|Birth name||Rebecca Carlene Smith|
|Born||September 26, 1955|
|Origin||Nashville, Tennessee, United States|
|Associated acts||Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Rosanne Cash, Carter Family, Nick Lowe, Robert Ellis Orrall, John Mellencamp|
Between 1978 and the present, Carter has recorded twelve albums, primarily on major labels. In the same timespan, she has released more than twenty singles, including three No. 3-peaking hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts.
Carlene Carter's earliest released solo recording was "Friendly Gates", a track included on her stepfather Johnny Cash's 1974 album The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me and credited under the name Carlene Routh.
Her solo recording career had begun in the late 1970s with her eponymous debut album. In 1979, during a concert at New York City's The Bottom Line, she introduced a song about mate-swapping called Swap-Meat Rag, from her album Two Sides to Every Woman, by stating, "If this song don't put the cunt back in country, I don't know what will." Johnny Cash and her mother June Carter were in the audience, unknown to Carlene. The comment was quoted widely in the press and Carter spent much of the next decade trying to live it down.
In 1983 she had a top 40 hit "I Couldn't Say No", a duet with Robert Ellis Orrall.
In 1987, Carter joined with the singing trio The Carter Sisters, consisting of her mother June Carter Cash and June's sisters Helen and Anita Carter. Together, they formed a revived version of The Carter Family, and were featured on a 1987 television episode of Austin City Limits along with Johnny Cash.
Carter's career really took off with the album I Fell in Love, in 1990. The album and title song topped the US country albums and singles charts, respectively. Following a lengthy stint living in the UK and in the run-up to her divorce from the English singer-songwriter Nick Lowe, Carter had returned to America where in 1988 she met musician Howie Epstein, bassist in Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Epstein helped Carter get her career back on track, producing I Fell in Love and co-authoring its title track with longtime collaborator, Milwaukee writer Perry M. Lamek. In 1991, the song "I Fell in Love" earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. The album, which featured straight-ahead, retro-sounding country (unlike her prior work, which had combined country, rock and roll and pop sounds) was among the first successes of the 1990s "neotraditionalist" movement in country.
Three years later, Epstein produced Carter's follow-up CD Little Love Letters, featuring the hit "Every Little Thing", which was one of the top-rated music videos of the year. Epstein and Carter were engaged in the mid to late 1990s, but never married. Epstein died in 2003 of a suspected drug overdose.
Carter provided the voice of "Red" in the 1994 Williams pinball machine, Red & Ted's Road Show, designed by Pat Lawlor. A clip of Carter's hit, "Every Little Thing," is played after the player scores a jackpot. A picture of Carter appears in the game's backglass artwork.
In 1995, Carter's Little Acts of Treason was well received critically but failed to achieve the commercial success of Carter's two previous releases. In 1996, Carter released Hindsight 20/20, a greatest hits album but it failed to achieve success.
She received a small amount of acclaim with the song "It Takes One to Know Me," which was released on the albums Johnny Cash: The Legend and Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash: Duets. Originally recorded in 1977 with a full string backing group, it was lost in a tape collection in Hendersonville, TN and then recovered in 2003. It then was remastered by her brother John Carter Cash. In the remastered version, John added his and his wife Laura's (Carlene's sister-in-law) backing vocals and a guest appearance from Carlene herself—more than 25 years after she wrote and first recorded the song.
On June 26, 2001, a New Mexico police officer pulled over Carter and Epstein. A search of the vehicle revealed that it was stolen and drugs were found.
In 2005, she was played by Victoria Hester in the movie Walk the Line.
On August 8, 2009, Carlene Carter played a live acoustic set at Hecksher Park in Huntington, New York. During the performance, she stated that it was the first time in more than 30 years that she performed by herself. During her hour-long set, she played the title track from her latest release "Stronger," and said it was written in memory of her younger sister, who had died six years earlier. The track was performed on the piano and brought Carter to tears. Her younger sister is also mentioned in her track "Wildwood Rose." She ended the set by playing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" with the opening act: The Homegrown String Band, a family band from the area. She said it brought back memories of playing with her own family.
In 2014, she released her tenth studio album Carter Girl for Rounder Records. The album features 12 tracks written or co-written by members of The Carter Family: 10 pre-existing songs and two new originals. Carter Girl received universal acclaim and includes collaborations with Elizabeth Cook, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Kris Kristofferson and Carter Family members Lorrie Carter Bennett, Helen Carter, Anita Carter, June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash.
Carter was the opening act on John Mellencamp's 80-date Plain Spoken tour in 2015. Additionally, Carter collaborated extensively with Mellencamp on his 2017 album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, providing vocals on five tracks as well as writing one ("Damascus Road") and co-writing another ("Indigo Sunset").
Carlene Carter has been married four times:
- Joseph Simpkins Jr. (1971–1972) (one child, Tiffany Anastasia Lowe, born February 23, 1972)
- Jack Wesley Routh (1974–1977) (one child, John Jackson Routh, born January 15, 1976)
- Nick Lowe (1979–1990) (Carter appears in the music video of "Cruel to Be Kind" with real footage of their wedding.)
- Joseph Breen (2006-2019)
Carter was for many years linked romantically with the late bass player Howie Epstein, best known for his work with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. She lived with him in Tesuque, New Mexico, from 1996 until 2002.
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