Summer, Friends, Family and Music!

 "Playin on the Tracks," June 14, 2016 at the Franklin Theatre

"Playin on the Tracks," June 14, 2016 at the Franklin Theatre

With temperatures in the 3 digit range here in good ol’ Nashville, TN. it’s rather a sound confirmation that Summer has arrived! With every steamy sunrise I am reminded of being a kid and running through the sprinklers in our backyard. Such simple fun! Fast forward a few years and I find myself still loving the lazy days of summer, with the exception being that the days are not quite so lazy, can I get an Amen?!

The past few months have been a whirlwind. Our tour in California could not have gone better. We met new people, and celebrated life with our friends and family. From California’s rugged coastline, sprawling ranches in the great San Joaquin Valley and some of the finest boutique wineries in Northern California, Barny and I found ourselves saying, “It’s good to be alive!” We have rarely enjoyed sharing our music more. 

After returning home to Tennessee we couldn’t help but wonder what the next show would bring. On June 14th we partnered up with the Nikki Mitchell Foundation and took Playin’ on the Tracks to the historic Franklin Theatre in downtown Franklin. Members of Waylon Jennings’ band, our bandmates, Richie Albright and Jerry Bridges backed us up on drums and bass. Also joining us was Fred Newell, (steel guitar player who also toured and recorded with Waylon) and well known guitarist Paul Brannon. Our daughters, Carter’s Chord sang back up vocals while old friend and previous stage manager Steve Gudis kept it all running smoothly. Jeremiah Scott (member and producer of the metal band, Demon Hunter) mixed sound for us! It was beyond fun!!

But wait, that’s not all! Long time friend and artist Jessi Colter joined us in our living room on the stage, singing one of our favorites, “I’m Not Lisa” followed by “Without You”, both a huge crowd pleaser! The night continued like a good old fashioned family reunion when the one and only world renowned guitarist Reggie Young and bandmate in Waymore’s Blues Band, and cellist Jenny Lynn Young came out and played on “Couple More years.”

Does it get any better? Yes! Because the reason for the evening was to honor our dear friend, Nikki Mitchell who passed away in 2013 after running Waylon’s office for 22 years and to support her dream of the Nikki Mitchell Foundation in their drive to help fund research in the fight for a cure for Pancreatic Cancer. With a near capacity crowd, we all did just that! Not only did ticket prices go toward this goal but the foundation itself was embraced by the business community and the wonderful supporters in Middle Tennessee. Our hearts are full!

Thanks to all who support this great family of artists and who choose to be a part of a community that loves well.

Summer...

This past Sunday, my family did something very old fashioned. We sang at a church potluck. Seriously! We had a blast! It wasn't exactly like the church potlucks I grew up with because we sang all kinds of songs, blues, roots, old country gospel. I watched from the stage as my grandchildren danced to the rhythm of the music. People laughed, caught up on old friendships and shared the bounty of their gardens and kitchens. It took me back to Sunday afternoons in Elderwood at the base of the great Sequoia Mountains. Our family along with my mother's big family would all gather after church for a picnic. There was fried chicken, potato salad and even homemade ice cream packed with rock salt ice in old gunny sacks. Best tasting treat in the country! 

I like summer because slowing down and relaxing is widely accepted and expected. It's a great time to remember the good parts of life and childhood. I was a reflective little girl and wondered about so many things. I'd take a blanket out on the lawn, lay down, and watch the clouds morph into various shapes before my eyes and wonder if God was in the clouds and if He was, what I looked like from way up there? I also wondered why it was ok to dance at our family reunions in Texas and yet have to take a note to the teacher during square dance week at school that told her dancing was against our religion? Mama was a zealous Pentecostal woman and was committed to keeping us from the dark path our daddy chose from time to time. So I would stand there next to the Jehovah Witness kid and work the record player knowing full well I could dance better than most.

