Kim Carson forged her musical identity in the raw, twangy, pedal steel and fiddle sounds of 1940s and ’50s honky-tonk country.
While honky-tonk is great for shuffling across a dance floor, the style’s lyrics are often poignant tales of heartbreak. The original songs Carson writes and performs and the classics she interprets faithfully follows the genre's heroes: Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and George Jones. Loretta Lynn, a tough-as-they-get heroine, is another of Carson’s inspirations.
“The old topics,” Carson confirmed last week from Germany. “I’m working on a song now with the lines: 'Lying, leaving, hurting and cheating. I’m just a girl who’s down in New Orleans.' ”
On Friday, July 26, Carson will play her first Dyson House Listening Room show at Zeeland Street Market. The show gets underway at 7 p.m.
Carson first heard the music she would build her career on when she was a child growing up in southern Oklahoma. It was all thanks to her grandfather.
“My granddad loved to have records at home," Carson said. "My grandma always asked me, ‘Honey, what’s that new song on the radio that your granddaddy likes?’ I’d say, ‘That’s Barbara Fairchild’ or ‘That’s Connie Smith.’ When you grow up with music like that, it gets in your blood.”
Carson is a veteran of the small but spunky New Orleans country scene that includes Gal Holiday, Christian Serpas and Ghost Town, and the fiddling singer in her Real Deal band, Buckshot Willie. She’s released 12 albums, performed 22 times at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and has been a regular at Kerry Irish Pub since 1995.
Carson and the Real Deal didn’t make Jazz Fest this year because, by popular demand, they launched their annual European spring touring earlier than usual.
“I hate to miss Jazz Fest,” Carson said. “It’s always an honor to be invited. Every year we meet people who come from Chicago, California and all over the country. It’s like a class reunion.”
Carson began performing in Europe in the early 2000s. This year she was there from late April through mid-July, performing in Germany, Austria, Denmark, France, Switzerland and Italy.
Europeans, Carson said, prefer the classic country Carson performs over the rock-, pop- and hip-hop-influenced country that dominates the radio in the U.S.
“The Europeans don’t perceive that as country,” Carson said. “They want country to sound authentic, like Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash. They enjoy anything that’s authentically American — film, music and so many things.”
Carson noticed, too, that the music she’s been performing in Europe for nearly 20 years has influenced the continent’s homegrown country bands.
“They used to play country-pop, like Ronnie Milsap and Sawyer Brown,” she said. “But now we hear bands playing songs from our old set lists, songs they never did before.”
As technically adept as the Europeans are at duplicating classic country music, they’re not likely to replace hard-core American artists like Carson and Austin’s Dale Watson.
“The American musicians play from the heart,” Carson said. “We might not be exactly correct, but we’re so full of emotion that it’s better than correct. The audiences here feel that.”
Carson studied radio, TV and film at North Texas State University and worked in radio in Texas and Chicago before moving to New Orleans in 1990 with her then-husband and fellow radio personality, Bubba Carson. Still in radio, she began performing in 1993. In 1995, frustrated by pay inequity between men and women in the radio industry, Carson said, she left her popular afternoon drive-time show, making the transition from playing records to making records.
“I’m having a wonderful time touring and playing music with musicians I respect,” she said.
Kim Carson and the Real Deal / Buckshot Willie
7 p.m. Friday, July 26
Zeeland Street Market, 2031 Perkins Road