Clarence Carter | I Got Rhythm

Go To Artist Page

Recommended if You Like
bobby bland bobby rush clarence carter

More Artists From
United States - Georgia

Other Genres You Will Love
Blues: Rhythm & Blues Blues: Rhythm & Blues Moods: Mood: Party Music
There are no items in your wishlist.

I Got Rhythm

by Clarence Carter

this is an album of songs that I like. Some of the songs were maid popular by other artest but are done by me in my on way.
Genre: Blues: Rhythm & Blues
Release Date: 

We'll ship when it's back in stock

Order now and we'll ship when it's back in stock, or enter your email below to be notified when it's back in stock.
Sign up for the CD Baby Newsletter
Your email address will not be sold for any reason.
Continue Shopping
available for download only
Share to Google +1

Tracks

Available as MP3, MP3 320, and FLAC files.

To listen to tracks you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin.

Sorry, there has been a problem playing the clip.

  song title
share
time
download
1. A Man Down There
Share this song!
X
4:38 $0.99
2. Further On Up the Road
Share this song!
X
3:22 $0.99
3. Grand Pa Can't Fly His Kite
Share this song!
X
6:36 $0.99
4. Hand Me Down Love
Share this song!
X
4:03 $0.99
5. I Ain't Leaving Girl
Share this song!
X
5:22 $0.99
6. Prove Your Love
Share this song!
X
4:24 $0.99
7. Ready Too Retire
Share this song!
X
4:48 $0.99
8. Rock Me Baby
Share this song!
X
3:52 $0.99
9. Stormy Monday
Share this song!
X
5:54 $0.99
10. Strokin
Share this song!
X
4:35 $0.99
11. What I Say
Share this song!
X
4:30 $0.99
12. Girl from Soweto
Share this song!
X
3:51 $0.99
preview all songs

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
following is an overview of what I am all about. I hope you enjoy reading.
Clarence Carter by Ray Ellis and Dave Williams



The recent death of Ray Charles and the release of the biographical film ‘Ray’ has reminded us that blindness is not an insurmountable hurdle when striving for success in the music business. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles are the high profile names that come to mind when thinking of blind performers but when it comes to longevity in the soul and R&B field Clarence Carter is an artist whose track record is more than equal to that of his sighted contemporaries. We were fortunate enough to meet him in Porretta in 2004 where he gave us time to talk to him about various aspects of his long and fruitful career.





You grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. Who were your earliest influences?



When I was very young mother made you have to go to church, that’s just the way life was, but by me being away in school for nine months out of the year, see I was out of her clutches, so I didn’t have to go, but at the school where I did go, they would have services on Sunday which you had to attend. They gave us bible class every day and it was not a religious school either, it was a state-run school.



So gospel music was not a major influence?



No, I don’t think gospel was. What was a major influence on me was my stepfather used to buy all of those old records like Washboard Sam and Tommy McLennan. I didn’t listen to the radio very often because we didn’t have one so what used to happen was, my step-father used to go out and when he would hear a record he liked, he just would bring it home. He heard a record by John Lee Hooker and he would bring it home and he heard a record by Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, he’d bring it home. They were stars at that time; well I figured they were stars anyway. Tommy McLennan, Washboard Sam – some of the older guys who I never really did know, but he would bring those records home. I never will forget when one day he came home and had ‘Move On Up A Little Higher’ by Mahalia Jackson. You see those are the things that mostly stick with me because we had what they call a vitrola that you played a record on. When he would bring whatever song he wanted home, well then - he was just simply going to get into his booze or whatever he was gonna drink and I was the one who had to keep playing the record over and over on the vitrola you see. As a result you were either going to learn something from it or you were going to go crazy, one of the two! So (laughs) as I’m not crazy, I guess I learnt something. That was the most useful influence on me, it wasn’t about gospel [or] singing in a gospel group.



That’s how I would hear them and as a result I just took a guitar and tried to play what I heard them play. My mother bought me a guitar when I was about eleven, but you see I was not at home most of the time. I went to a school where I would stay six/nine months of the year – in school instead of at home. So I didn’t really grow up that much in Montgomery, I grew up at the boarding school where I lived. They have a famous race track there now.



That was the famous Talladega blind school?


