Their story begins like something you’d read on the back pages of the secret scrolls of folk music destiny:
Mystical dreamer, mathematician, tai chi practitioner, piano teacher, computer programmer, guitar picker and wandering cowboy sage from Texas/Oklahoma seeks poetry-loving, type A ex-head cheerleader, graphic designer, classically trained violinist and karaoke queen with Florida roots and California cool for musical adventures, journeys of the heart, and the betterment of the human condition…
Tracy Grammer saw Dave Carter perform three songs at a songwriter’s showcase shortly after she moved to Portland, Oregon in 1996. “Here were stories that could stand alone as poetry, sung with compassion, intelligence, and a hint of Texas twang,” Grammer says. “I knew instantly that I was in the presence of greatness; I knew I had received my calling in life.” They met on their way out the door and by late 1997 had entered into a mutual “marriage in music.”
Their unique strengths and diverse backgrounds came together in powerful synergy. Carter conjured mystical, romantic, true fictions while Grammer complemented his expert guitar, banjo, and voice with beautifully intoned violin, mandolin and emotionally potent vocals. Building on Carter’s impressive songwriting wins at Kerrville, Wildflower and Napa Valley, the duo recorded their first album, When I Go, in Grammer’s kitchen. The simple, no-frills recording garnered the unknown duo a full-page feature article in the Los Angeles Times, naming Carter “a major lyrical talent” and declaring their self-released album a “discovery of the year.”
The duo signed to Massachusetts-based label Signature Sounds in 2000 and released two chart-topping albums of what they called “postmodern, mythic American folk music.” In addition to heavy airplay across AAA, Americana and folk radio stations, the duo was highly celebrated by the press. The Boston Globe declared that “If the voice of modern folk is changing – it is going to sound a lot like Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer.” The flood of praise resulted in a full calendar of concert dates and an invitation to join folk icon Joan Baez on her spring 2002 east coast tour as both featured artists and band members. Grammer found herself in the spotlight as the instrumental soloist and backing vocalist, while Carter’s compositions were being performed alongside songs by Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Merle Haggard and Steve Earle — an incredible endorsement by one of the foremost curators and interpreters of modern American songwriting.
Then, on the morning of Friday, July 19, in a room at the duo’s favorite hotel in Hadley, Massachusetts, Carter returned from a run complaining of chest pains. Soon thereafter, he died in Grammer’s arms from a massive heart attack, just three weeks shy of his 50th birthday.
Grammer embraced the musical community’s collective loss, anchoring musical tributes at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (which continues to honor Carter annually) and the official Portland memorial tribute, which featured Joan Baez, Richard Shindell and others.
Grammer continues to perform Carter’s songs and has produced three solo and two duo albums since Carter’s death, including the critically acclaimed tribute CD Flower of Avalon with John Jennings as co-producer and Mary Chapin Carpenter contributing backing vocals and liner notes. In 2012 Red House Records releases Little Blue Egg, an album of previously-unreleased Dave & Tracy recordings. The CD includes eleven tracks, with five additional songs to be released throughout 2012 as part of a year-long celebration to mark the 10th anniversary of Carter’s death and what would have been his 60th birthday.