'Tales From The Woods' raises a glass also to country singer/songwriter June Carter Cash who died of complications from heart surgery on May 15th 2003, aged 73, in Nashville, Tennessee.


Born Valerie June Carter, the second of three daughters to Ezra and Maybelle Carter in Maces Spring, Virginia on 23rd June 1929. Her mother, her mother’s cousin Sara and her husband A.P. had, two years prior, participated in a pioneering recording session at Bristol, Tennessee that would not only be the birth of one of America’s foremost singing families (the Carter Family) but would also usher in the modern era of country music. For the RCA Victor label they recorded the original versions of country music classics such as ‘Wildwood Flower’, ‘Jimmy Brown The Newsboy’, ‘I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes’ and ‘Wabash Cannonball’ among many others.


In 1931 in Louisville, Kentucky they recorded with the father of country music, Jimmie Rodgers. One of the tracks laid down was ‘the wonderful city’ on which Sara Carter was prominent – incidentally, this was the only sacred song Jimmie ever recorded.

Maybelle Carter taught her young daughter to play both the auto-harp and the guitar, June making her radio debut at the age of nine in 1938. Soon, alongside her sisters Helen and Anita, they became a fixture on Border Radio when the entire Carter clan settled in Texas.


In 1948 on June’s (she had, by now, dropped the Valerie part of her name) graduation from high school, the family upped and moved again, this time to Knoxville, Tennessee where they performed on the WNOX Midday Merry Go Round, following this with stints on Springfield, Missouri’s Ozark Jubilee. The following year, 1949, would prove to be a busy year recording-wise for the Carter family. June appeared as a guest on the comedy duo Homer and Jethro’s version of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, a recording which also featured a young Chet Atkins on guitar and her sister Anita on bass. It became a surprise country hit which led her to record a string of off-beat solo sides in a similar vein, including ‘Root Hog Or Die’ and ‘Mommie’s Real Peculiar’.


Come 1950, mother Maybelle and the three daughters joined Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. It was around the same period that June met rising country star Carl Smith. Two years later they were married. The country star Hank Snow, who co-owned a booking agency with Colonel Tom Parker, introduced the Carter family to Parker, for a while becoming their manager. Within a couple of years the family were on the early tours of Parker’s latest signing, the Tupelo, Mississippi Flash, Elvis Presley.


In the late 1950s, June spent some time in New York studying at Elia Kazan’s School of Method Acting which led to several appearances on TV’s ‘Gunsmoke’ and a smallish role in the 1958 film ‘Country Music Holiday’. She occasionally returned to acting throughout her career, most notably in the role of Robert Duvall’s mother in the film ‘The Apostle’ in 1997. As the fifties gave way to the sixties, she returned to Nashville. By now, she had a daughter Carlene (born 26th September 1955) who would one day have a substantial career of her own. Divorced from Carl Smith, she re-married to Rip Nix and was, by 1961, touring with Johnny Cash.

In 1963 Cash recorded ‘Ring Of Fire’, making prominent use of Tex-Mex trumpets. The song had been co-written by both June Carter and Merle Kilgore, allegedly inspired by a book of Elizabethan poetry owned by A.P. Carter. The song was originally recorded by June’s sister Anita Carter as ‘Love’s Ring Of Fire’. In Cash’s hands of course, the song became a massive hit. 1964 would see June duet with Cash on a version of Bob Dylan’s ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ which became both a country and a pop hit. More duets followed including their Grammy award winning renditions of ‘Jackson’ (1967) and ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ (1970).  




They married in 1968 and June very much dedicated the rest of her life to being Mrs Johnny Cash; touring together, recording together and raising their child, John Carter Cash, together. However, she did find time to record a well-received solo album ‘Appalachian Pride’ as well as writing two autobiographies, ‘Among My Klediments’ (1979) and ‘From The Heart’ (1997).


In 1997 Johnny Cash was diagnosed with a neurological condition. June responded to this crisis by stepping out from his shadow and once again pursuing her interest in acting. 1999 would see the release of a second solo album, ‘Press On’, which tapped into the same raw sound that had made Johnny Cash’s American recordings such a critical success and it earned her a Grammy for best traditional folk album.