Yes, that’s where it was. I really grew up at the school, and growing up there, I was formerly trained in music but not with a guitar. I played a trumpet for a little while but I didn’t do very well with that, I did most of my best work with a piano. The trumpet was the kind of thing where we had a band, we didn’t march but we would be in a parade. I played the trumpet in the band but I was never very successful with a trumpet. I was more successful with a trombone than a trumpet but my most musical success was with the piano because I learned how to play a piano in school there. Then when I graduated from there, I went to higher learning [at] Alabama State college [where] I continued with the piano. I was [a] self-taught guitar player and I could play what I wanted to hear.



Was the Talladega School for the Blind where you met Calvin Scott?


Yeah I met Calvin there. I think some people get mixed up and say Calvin Thomas and I don’t know why. He was just a student there. We [had] nearly a hundred students there and course a lot of us are still in contact with each other even now. They had in Atlanta last week a national convention for the National Federation for the Blind. And they had their annual conference in Atlanta last week, in fact I went to it, and there they had about three to four thousand blind people. And you know it’s good to get together like that because you can share [the] same interests, share the same anxieties, you share the same problems, you know it gives you a way to work all these things out or an opportunity to exchange ideas.








So you got together with him and actually cut something for Fairlane?


Yeah we did I think one 45 for Fairlane, (two singles) I think maybe two for Duke (four singles). That was the introduction to Rick Hall. I rented the studio to go in to record ‘Step By Step’ I did it for twofold purpose. I did it because first I wanted to try and get us something recorded. Secondly, I wanted to record it there, hoping that whoever owned the studio would hear us and would want to sign us to a record label. That’s what I really wanted .You know in Alabama it doesn’t take very long for news to spread about being successful. I knew the studio was there and I knew the name of it, I just didn’t know the person who owned it. But it didn’t take long to find out because just as I figured, when we went in there and started to record, he did hear us and he did invite us to come up to his office and I told Calvin then, I said ‘we’ll see.’ Just what I wanted to happen has happened. ‘He’s wanting us to come up there and he’s gonna offer us some kind of a contract.’ We didn’t have anyone to take us there so the best way to get there was to rent the studio and that’s what I did and he said he wanted to talk to us when we got finished.



The way I got it on the market was, I knew there was a radio station in Montgomery and I knew the guy who owned the radio station. And I took the record to him and he knew Jerry Wexler Who owned Atlantic Records and he got Jerry to put the record out for me. The guy who owned the radio station was not a DJ there, he just owned the station.



Calvin unfortunately had a road accident..



Well, I was at the same accident with him, it didn’t do very much to him, everybody thinks it was the end of his career but it was not. He had an album with Stax after that but the reality was, once we had the accident he and his wife wanted [us] to go [our] separate ways as far as recording was concerned and that’s what I did



You mentioned the other night, when you were singing ‘A Man Down There’, that you played with Jimmy Reed. It must have been around this time, tell us a bit about that.



Oh yes, Jimmy Reed was quite a character, he used to (laughs) he loves some spirit, he was gonna have whatever he drank, I don’t know what it was, but it was always a thrill for me to be around him because he took up time with me so far as laughing and talking and just sitting down and talking about this and that. We used to do some shows together, I was the new man on the block then, I was just coming out doing shows, we did some shows in Arkansas, we did some in Memphis, the promoters then would put all of us on the bus you see and take us from one place to the next. We would be staying in the same hotel and early in the morning, he would wake up about seven in the morning and I’d hear somebody knocking on my door saying, ‘Clarence come on! We gotta go down there and eat; I’m ready to eat’. I said, ‘Jimmy can’t you just go by yourself?‘‘. ‘No I want you to go with me, I want to talk’ Like that, that kind of thing. It was a thrill to me because in my growing up with his records, I used to listen to them all the time and I’m now being able to talk to the man! It was quite a thrill you know and when he used to come to Montgomery he would come and he didn’t have a band you see so he would hire my band to play for him. They had a club there called Tijuana Club and then they had one called durby Supper Club. The durby Supper Club used to have some of the best entertainers there, BB King used to play there all the time. You name any artist of that era and they used to play there and a lot of times like Tijuana Club, the very first time that Otis Redding played there, they had my band to play. Otis didn’t have a band either at the time. When John Lee Hooker first came to Montgomery, the first time I remember his coming, they had to have a band so they hired my band again. My band was very popular when I lived in Montgomery and they knew when I had to play for an artist I would make sure that we knew their material when they got to town. Solomon Burke tried his best to get me to go on the road with him but (laughs) I wouldn’t go. In those days I had I think about six pieces, we had two horns and four rhythms. No, we had a guitar (which was me), organ, base, drums and two horns.



