They were known as the first family of country music. The harmonies and guitar playing of Alvin Pleasant (“A.P.”) Carter, his wife Sara and her cousin Maybelle would dictate the sound of country and bluegrass music for each genre’s first decades. The Virginia-born trio made a career out of taking old folk and mountain songs and tweaking them with their own Appalachian spin. Which is what they did with “Wildwood Flower.”
Originally written in the 1860s, it’s a simple song: a young woman is suddenly deserted by her beau. Recorded in May 1928 on Maybelle’s 19th birthday, the Carter-family version forever inscribes the song’s 12- (or so) note guitar part into the mind of anyone who hears it. And whether it’s sung by Sara or Maybelle, who both flatten their vowels as memorably as Nelly would 74 years later (“hair” becomes “herr,” and “flower” becomes “flarr”), the song maintains its sense of young innocence lost. That “pale wildwood flower” has been jilted for the first time and she won’t forget it for as long as she lives. The bloom is definitely off the rose.