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In 'Carter Girl,' Johnny Cash's stepdaughter pays tribute to her musical family

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Carlene Carter was destined to make music. Related to June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash, she's out with a new album called "Carter Girl." She joins Alex Cohen to talk about her family's legacy.

As the daughter of country legend June Carter Cash and the stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, it's as if Carlene Carter was destined to make music. 

She started singing with the Carter Family when she was just 17 years old and she hasn't stopped since. Her newest album, "Carter Girl," features some great country classics:

Give Me The Roses (While I Live)

But this is the first album that Carlene's put out since 1978 that's had her family's name in the title. She recently answered why that was when she spoke with Take Two's Alex Cohen on KPCC.

"Thing was that I always knew I would make a record to honor my family's musical legacy and it was never the right time. And then right after mama passed, I felt that was too soon. But, after a nice 10 year gap I decided that it was the right time to make this record. It took a little while to make it in the sense that I had to do a lot of research.

I thought I knew a lot about the Carter family and the music, but as I got into it I realized that there were like 450 songs. So, I took the song book "In The Shadow of Clinch Mountain"... And I brought that out and I started to go through songs that I had never heard."

Black Jack David

"Black Jack David" was one of the first songs that Carlene's grandmother taught her.

" took me back to a time when I was learning how to play a guitar and grandma was teaching me that little number and aunt Helen, she taught me a lot about playing the guitar."

Creating this album dredged up tons of beautiful memories for Carlene. But growing up with such a musically gifted family was anything but normal compared to what other kids grew up with.

"...I noticed that parents, actually, the daddy came home from work and they had dinner at 5 o'clock kind of stuff, and that wasn't the way it was at our house. Nobody's mom went on the road to go work. And nobody's mom was on the Grand Ole Opry. Nobody that I knew. I could say that I did used to sit at their feet and watch them practice and stand in the wings...and go I want to do that when I grow up."

Much of this album is about Carlene coming to terms with her family legacy and remembering the family that she had. Nnothing demonstrates that more than the song "Lonesome Valley 2003."

She remembers the time when she lost her mother, stepfather and sister within a very short period of time.

Lonesome Valley 2003

She explained why it took her so long to sing about it:

"It was just, my heart hurt. It was just a normal grieving for me. And I also had the added factor that everywhere I went I heard them. Mainly I'd hear John a lot. And everywhere I looked there was a video of him singing "Hurt." And my mom's in that and that would just tear me up. And you know I remember when John died I was on my way from California to his bedside and didn't make it. And I heard that he passed while I was in the airport in Salt Lake City."

But while she still misses her family, Carlene was able to perform a song with them in a way. They took old recordings of June, Johnny and her aunts, and Carlene sang with them on the track, "I Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow."

"I just remember how my aunt Helen was just smilin' every time she was playing. And my aunt Anita just singing like a bell. And mama just gettin' down in there, you know? But we recorded these songs when I was a full fledged member of the carter family and it was one of my favorite ones that I used to perform with them because it was kind of up and it had a...everybody sang a verse.

"And of course any time we were recording, John had to be there. He couldn't stand it. He just needed to be in it. So, we took it an we kept... all the voices as if they were there... I was just pretending that they were in the other room singing on a different mic. And this is how it came out, you know?"

At the end of the chat with Alex Cohen, Carlene performed two songs in studio, "Tall Lover Man" and "Gold Watch and Chain."

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