Another guy I used to know out of Atlanta, see I used to try and do a little booking also, I used to always get Piano Red. He used to come to Montgomery quite often, in fact when I was playing with Calvin Scott, I used to have what we call our little Clarence and Calvin’s anniversary and Piano Red, I would book him to come and be our guest band for a whole week. We used to do things like that and once I started trying to do some things on my own, Piano Red used to play the Magnolia Ball Room in Atlanta and whenever I would go to Atlanta on a Monday night, he would always invite me to come down and we would sit in on his show, it was just a lot of fun you know musicians with musicians.



So after the parting with Calvin that left you were on your own..



I always have had all of the faith in what I could get done. You see Calvin and me was the kind of fate that really happened for the best, in fact my Mother told me that at the time, she said, ‘Well you know, things happen for the better’. At that moment, I couldn’t think of what the better would be because I thought by him not being with me that Rick Hall would not do a contract. So I said well now, to myself – how am I gonna be able to convince Rick Hall that I can sing and I don’t have to have Calvin to do it? You see he only knew Clarence and Calvin, he didn’t know Clarence Carter so when I called him and told him that there was no more Clarence and Calvin he said, ‘well I don’t know, I don’t know what to do’ Then he said ‘well who wrote the songs?’ I said ‘I did’ He said ‘well I’ll tell you what to do, I haven’t heard you sing by yourself’ He said ‘come on up and lets just see what happens’ Well I didn’t know at the time that publishing companies wanted songs to publish, you see I didn’t know that, but he did. So when he invited me to come up I said to myself ‘ this is gonna be my only chance, I’m gonna either do it now or I’m not gonna get it done, not this way’ So I went on up and out of that came ‘Thread The Needle’, out of that came ‘Tell Daddy’. Then out of that came ‘I Stayed Away Too Long’, ‘Looking For A Fox’, ‘Slip Away’….



Of course ‘Tell Daddy’ became ‘Tell Mama’ which was very big….



It happened that way because when we cut ‘Tell Daddy’ I kept trying to convince Rick Hall that that was a hit record and he didn’t believe me. So we had a song the other side of the record called ‘I stayed away too long’ and he really thought that was the better song and that’s the record they were going after when we put it out. The only thing about it was the disc jockeys turned it over. When they turned it over and started playing the other side, then he realized that I knew what I was talking about because the record jumped to number one in several large cities, like Washington DC – went to number one! Then there was Texas – number one! Miami, Florida – number one! So he realized, so when they sent Etta James down there for him to produce, he knew that song was in his publishing company. So you know [to] try [to] cut this on somebody else and that’s what he did. He called me and asked me if it would be alright if we changed the name to ‘Tell Mama’ and add a couple of different lyrics to it – ‘Oh yep no problem.’ She didn’t want to do it. They had to pacify her with whatever she wanted in order to get her to do that song. I was not there when they did it but finally they said she told them ‘Oh alright then but I’m tired of you all bothering me about this song, I’ve done it anyway just to shut ‘em up’



It’s just amazing how things happen that way and likewise the song ‘Slip Away’. I had that song cut long before you all heard it, but he didn’t want to believe what I knew I was talking about. I kept telling him ‘I’m telling you that it is a hit’ So we came up with a song ‘Funky Fever’. And he called me and said ‘What do think we gonna put on the flip side?’ I said ‘Well, since that ‘Slip Away’ is not going to be a hit record anyway, lets just put that on the other side’. He said ‘Ggood idea’ Well the disc jockeys turned it over – again. So there we had ‘Slip Away’ you see, but we had cut that song long time back. I even tried to get Joe Simon [to do it]. Well John R (John Richbourg), he was Joe Simon’s producer, I even paid them to pitch the song ‘Slip Away’ to Joe Simon and John Richbourg decided not to do it on Joe Simon and I know how that happened because Rick Hall didn’t think much of the song anyway, you see? So Joe Simon, when this song became a hit record, he told me, he said, ‘You know they pitched that song to me and we just decided not to do it.’ I said ‘well I’m glad John didn’t’.





