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Overview for Carlene Carter
Carlene Carter

Carlene Carter


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The daughter of June Carter and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, Carlene Carter carved out an individual career and a sometimes-dramatic life. Her first recorded appearance was on a Johnny Cash album in 1974, but her self-titled debut came four years later. Recorded in the UK, the album set the tone for the first phase of her career, combining her country roots with the pub-rock influence of Nick Lowe and Graham Parker, both of whom contributed. She also broke from tradition at an infamous New York show, where she made an especially salty comment onstage while Carter and Cash were in the audience. By 1980 she and Nick Lowe were a married couple; her album Musical Shapes featured all of Lowe's band Rockpile, and was loved by fans of that band.  She worked again with Lowe on Blue Nun, which featured his new band (with keyboardist Paul Carrack) and a playfully sexy tone to the material. However their marriage ended soon afterward and Carter was largely silent for most of the '80s, save for a badly-received synth-pop album (C'est C Bon) and a brief musical reunion with her mother in the Carter Family. But 1990 brought a new album, a new musical/romantic partner (Howie Epstein of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers) and a new career: The album I Fell in Love was her biggest hit, with four country singles including two Top Tens. She continued in that vein for two more albums (the last of which, Little Acts of Treason included Johnny Cash), reinventing herself as a more straightforward country artist. However, life was more chaotic behind the scenes: In 2001 she and Epstein were arrested in Albuquerque for driving a stolen car containing black-tar heroin. The incident caused Epstein's break from the Heartbreakers and he died of an overdose in 2003; Carter then took time off to deal with her own addictions. The third act of Carter's career began with the 2008 album Stronger, with a more acoustic sound and a more personal tone. Continuing the pub-rock connections, it was produced by John McFee who'd played on Elvis Costello's debut. The follow-up Carter Girl was her tribute to family roots, featuring eleven Carter Family songs (and one she wrote about her mother June, "Me and the Wildwood Rose"), and contributions from Vince Gill, Willie Nelson and her mother. In 2017 she teamed with John Mellencamp as a featured guest on his album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies. She opened Mellencamp's tour that summer and appeared during his set, playing to some of the largest audiences of her career.

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