“He was such a good dad to me. We had a special relationship, I will say. He called me Sparkle and I called him Big John. He was unique,” says Carlene Carter of her stepfather Johnny Cash, who was married to her mother June for over 30 years.
“I got the greatest chance in my life to witness two of the greatest entertainers on the planet perform all the time and I also got to grow up seeing them being very human. The thrill that John would have when he had a new song was inspiring,” she told Róisín Ingle, presenter of the Róisín Meets podcast.
Growing up a Carter meant a life on the stage was inevitable and she got her first outing at the age of four.
“They just threw me out on stage and said: ‘sing this song’. I was really shy and boy did I sound country. If you think I got a country accent now, you should hear that recording,” she said.
Carter says she is used to being introduced as the daughter of country music legend June Carter, the stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, and granddaughter of “Mother” Maybelle Carter of the original Carter Family. She was never intimidated by it though.
“I do recognise they were iconic performers and contributors to music, so I have a great amount of respect for that. But to me they were my family and I never was in awe of it in a way that made me feel like I couldn’t’ do that. I wanted to do it and carry it on,” she said.
Married three times before the age of 23, Carter has a wild past and has battled drink and drug problems over the years. She spoke candidly about the difficulties she has faced staying sober, particularly in 2003 when she lost her sister Rosie, her mother June and stepfather Johnny Cash within months of each other.
She has no regrets in her life, however, and she says she is determined not to miss anymore.
“I feel like I missed some stuff because I was not present. Now I have seven granbabies and I don’t want to miss anything about them, I don’t want to be worrying about that.”
You can hear Carlene Carter play three songs live, including her version of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, and listen to the full conversation with Róisín Ingle in the latest Róisín Meets podcast on Soundcloud, iTunes, Stitcher or irishtimes.com