It is interesting that you were recording in a studio surrounded by predominantly white musicians right at a time of major social change in America..



Believe it or not, we would get in their studio and we never thought about who was white and who was black, it never became an issue. Where it would become an issue was like when we would take a break and get ready to go out to eat, now you had the problem because they would be frustrated because they could not eat with us, even some of them would say ‘there’s just something wrong with this!’ But other than that – we never had an issue! The studio, we just got in there, we played, we would come up with different ideas and you never felt who was black and who was white, it really didn’t matter. The main concern was to try and get a record on the market. I just recorded because I just enjoyed the song, you know sometime when I would go up to do a recording session and Rick would play me a song, he said ‘you know I kind of think this song here has good potential, listen to it and see what comes to your mind.’ Well I think part of ‘country’ was already in me because I used to listen even growing up I used to listen to the ‘Grand Old Opry’ out of Nashville all the time especially on Saturday night. You see I knew all about Ernest Tubb, I knew Roy Acuff, I knew like Minnie Pearl, I knew all those artists, I knew George Morgan when he first came to ‘the ‘Grand Old Opry’ so I think I had some ‘country’ in me already so it was just a matter of me singing. It came so natural to me til I never thought about it until people began to analyse it.



Where did your famous chuckle come from?


About that time I did the chuckle on a record – I got that from another disc jockey who was on the air but he wasn’t in that radio station. And Rick Hall suggested that I do a chuckle in one of the songs we were cutting and I thought about the guy in Montgomery who had that little chuckle that I used to like.





Who was the D.J.?



We called him Mr. Lee. I’ve really forgotten the call letters of the radio station, I think it was APX – I have forgotten! But I do know he was well known on the radio and I do remember him having that little chuckle and that’s what we used to do.





What about songs which had quite ironic titles like ‘I Can’t See Myself’ and ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’?



Well ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ is a song that there again belonged to Rick Hall and Etta James did it. And it was quite a hit but I don’t know whether it was Rick Hall or Phil Walden’s idea to do that with me simply because I couldn’t see and I think that’s where they made their ties, but I told them when I did it that it was a pretty good song but it was not a hit record for me, I didn’t think so, but I said well I’ll do my best on it! But ‘I Can’t See Myself’ - I wrote that‘ and ‘Crying Over You’ I loved that song…



What about ‘The Few Troubles I’ve Had’ the real killer line in that song was when you say something along the lines of ‘oh why Lord do you make me human’…



Well Tommy Hunt (I believe that’s his name) had a song out called ‘Human’and I used to do that song at a nightclub, I used to love to do his song because I liked it and I just put the monologue in front of it, that’s what I did, that’s why it ended up me saying ‘ Lord why do you make me human?’. I used the same type of thing when I did ‘Making Love At The Dark End Of The Street’ where you know James Carr had the song ‘Dark End Of The Street’





You met Candi Staton during that time and you recorded a 45 with Candi Staton..



Do you know I think we did just one song . ‘If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them’ – that’s what it was! But that was the only one we ever did together. I took her into the studio, I took her to Rick Hall because he always had been telling me that if I found a female that I thought sounded good, just bring her up there.



How did you meet her then?


At one of my shows I did in Nashville. She was living with her sister and they came to the show. But I had met her a couple of years earlier when I had a band playing locally in Birmingham, Alabama. The manager of the club told me he had a girl that he wanted to let her sing that night and would we mind playing for her? And I told him no, we didn’t mind playing and that’s who it was. Well she just sang that night and she left and I never did think that I would see her again. I think she sang maybe ‘Tell Mama’ or something, whatever she sang it was by other people you know. Just songs that different girls that when they would get on stage they would ask you could you play this, could you play that? And that’s all I thought about it until I saw her again in Nashville and she and her sister came back stage when I came off stage and she asked me if I remembered her. And I told her ‘ yeah -I remembered we played for you a couple of years ago’ She said ‘well at the time I was married, but I’m no longer married.’ So I said ‘oh you’re not’ (laughs). So you see we just struck up a conversation. I said ‘well do you still sing’? She said ‘yes, well I still try’ I said ‘I know Rick Hall and he’s been telling me if I find a girl that could sing, bring her, so if you’d like to go up there’? That’s how I took her in to see Rick Hall.



