February 24, 2018

Don’t Forget This Song: Celebrating the Carter Family and Other Roots Musicians

"There's a spot on the porch saved just for you." Click for online purchasing info.


You may forget the singer, but don’t forget the song, the Carter Family bade listeners of one particularly mournful tune they recorded more than eighty years ago. The writer of those lyrics needn’t have worried.  Today the songs of America’s roots music are not only remembered but thriving – in forms that both recreate the authentic sound and remake it in fresh ways – in  the widely diverse Americana music genre.

These old songs continue to spark artists of all types, yours truly among them. I’m delighted that Maggi Vaughn, Tennessee Poet Laureate and owner of Bell Buckle Press, asked me, my daughter Kelsey, and friend Carole Knuth to collaborate with her on the new book Don’t Forget This Song: Four Writers Celebrate the Carter Family and Other Roots Musicians. In its pages, the four of us celebrate the past and present of roots music in styles and for reasons as diverse as the music itself. Here’s a blurb from the introduction:

  • Kelsey Wells is a musician with a passion for old-time fiddling, storytelling, Appalachian dancing, and other traditional arts. She starts off the book with a tall tale she often performs to share a “brief and only slightly exaggerated history” of the Carters and the Carter Fold.
  • The lure of country music brought Maggi Vaughn to Nashville in the 1960s, and she soon had songs recorded by Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Ernest Tubb, Charlie Louvin and others. Her poems, from “Pop Stoneman” to “Front Porch Pickers,” honor both the known and unknown faces of early country music. Perhaps most memorable, her poem “White Moon of Virgina” involves another body part.
  • It’s not surprising that Carole Knuth, as a Reiki Master Teacher and Practitioner, attunes roots music with the natural and spiritual world in much of her offerings, including “Hawk’s Eye View.” Her own roots, stretching from her native South Carolina to a New York university, are on display in poems as varied as “Musings” and “Down Home.”
  • Kory Wells has logged many sweltering summer weekends as a fiddle mom at bluegrass competitions and old-time music festivals. She contributes poems that reflect her deep immersion in the music – especially as Kelsey’s first audience and fan, and later as collaborator in the duo’s poetry-music performances. Her poems such as “Still Won’t Marry” and “This Will Be My Last Letter” are notable for giving voice to the women who are the subject of old-time songs.

Maggi and Carole personally knew Janette Carter, so a lot of their contributions to the book are based on their time and friendship with her. The book also includes over a dozen images, some of which were generously shared by the Carter Family Museum and Carter Music Center.

Whether it’s old-time, folk, bluegrass, blues or country, American roots music has settled on our nation’s front porch, as comfortable as an old rocker or slat back wooden swing. Maybe you’re a front porch picker yourself – a guitar strummer, banjo frailer, or bass thumper. Maybe you’re an Opry-bound dreamer, a shade tree jammer, or a flat foot dancer. Or maybe, as cousin Minnie Pearl used to say, you’re “just so proud to be here,” tapping your toes and humming along. Regardless, you’re part of the reason the song isn’t forgotten. And there’s a spot on the porch saved just for you.

Don’t Forget This Song, which debuted at the Southern Festival of Books earlier this fall, is $9.95 per copy and is available for sale here on my website. It’s also available at Rutherford County Keepsakes, a gift shop located inside the beautiful Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center which carries a marvelous amount of local products and work by local artists.


Kory and Kelsey warm up at the Southern Festival of Books, 2011. Their session with Maggi and Carole featured work from DON'T FORGET THIS SONG.

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