, and unclear. In order to clearly hear most of it you have to be able to catch and understand the first word that the singer says so that you can then differentiate the other words that the performer is singing. It is hard for one to comprehend how people of that time period were able to understand what others where talking about through their radios, much less what one was singing at different pitches and tones. Unfortunately, I believe that over the years our ears have started to become used to only listening to clear, modified music that comes through top of the line headphones and speakers (this generation hardly even listens to the radio any more thanks to mobile internet). The music of the time was recorded in primal studios that had some of the first recording equipment available, making it difficult to modify the sounds like we do today. Even with today’s technology where we can make old songs new again and clean up the background noise I still find it difficult to understand what The Carter Family was saying without the help of lyrics provided online.
The carter family is viewed today as almost “godly”. The family always presented themselves in a professional manor as the women wore matching dresses and the men wore matching suites. The generations of The Cater Family after the initial one carried on this tradition and that age’s current styles. This also rang true as their values and goals never wavered from that of creating good country/ folk music for their audiences. People still see them as inspirations in their musical careers and songs. It is thanks to new shows and documentaries, such as “The Winding Stream”, that our current society is able to appreciate artists like The Carter Family for their work and that we are now able to dive deeper into facts that may not have been widely known before. Their legacy is never forgotten as they are introduced into different Halls of Fame and Music Centers for their great contributions to country and folk music, and their songs are sung again/ remade into different versions so that they can be yet again reintroduced to today’s new generations.
“Wilwood Flower.” Wikipedia. N.p., 16 Apr. 2016. Web. 29 July 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildwood_Flower>.
Hippekuin. “The Carter Family- Wilwood Flower.” YouTube. N.p., 30 July 2007. Web. 29 July 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewnfWoSQz3o>.
“Carter Family.” Wikipedia. N.p., 28 July 2016. Web. 29 July 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carter_Family>.
Chiu, David. “9 Things We Learned From the New Carter Family Documentary.” Rolling Stone. N.p., 6 Aug. 2014. Web. 29 July 2016. <http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/9-things-we-learned-from-the-new-carter-family-documentary-20140806>.
“The Carter Family Bio | The Carter Family Career.” CMT Artists. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2016. <http://www.cmt.com/artists/the-carter-family-00/biography/>.