I don’t know if you remember Laura Lee? Well Laura Lee, the company she was with sent her down for Rick Hall to produce her. I think she was with Chess. He had some songs there that he was gonna let Laura Lee listen to but he needed somebody to ‘sing’ the songs. So that’s what he did, he let Candi sing the songs that he was gonna let Laura Lee do, but he ended up cutting those songs on Candi. Laura Lee never heard of them until she heard them with Candi singing them!



At this time, what kind of songs were you singing on the circuit?


Well I was singing practically what you heard me singing in the studio. Except that I would sing other people’s songs, I used to sing some of the Otis Redding songs, I used to love to sing the song ‘Human’ stuff like that.



Who was in your band at this time, can you remember the names of the guys in the band?



No there’s no telling who was there. I always had my own band, I never did like to do things with just somebody else’s band. It was always gonna be my band but people used to try and book me on different shows but they wanted me to use the band they had and I would just tell em you know ‘no if we can’t afford to bring my musicians then I’d rather pass because my musicians will play the way I want it’ When I first went to the Apollo Theatre, they wanted me to play with Otis Redding’s band and Otis Redding’s band when they went in for rehearsal; they ran it down and they said ‘well we can’t spend too much time’ I said ‘well you’re gonna have to spend whatever time it is to the way I think it’s ok’ And of course I’m no star at this time, you know what I’m saying. They must have thought ‘Who does he think he is?’ But when we did get on the Apollo stage, when I started the song off, it wasn’t the way I wanted – I said ‘stop, wait a minute, don’t you all play, I only need my musicians to play’ That’s what I did, I stopped em from playing right then and right there and the whole time I was at the Apollo I only used just my three musicians.



You were with Fame for some years up until around 73, after you left Fame you went on to ABC.



The first album was called ‘Real’ and it didn’t do very well and one of the reasons why it didn’t because they told me when I went to ABC that they want to have some young producers and they wanted to let them do the productions, they wanted me to leave that part alone and they offered me a nice, good size of money to do just that. And I figured oh ok if you’ve got the money, I’ve got the time. And you know when you’ve got producers who fail to contact the artist to find out what key he’s going to sing a song in and you just run some musicians there in the studio and cut some tracks – it’s never gonna work. I was able to convince ABC that your money would be better spent if you let ‘me’ do the project. I called the people in Muscle Shoals, all the musicians came to Atlanta and I knew we were gonna come up with something and we did.



I was able to convince ABC to allow me to produce my own product; they could sell more records that they had sold on the first album. And at the time I had a commercial studio in Atlanta, Georgia. I moved to Atlanta in 72, but I did the recordings around 1974/75, somewhere in that era. I moved to Atlanta because in Montgomery everywhere you were going to go, you had to go through Atlanta-that was the only way to get there-if you were going to Washington, you were going through Atlanta, it was the hub city. And then, they also said that that the music industry was going to locate there and I was going to be on the ground breaking so to speak. Anyway, I was able to convince ABC records to let me do that so what I did was, instead of going to Muscle Shoals to do the album, I brought the musicians to Atlanta and we did it there. The name of the album was ‘Loneliness and Temptation’. We did it at the studio and it was an instant hit, I had something called ‘I Got Caught’.



Was that your own studio then or a hired studio in Atlanta?


No it was my own studio.



Who did you bring for those sessions?


I had, let me see, I had Roger Hawkins and then I had I believe David Hood and then I had on guitar, I can’t think of his name at the moment. They were all from Muscle Shoals, I called all of the guys that I knew that could make hit records. And also I got a young guy from Atlanta, he had started playing in my band when he was about 17 years old. His name was Reggie Harges, but he subsequently put a group together called Brick, but he really started with me. Brick was quite popular during the middle 70s, they had quite a number of top ten billboard hit records out. Anyway, Reggie was a very good guitar player and to put him together with the other guitar player from Muscle Shoals, they made quite a do of it in there. You just can’t imagine what good sounds they got out of there; I can’t believe it was happening myself.



The only reason why I left ABC is because they went out of business, they just folded.



Was that when you decided to set up your own label?



‘Future Stars’ came about, then I had Big C Records also.



