Peter Rowan returns to his roots – track premiere

Carter Stanley has been an inspiration to many in the bluegrass field. For Peter Rowan, that influence has simmered for more than half a century. 

The impression that Rowan was left with after meeting Carter Stanley for the first time has been translated into in original song by Rowan, The Light in Carter Stanley’s Eyes, the title track for his new CD being readied for release in April on Rebel Records

Rowan has spoken about that visit he and bossman, Bill Monroe, paid to see Stanley up on Smith Ridge, about one year prior to Stanley’s passing on December 1, 1966  …. 

“Carter appeared to be suffering from a physical ailment, he was carrying some weight and seemed really tired, almost resigned to the mortality he so struggled with. What I wrote in my diary was ‘the tombstones in Carter Stanley’s sunset eyes,’ but what stayed with me was not his burden of sadness, but the light that shone through it, the light in Carter’s eyes.”

As Rowan told Chris Courogen last year ….  “Stanley seemed jaundiced. His eyes were bright, but his skin was dull. The body was starting to fade.”

This CD tribute to the Stanley Brothers/Ralph Stanley entitled Carter Stanley’s Eyes features Rowan recordings of a number of Stanley Brothers songs like Let Me Love You One More Time, Too Late to Cry, Ridin’ That Midnight Train and A Vision of Mother, as well as a few others that they didn’t write but were a regular part of their repertoire, such as A Crown He Wore, Hills of Roane County and Will You Miss Me. The track list also includes a Monroe number, Can’t You Hear Me Calling, a Louvin Brothers song (A Tiny Broken Heart) as well as three originals from Peter, Drumbeats on the Watchtower (which Ralph Stanley actually recorded back in the early 1990s under the title Wild Geese Cry Again… but it was not released until it was included on the Great High Mountain collection about 10 years ago), Take My Ashes and the title track, The Light in Carter Stanley’s Eyes, which with its recitation echoes Ralph Stanley’s own tribute to his older brother, Hills Of Home

The guest artists include Don Rigsby, (whose involvement legitimizes the Stanley “theme” running throughout the album), mandolin and vocals; Chris Henry, mandolin and vocals; Tim O’Brien, guitar and vocals; Jack Lawrence, lead guitar; Blaine Sprouse, fiddle and bass vocals; Patrick Sauber banjo, guitar and vocals; and Paul Knight acoustic bass. Todd Pons of the Bear Wallow Bluegrass Band sings on closing song, A Vision of Mother.   

In this video Peter Rowan sings Carter Stanley’s Eyes during an interview with Bluegrass Country Radio’s Chris Teskey at their Washington, DC studios.

Mark Freeman at Rebel tells us that Peter grew up listening to Bill Monroe, and later performing with him as a Blue Grass Boy, but discovered how much he loved the Stanleys after Ralph’s passing. Rowan approached Dave Freeman at the World of Bluegrass convention in 2016, and told him how he wanted to do a straight bluegrass album again. And since Ralph had been on Rebel, he would be honored for it to be on Rebel as well.

This meeting led to further discussions and soon, Carter Stanley’s Eyes was in pre-production.

The new album, which will be debuted live on stage at MerleFest with Tim O’Brien, Don Rigsby, and Chris Henry, includes the song Peter wrote for Ralph Stanley, Drumbeats on the Watchtower. Rowan had never recorded it before now, and Rebel has agreed to let us premiere the track today.

As a footnote, we would like to add that Peter is in good health, despite having had to cancel some shows earlier this year. According to Mark Freeman, he was hospitalized briefly after Christmas for exhaustion, but is doing well now, and is enthusiastic about touring in support of the new record in April.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.