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Joy Lynn White as Maybelle Carter

A Conversation with Joy Lynn White (continued)

JLW: And then I also got a lead role in a musical in Abingdon, Virginia, in a play called Keep on the Sunny Side, and I was playing Mother Maybelle Carter. It was the life and music of the Carter family. So luckily, they let me do everything. I still had my writer's deal. And I relocated to Abingdon, Virginia--I took my dogs, we left, and I was in a theater, in this really cool world.

PM: Wow.

JLW: That just rolled my way. Buddy Miller was the one who called me about that and said, "I don't know if you'd be into it, but..."

PM: Buddy called you about the opportunity. How did he happen to hear about it?

JLW: Because the other lead who was playing Sara Carter in the play is Teresa Williams, who is married to Larry Campbell. [Larry's a close friend of Buddy's that played for many years in Dylan's band, and played alongside Buddy at the Americana Awards show recently at the Ryman.] Teresa is an actress and a singer. And she had my records from years ago. And they were in dire straits for a Maybelle because their Maybelle had bailed on them. [laughs] Got freaked out.

PM: May-bailed.

JLW: She May-bailed. [laughs] And so Teresa called Buddy and said, "Is there anyone in Nashville that you know who could do this?" And he said, "The only girl I could think of, and I don't know if she'd do it, would be Joy Lynn White." My mother is from East Tennessee. It was very easy to pick up the accent because I can [snaps fingers] turn it on like that.

PM: You can talk like your mom.

JLW: Oh, that's what I did! Although Teresa was great with it, and so was the lead guy, Eugene Wolf. He was great, and a real natural. He actually has sung bluegrass and all that. [Eugene Wolf and Ed Snodderly co-founded The Brother Boys and had a couple of records on Sugar Hill in the mid-'90s.] He's from North Carolina. Teresa is from West Tennessee. So we really did know how to speak like southerners. A lot of people who get parts in those kinds of roles are trained actors from New York. It just rolled my way, so I went and did it. So I had that going on. I had a brand new record deal in the works. I was writing for Welk. I did the play for five months.

PM: Was that fun? Did you dig that?

JLW: It was fun, but it's extremely hard work.

PM: Yeah. And where was it going on? What town was it playing in?

JLW: It was in Abingdon, Virginia, by Bristol, Tennessee. But we also went to Roanoke, at the Mill Mountain in Virginia. There's a really nice huge theater there. It's regional theater, so it's on a high level. It's not Broadway, but it is at a level where a lot of big stars that all of us have seen from time to time dip into regional theater. They go and do it, because if they've got a lead role in whatever theater company it is, I mean, they can make a pretty good living doing it. And they go all over the place doing it. So that was my first taste of that. And the reason this play was extremely hard was because it was still in the works. Had it been something like To Kill a Mockingbird or something like that--

PM: Something established.

JLW: When it's established, it's set, and you don't tend to change anything in it. But this one kept developing. When they got me, they thought, "Oh--she can really do this." So they kept giving me more and more to do, until I finally said, "No more, or I'm out of here," because I couldn't take it. [laughs]

PM: Like more lines or more songs--

JLW: More lines, more everything. It was more lines because they had a cast that were all really great. I mean, it was sold out all the time.

PM: You were already a seasoned singer. But how did you do with the other part of it, having to memorize lines and walk a certain way, blocking and delivering dramatic lines?

JLW: Well, I had done that in high school, because my goals in my life as a teenager growing up was to be not just a singer, but also an actress. But as I said earlier, "I should have gone to some other places," because what I found out from doing that was that people couldn't believe that I hadn't had any training.

PM: Right.

JLW: Some people are naturals at that, and that's what they told me that I was. And they did help me, a lot. I didn't know a thing. I didn't know stage right from stage left. But I think from playing shows and doing what I've done for so long, that I picked up on some stuff really quick.

PM: Sure, you're a stage person.

JLW: And it's amazing what one's brain can learn in a short period of time. And it wasn't just me, of course, you'd see everybody do that. You would be worked so hard at these rehearsals and then you would go, "How am I going to remember this?" But you would the next day.

PM: Hmm.

JLW: But I wasn't thinking of writing songs, I wasn't thinking of record deals, I was thinking about that right there, and I didn't let anything else bother me. I was just there, just doing that.

 I'm somewhat of a perfectionist, but I'm also a slacker. I'm a Libra, so I guess I'm balancing those two things. But if it falls to me to not screw up somebody else's deal, I'm very conscientious about that, because that's serious to other people. And any time somebody is paying money to come and see you, you should be serious when you're on that stage. And there were pretty good crowds for that show. There were lots of surprising people, too, like all the Carter family would always come.

PM: Really?

JLW: Tom T. Hall and Dixie Carter came. Lots of people like that were very interested. We did a documentary for the BBC, also.

PM: Oh, they filmed it?

JLW: Yeah. They filmed it for the BBC, and they archived it for the theater. Theater rarely films or takes pictures, that's not part and parcel of that world.

PM: Right, being two completely different things.

JLW: But for theater--they document it for their archives, so when they bring that show back up, okay, they want to know how it all was. They're very serious. They're way more serious than this world is that we live in here.

PM: Oh, yeah, we have pitch machines and 32 takes. Anyhow, you did that for five months.

JLW: And when I came back, during the last couple of months, it was starting to go sour over there for everyone over at Lucky Dog, and they let Blake Chancey go. A lot of people were let go, and they shut that label down. So we were back at the drawing board. But I had already gotten up with Kyle Lehning. That was the question that began this theater tangent.

PM: Right.  continue

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