One of the most influential single instruments in popular music history - Mother Maybelle Carter's Gibson L-5 acoustic - has been donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum:
- Philanthropist Bob McLean donated $1 million to the Hall of Fame to purchase the guitar, saying historic instruments such as Carter's guitar belong in the museum.
"Not because they're fancy, expensive instruments but because the world was changed by the music created with them," he said. "They belong here because people need to connect with their past."
Carter bought the guitar, then a top-of-the-line model, for $275 in 1928 and played it until her death in 1978. She used it on most of her recordings and to pioneer a playing style in which she picked the melody on the lower strings while strumming the chords on the higher ones. The technique, called the "Carter Scratch," has been widely imitated.
"`Mother Maybelle' Carter is really the person who introduced the guitar as a lead instrument in country music," said Hall of Fame Director Kyle Young. "She belongs to a small group of blues, country and other roots musicians whose playing style and instrumentation provided a foundation for nearly every genre of popular music.
....McLean, an amateur musician who described himself as a "behind the curtain-type guy," was coaxed onto the stage at the Hall of Fame for Monday's announcement of the acquisition. He picked a bit of the Carter Family classic "Wildwood Flower" on Maybelle's guitar with Vince Gill and Marty Stuart. [AP]
The Carters were discovered and recorded by the great Ralph Peer (1892-1960), the single most important figure in the establishment of roots music ("race" and "hillbilly," aka "blues" and "country") as commercially viable in the '20s as a talent scout, producer and music publisher. Peer was born in Kansas City and helped his father sell sewing machines, phonographs and recordings as a teen. After high school he went to work for Columbia, followed by service in the U.S. Merchant Marine during WWI.
Peer was hired as recording director of the Okeh label in 1920. Success came almost immediately when he produced Mamie Smith’s aforementioned "Crazy Blues" in New York. More important than the urban blues sung by the likes of vaudeville entertainer Smith were Peer's field recordings where his feet found the talent, his ear sorted out the best material and his personality brought out relaxed, confident performances by blues and country greats Sara Martin, Fiddlin' John Carson (the first genuine country recording "The Little Old Cabin In the Lane" in '23), Ernest "Pop" Stoneman ("The Titanic," '25, one of the biggest sellers of the '20s), Lonnie Johnson, Victoria Spivey, and Sippie Wallace, all for Okeh.