My curiosity and reflection wasn't just about weighty issues of faith. I wondered about the advances of technology as well. For example,  I remember once sitting at our small kitchen table listening to the radio on the table top in front of my sister Diana and I.  Our Dad, also known as "Hatchet," don't ask, was a friend of the DJ and would drop by the station every once in awhile. We listened closely as the DJ  called out a greeting to "Hatchet" and our dad answered back, "Howdy Cousin!" We were totally stumped. How did Daddy shrink down to fit in the old radio setting in front of us? Our older siblings laughed but we didn't see what was so funny. I decided to watch very closely to see if there was some kind of secret, magical door for him walk out of the radio and when he did, I was going to grab him and put him in my pocket. Shoot, I'd be a star at "Show & Tell" time in Kindergarten.

G.K. Chesterton said "I wonder at not wondering." Me too. Have we lost the invitation to explore and wonder? I hope not. For the most part I'm not afraid of questions or even the absence of profound and definitive answers. I kind of like wondering. See I, like so many others, believe there is something greater than the 5 senses and we haven't even scratched the surface of our God, yes, God-given potential! When we think we have all the answers and there are no more wondrous surprises in life, it's time to pack up and go to the house. I don't honestly anticipate that happening, at least not in my life. I want to be like my friend Mildred Gumm. At the age of 96 she took the Myers Briggs test so she could better evaluate her personality. We just said goodbye to her last month. She will be missed.

If it pleases my Creator, I guess I'll be around for a bit longer, breathing in, breathing out, embracing all that's good and wondering how I've been so blessed to live life on this beautiful planet in these beautiful United States of America!

Happy Summer!

 

Waylon Wednesday

Waylon Wednesday! Here's a little behind-the-scenes story from my memoir "Playin' on the Tracks." It's about reuniting with Waylon Jennings & Jessi Colter after walking away for 10 years.
Sweet Forgiveness
"The concept for Waylon’s children’s album took time to put together, but in the fall of 1992 Barny and I found ourselves once again on a plane for Nashville. I wasn’t telling anyone, but I was scheduled for surgery the week of our return. Four ruptured discs in my lower back had me battling a serious case of chronic pain. The thrill of our restored friendship, however, was better than any meds I could have taken, and which I had turned down when my doctor insisted on writing the script. I kept thinking, “Doc, you don’t know my history.”
Friendship after friendship was renewed on that trip. We stayed with Waylon and Jessi, and Maureen welcomed us with open arms, like we were their favorite, long lost family members. Jigger played bass, good old Sonny Curtis was on guitar, Robby Turner wowed us on the pedal steel, and Jeff Hale played drums. It was one of the coolest reunions ever.
But I have to say the most poignant moment came while we were recording in 1111 Sound, previously known as American Studios. Over the years we had made more memories on that corner of the block than any book could contain, and now here we were, making new ones.
My back was killing me, and the sciatica in my leg was relentless. Everyone was in the control room, listening to a playback, and not wanting to draw attention to myself, I quietly slipped into the small room leading out into the studio. It was kind of like a little kitchen area, with a refrigerator, table, and chairs. I had sat at that very table so many times, waiting to be called up to record my vocals in the wee hours of the morning. Now, a decade later, I still couldn’t escape all those pictures floating just above my head, waiting for me to reach up and pull one down.
Waylon interrupted this impromptu reverie as he walked through the room and out into the studio; he was kind of looking back over his shoulder and smiling. I was sitting, staring at the door he had just walked through when it swung back open. He stood there looking at me, and I knew it was another one of those rare, almost holy moments that you don’t want to disturb.
After a while he found his words, and his voice had a slight, uncharacteristic quiver to it as he said, “Carter, I need to ask you to forgive me. I put you through a lot back then and gave you a pretty rough time. I’ve had a lot of years to think about it, and I want you to know that I was sorry from the moment you left. Drugs make a person do things they normally never would. It means everything to have you and Barny back with us again.”
Waylon didn’t like seeing people cry, but my vision was starting to blur, and I was biting the inside of my lip real hard so I wouldn’t give in to that very thing. I stood up and gave him the biggest hug I could, not even feeling the pain in my back. I told him we both had a lot to be forgiven for, and I was glad we were all together again. We smiled, then he went out and recorded “Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals and Dirt” —one of the all time best children’s albums—Waylon style!
Life never ceases to surprise me. If you had told me at that moment that within two years Barny and I would move our little family to Franklin, Tennessee and go back out on the road with Waylon and Jessi, I would have insisted that one of us was delusional. Yet in November 1994, that’s exactly what we did."

