NASHVILLE When the Whites set about putting together a new acoustic album, they had no idea it would turn into a comprehensive overview of their lives and career.
A Lifetime in the Making, which came out last week, virtually amounts to just that: a personal and musical history of this group's deep roots in country, bluegrass and gospel music.
"We never planned it," said Buck White, who makes up the group with his daughters Cheryl White and Sharon White. "When we started looking for songs, the ones I liked, I put them with my bundle and we all did the same. Then we sifted through them with [artist] Jerry [Douglas, who produced the album]."
"Jerry brought a bunch, too," Sharon White said. "We'd get together and listen until we'd burn our ears out. We had no idea that it would span such a variety of music, with a bit of everything that has influenced us. There was no heavy-duty talk about that kind of stuff, but that's what it ended up doing."
"That's what it is," Cheryl White added. "Jerry said it was a little bit of everything. We probably couldn't have done it on purpose."
Quest For Treasure
The span of songs, they said, grew as the album grew. The Maybelle Carter song "Fair and Tender Ladies" (RealAudio excerpt), for instance, an old example of "step-out singing" for a trio, has been little recorded, but the Whites weren't initially thinking of it. They were just looking for a song that would be good for Emmylou Harris to join them on. "We didn't know the Carters had recorded that," Sharon said. "Cheryl and I are the ultimate Osborne Brothers fans."
"That's where we heard it," Cheryl said. They couldn't find any recorded versions of the song, though.
"Then," Sharon added, "I went to Eddie Stubbs [musician and WSM announcer] because I thought there was another verse, because I remember the Country Gentlemen singing it, or something like it. Eddie said, 'I don't think it's the same song.'
"So I said," she continued, "did anybody ever cut it? Where did it come from? He said, 'The Carter Family did it, well, the Carter Sisters cut it. Let me get you a copy of that.' He brought it to me and here I was already thinking, well, Cheryl and Emmy can sing this part, we'll each one take a lead and switch parts on harmonies.
"And it turned out to be so similar to what the Carter Sisters did. They didn't change parts, but they all did a step-out verse. All three of those girls had such unique voices and when they came together it was special, but when each one would step-out, it just gave you chills. And to think we had never heard it, all these years."
Song selection throughout the album became a similar adventure, they said. The song "Old Hands" proved to be a perfect vehicle for reuniting with the other White sister, Rosie, who used to sing with them. "Rosie has the highest voice of the three of us," Sharon said.
"It was a great idea," Cheryl said, "because it's kind of a tribute to our parents and grandparents."
"We're suckers for a song like that," Sharon said of the Max D. Barnes/Leslie Satcher composition.
Roots And Family
Buck White wrote the instrumental "Old Man Baker" (RealAudio excerpt) as a tribute to legendary fiddle player Kenny Baker, who made musical history in his years with Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys.
"That's also for his daddy; his daddy played real good, old-timey-style fiddle," Buck said. "Kenny helped us get on record here the first time in Nashville, and I wanted to play something that sounded a little like what he did."
They also called on Southwestern songwriter Billy Joe Foster to provide songs that evoke the family's north Texas roots. "He's a kid that grew up out there 50 miles from where we grew up," Buck said. "Just across the Red River over in Oklahoma."
"He fits us like a brother," Cheryl said, "and he's Texas to a T. He said, 'You know, I thought that song sounded like Buck. It sounded like it told his story.' "
Foster co-wrote three songs for the album: "Texas to a 'T'," "Before the Prairie Met the Plow" and "Apron Strings," and the titles pretty much describe the stories the songs tell. "Those songs painted a picture in my mind," Sharon said.
"'Apron Strings' haunted me," Cheryl said. "And so did 'Before the Prairie Met the Plow.' "
"Songs like that brought us here," Sharon said, "and caused us to love this music."