Thanksgiving

Today is a milestone. Today I hand over another piece of my life to strangers…Today the film, Playin’ on the Tracks-LIVE , based on my memoir by the same title, goes to the final step in the production process.

For the past year, my husband Barny and I have racked up countless hours preparing for this filming adventure. We’ve partnered up with other professionals and watched, as our vision became theirs. They made it better. We’ve made thousands of decisions, called in every favor possible, strategized, dreamed, networked, spent more money than we have (seriously), went way outside of our comfort zone and launched a necessary funding campaign. We’ve had sleepless nights, worrying about how we will provide for others and ourselves. We’ve questioned our sanity on a daily basis and agonized over everything, big and small, and now, it’s time to release our grip and trust.

So why? Why have we sacrificed so much, gambled on a dream, risked our reputation and financial well being? We don’t have the backing of a company or even a sponsor with deep pockets. But sometimes we are called to give even when we are spent and resources are scarce. Just like the parable of the little boy with five loaves of bread and two fishes, God will provide when we make the choice to give even when it seems small. What we have is a story...my story. When performed live the response has been overwhelmingly positive and is one of the reasons I keep going. It makes people think, laugh, get angry and yes, sometimes cry. It’s not through evangelistic manipulation or dramatic slide-of-hand, it’s simply an invitation to step through the door into a different time, and perhaps while there, give yourself permission to remember and connect.

Has it been worth it? Fair question. I suspect, based on my past history of falling down and getting back up, that in the final analysis, it will be more than worth it. I’m just not certain one can quantify the benefits and results of this kind of investment. In a very real sense, there are eternal implications. Isn’t that how we help to raise the next generation, by warning them of the consequences of careless decisions and sharing the good that’s possible? Shoot, if nothing else, my children, grandchildren and the generations to come will know the importance of embracing life, and not being stingy with lessons that continue to be learned. We’re all students whether we recognize it or not. One thing I do know, adversity is a very efficient teacher.

This Thanksgiving I will be thanking God for trusting me with a story He authored and is giving me the courage to share with others. Oh and I'll definitely be thanking God for blessing me with an incredible family and some totally crazy friends who love me and refuse to take me as seriously as I take myself. It's all good.

Hugs all around!

Happy Thanksgiving Week, Y'all!!

The Photo Shoot

The Photo Shoot (Excerpt from "Playin' on the Tracks")

One afternoon while in L.A. between tours and recording vocals at Sound Lab, I received a call asking me to come be a part of the photo shoot for the James Taylor album that I had sung on. It was going to be for the back cover, and they wanted everyone involved in the album to be there. After checking my schedule, it was determined I would be in town, and I accepted the invitation.

I wasn’t quite prepared for the enormity of celebrity and accomplishment that were represented in the room. There was Carly Simon, Art Garfunkel, Peter Asher, Jim Keltner, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Lee Sklar, Russ Kunkel, Danny Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel; the list was impressive and extraordinary. My confidence had grown since starting to work with Waylon and Jessi, but it didn’t always follow me back home to L.A. Walking into the photo shoot, I tried to act calm and convince myself that I wasn’t crashing the party. I had been invited, but I still had to fight the urge to run. I found myself standing next to my friend Loyd and the famous producers, Lenny Waronker and Russ Titleman.

The photographer had us all arranged in a kind of semicircle, with James sitting on the floor in front. He was trying to get a cool candid shot but was having difficulty getting all these larger-than-life personalities to loosen up a bit. By then I was feeling more secure and removed in a good way. This wasn’t my problem; I was just a lowly background singer. All I had to do was show up and smile when they said, “Cheese” right? Wrong!

For some crazy reason he tuned right into me and asked if I would come down where James was seated on the ground in front of the mass of egos, talent and fame. At first I looked behind me, thinking he was talking to someone else. But noooooooo…it was me. My face must have turned a zillion different shades of red. I was extremely embarrassed and suddenly felt like I had buckteeth, raggedy underwear and a hand-me-down dress on again. I was sure any minute somebody was gonna holler out, “Hey, I know you. You’re that Holy Roller kid from Visalia!”

I was wishing I could just vanish and would have welcomed a timely power failure, but of course that didn’t happen. As I knelt down next to him, the photographer directed me to fold my arms around the back of James’ neck and lean into him. You’ve GOT to be kidding! So with that great cloud of witnesses looking at my backside for a change, I did the best I could under the circumstances to act completely natural. As I leaned in, James said in a quiet voice, “Hi, Carter, glad you could make it.”

“Uhhhhh…me too.” I know, pretty snappy comeback huh?

After a couple of incredibly uncomfortable shots, I was released to go back and stand with all the many icons that represented the music I had such deep respect for. I was so excited to be a part of the project that I told everyone I knew and every stranger willing to listen that I sang on the album. When “In the Pocket” came out, my name had been inadvertently left off; I was in the picture but wasn’t given any credit for singing. This wouldn’t be the first or last time my work would either be credited to someone else or my name left off completely. Ahh, such is the life of a background singer. Doesn’t really matter though, because the memory is mine, and I have the album to prove it.

So…thanks for the memories, Mr. Taylor!

The Telephone Audition

 James Taylor's "In the Pocket" album cover. Carter is top row, 5th from the left.

James Taylor's "In the Pocket" album cover. Carter is top row, 5th from the left.

            “Hey, Carter! How high can you sing?”
            “I don’t know, pretty high I guess.”
            “Well, starting with this note, just go as high as you can.”
            “Okay.”
            And I did. That simple exchange was the beginning of one of my favorite “braggy, showbiz stories.”
            Barny and I were still living in our little one room house we called the Alamo on Valleyheart Drive, in Sherman Oaks. After the shocking death of my manager, and with the help of our attorney, the dark years of being tied up in the old contract had finally come to an end. The cost of freedom had not come without an emotional price tag that at times threatened my soul with bankruptcy. In life, there are some pretty outrageous psychological balloon payments that have a way of showing up and insisting on being paid in full.
            I had lived for so long in that twisted reality that I was like a newly released prisoner, happy but guarded, relearning how to live. Fortunately I was young, and we were choosing to enjoy a simple life of embracing our art. For the first time we were able to dream of our future without restraint.
            When the phone rang that night, I recognized the voice on the other end without introduction.  It was our friend Loyd, one of the members of the group I had moved to Hollywood with. He had become an engineer and was working with several well known artists. He was a great vocalist himself, which I’m sure made him an even better engineer. He and Barny had become friends, and it was through him that we were able to do those off-hour recordings I spoke of earlier.
            After hearing him sing the starting note into the receiver, I began singing my way up the scale until he stopped me and asked if I would do it one more time. I laughingly obliged.  We were always doing crazy stuff like this, so I didn’t think it was that unusual. When I was finished I heard a voice say something like, “That’s good, cool.” I didn’t have time to ask any questions because Loyd immediately got back on the line and asked me if I knew who I had just sang for, to which I answered, “Noooooooooo…who?”
            “James Taylor. He wants to know if you can come down to the studio and do a session for him?” Pause.
            “Carter…Carter?”
            Now, I’m not someone who gets star struck. However, James Taylor? “Sweet Baby James?” “Fire and Rain?” That James Taylor?  Trying hard not to let the excitement show too much in my voice, I set up a time when I could come in. If Mr. Taylor had been able to see me after the phone call he may have changed his mind. I was jumping up and down like some little kid who’s been told they get to go swimming, while Barny was watching me thinking I had absolutely crossed over to the other side. Loyd knew me well, or at least well enough to not tell me who I was auditioning for on the other end of the line. Good call, friend!
            The session was booked for the Warner Brothers Amigo Studios in North Hollywood, and a few days later I was on my way. Driving there, in spite of my shaking knees, I kept telling myself this was like any other job, and I needed to be the professional that I had become. Then the little raspy voice on my shoulder would light a cigarette and say, “Yeah, good luck with that.”
            Not giving in to the fear, a slightly stronger voice would yank the cigarette out, extinguishing it with one snub, and remind me that life might just be getting ready to turn around. I mean, at that very moment I was on my way to do a recording session with James Taylor, for heaven’s sake. Straighten up!
            By the time I arrived at the studio, I was nearly dizzy from the crazy conversations with all three of my selves! I took a deep breath and walked in. Sitting behind the console was my friend Loyd and Mr. Taylor. Introductions were extended and his very low key, soft-spoken demeanor quickly put me at ease.
            After explaining what he needed me to do, I turned and walked out into the studio. I stood there and sang one long note at a time working my way up the scale. These notes would later become part of a vocal choir that they were putting together on separate tracks to create the ethereal sound on “Shower the People.”
           When I was finished singing, I stepped into the control room to see if they needed anything else. Mr. Taylor told me he was pleased with what I had done and asked if I’d like to hear an example of how they were going to use the vocals. I was intrigued and sat for a moment while Loyd put it all together. Even though it was a quick mix, it sounded to me like a symphony of voices, and I told them so.
           As I was gathering up my things, James said they were all going out for a drink and asked if I’d like to join them. I wanted to, I really did, but I didn’t want to ruin something that had been so wonderful. Sometimes it’s best not to get to know the people you admire. I shyly declined the invitation, saying I needed to get home to Barny.
           Once back in the safety of the old van, I took a deep breath and told myself, “Well done, Carter, well done.” Loyd called the next day to thank me. He laughed and told me I missed out on a good night, and that I should have come along.
           Maybe. But home felt pretty good too. It was nice to be asked though.

Willie Nelson Picnic 1976

The following is an excerpt from my book "Playin' on the Tracks" Have fun remembering with me!

Picnic Anyone?

I don’t know about you, but I love a good picnic. Growing up, my family enjoyed these outdoor feasts on a regular basis. However, when I arrived in Texas for Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July event, I knew it wasn’t exactly going to be a Yogi Bear and Boo Boo with their pic-a-nic baskets kind of day.

We were a few months into that first year of the “Outlaw” tour, and the shine was still shiny. I was in one of the hottest bands in the country, singing for thousands of people every night, and now we were going to be sharing the bill with some of my favorite artists.

Waylon and the rest of the band were pumped and prepared. Pumped because they were looking forward to hangin’ out with old friends and doing music; prepared because they’d been to this dance before and knew it would most likely turn into a marathon. Most of the time Waylon insisted on Willie closing. He knew his friend’s penchant for losing track of time while on stage and preferred rather to get on, get off, get on the bus, and get to the next town. Pacing one’s self was an art form born out of experience, and extremely necessary if you planned to stay on your feet. You had to go with the flow, which is easier to do when your vice is of a slower nature. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, it becomes a bit more challenging.

I spent extra time getting myself all dolled-up for the big concert. I had bought a brand new pair of cloth wedge shoes that laced up my leg kind of sexy-like. I wanted to look good, and I was giving it my best shot. This was going to be one of the most exciting career moments so far. I was ready to embrace the moment and the opportunity to make a little history. Boy, was I green.

The leave time for the buses must have been set back at least four or five times before we headed out to the country to have ourselves a big time. I’d never seen anything quite like that before. There was an ocean of people. Everywhere you looked there were drunk, high, sunburned bodies dancing and giving themselves over to the music. As cool as the perception of it all was, I was glad I was on our bus headed for the backstage area. However, backstage had its own brand of crazy, and my capacity for integration into these kinds of rock-n-roll festivals was about to be expanded.

I believe it was late afternoon by the time we arrived. We were like children jumping off the bus at summer camp. We walked from bus to bus soaking in the music of our friends, not wandering off too far because we might be up next and had to stay ready. This held its own unique set of obstacles. We all needed to stay straight enough to do the show but loose enough to enjoy the moment.

Our individual methods seemed to work for a while, but after several hours of preparing to take the stage and then having someone else go on, our fun wasn’t so fun anymore. It kind of felt like being strapped to some wicked carnival teeter-totter that wouldn’t let us off: up and down, up and down.

In the wee hours of the morning, after multiple rain delays had caused a serious setback in the artist line-up, the hurry-up-and-wait routine came to a halt. Waylon drew a line in the red Texas mud and insisted that we either go on next or we were goin’ to the house. They’d been holding us off because they wanted to keep their biggest acts until the end. There was an estimated 80,000 fans out front waiting for us, and all hell was going to break loose if we left. Waylon won and once again we suited up to do our show.

Leon Russell was on stage, rockin’ it with his big white grand piano under the cover of a huge tarp, when the rain decided to make another appearance. This was no slight drizzle either. It came down in “everything’s big in Texas” size buckets. He was completely wrapped up in the music and unaware of the seriousness of the storm. Just as ol’ Leon was puttin’ it all together and bringin’ it home, that big stage tarp gave way to the weight of the water that had been accumulating for a few days and dumped a lake full right in the middle of his beautiful piano.

Miraculously, no one was electrocuted, but that pretty much ended the picnic. We all went back to the hotel like “gutted snowbirds” as Waylon used to say, having never played or sung a note. That was my first Willie picnic.

Carter's "Field of Dreams"

If you build it, he will come.” That’s a quote from the 1989 film “Field of Dreams” starring Kevin Costner. I’ve only seen it once, but the power of its message is still with me today. Costner’s character Ray Kinsella, dares to pursue an “against all odds” dream to build a baseball field on his Iowa farm. There are many reasons for this pursuit that I won’t go into here. But he had to lay it all on the line to make it happen, including sacrificing his corn crop which was his income, convincing his wife and family and continuing to push through when faced with what seemed like insurmountable odds. CRAZY! What makes a person do this? Good question! In fact I find myself in a similar situation.

 I’ve been working on a dream for about 12 years now. It came out in the form of a CD first, “Neighborhood of Secrets” then in 2012 I released my memoir “Playin’ on the Tracks” and followed it up with a live show based on the book. Even though life has hit hard, not pulling any punches these past few years, I’m more convinced than ever to keep going.

 So many people have asked us to come do the show in their communities and that is our goal. One way to get there is having a film to help the booking agencies see what they are booking. So August 2nd, 2014 Barny, my girls “Carter’s Chord” and I are taking a film crew to the Towne Centre Theatre in Brentwood TN to film my show “Playin’ on the Tracks—LIVE!”

 Reaching out publicly and asking for help is one of the most challenging parts of this journey for me. I don’t have a company backing me, or some big sponsor writing me a blank check. What I have are people like yourself who have been moved to help through my funding campaign at gofundme.com http://www.gofundme.com/9kjgqo

 Every gift that comes in from $10 all the way up to whatever, is like another piece of the puzzle coming together to make a beautiful picture and my artist’s soul is moved to keep going. “Film it Carter, and they will come…” If you haven’t already done so, please click on the link above and watch the video that explains a little more about “Playin’ on the Tracks—LIVE!”

 I’m posting this blog on every bit of social media I can find, not because I’m comfortable with asking for financial support, but because this is the best way I know to get it to the people who have cheered us on all this time as well as new friends and supporters. YOU are who we want to share our music and stories with. Thank you for making it possible! I can’t wait to share this film with you!

 I think I may just have to watch “Field of Dreams” before I go to bed tonight.