You recorded a few other people On Future Stars …


Yes, Margie Alexander and Matilda Jones. Margie Alexander had been singing with my band for quite a while. I think I recorded her though while I was still with Rick Hall, but what happened was, I ended up placing her with Stax Records.Willie Johnson, I had been knowing him when he used to sing Gospel and Hersey Taylor I met him because I used to play a local night club in Birmingham every Friday and Saturday and sometimes we would have two bands in there and Hersey Taylor was with the other band. I thought he sounded pretty good, I decided to try my hand at producing him. But with Matilda Jones – I’ve forgotten how I met Matilda .As for Pat Coolie, there was a guy who came by my studio and he had some songs that he wanted me to take and record on some people. And I asked him ‘Well, who is this girl singing this, this is a person we need to record the songs on’ That’s how I met with her.





You then started Big C Records and were very successful with a version of ‘Love Me With A Feeling’.





When people told me about that earlier version of that kind of thing, it was new to me; I didn’t even know it had ever been. I did that myself, I had been singing that song, in fact I’ll tell you how long I had been singing that song, I had been singing that song since before I had cut’ Slip Away’. I used to do it live in clubs you see, in fact I tried to get Rick Hall to cut that once upon a time, but he told me that the way the music industry was, you couldn’t cut anything like that then. So once I started to cut it myself, once I started being the producer, I decided I’d do it. It was quite successful, I don’t whether it would have been successful, ahead of it’s own time maybe, I don’t know, but I do know that once we did do it, it was quite successful.





When does it become Clarence in the studio playing instruments overdubbing and overlaying them?



That came around the beginning of the 80s probably because I remember when all the synthesized music started I decided I was going to try my hand at producing a song like the young guys do. So I went and bought a couple of synthesizers, got me a sequencer. Next thing I had to learn how to operate it, in order to do it the operation instructions had to be done, find somebody to put that in Braille because I had to read it in Braille you see. I managed to find a company over in Houston, Texas that took the manuals that go to the keyboards and put them in Braille, then I was able to read how to operate them. Then I had to get someone to come and show me each, you know each keyboard has several buttons on there and you got to know where those buttons are, I had to get somebody to come and let me know where the locations of the buttons were. I learned all of that and then I started to put together a song and it ended up being ‘Strokin’.



When you’re doing everything yourself, you’ve got to think of this, think of that, where as when you give a song to somebody, you say ‘ok we are gonna cut this song here’ they always gonna interject their ideas and as a result you can come up with a lot of good things that you’re not gonna think of yourself. That to me is one of the disadvantages of cutting by yourself. The advantage of doing it on your own is you can cut it when you want it, exactly how you want it, in fact that’s the way I’m doing my new album now, I’m doing that all by myself that’s why it’s taking me so long to get it done. I’m using synthesizers because you can get any sound you want out of them. If I want to have a grand piano or if I want an old Wurlitzer sounding piano, the synthesizers have them.



Do you think there is any difference in the feel that you get in comparing a synthesized sound as it were as opposed to the real sound of an original instrument?



I don’t think the feel is any different, I think where the feel comes in is that you’re not playing it yourself. I think if you’ve got somebody else playing it you can get the feel – if I heard different people in the studio, even though they would be playing a synthesizer keyboard, I bet they can still get the same feel, but you can’t get the same feel with one person playing all the instruments.



Can we talk about ‘Love Building’. Wwas that the forerunner of ‘Stroking’?


I’m trying think, no, I did one other tune also that was similar to that but it wasn’t live, it was a similar tune I did back around 79 to 80 called ‘Don’t Bother Me When I’m Busy’ and that was a big, big record that caused me to start going to South Africa. Well the ‘Love Building’ thing came about – I had a show to do over in South Carolina, in fact I think it was in Aken, South Carolina and I had a two track tape recorder. It was I think a Crown two track tape recorder but it ran seven and a half speed, so I just plugged up a microphone, turned it on just as they were calling me on stage and I just let it run. And when I got finished I went back to the dressing room and ran it back to see what I had and that’s what I had on there. I subsequently took that back to the studio and dressed up whatever I needed to dress up, but the original voice and crowd noise and all that kind of thing was on that two-track tape. Some of it was put on afterwards but what it was, you know you can tick the tape and you can play it in the background while you over-dub whatever else you need to do and some of the links that didn’t come out loud enough. I simply redid them the way they were done, except the original links were just so quiet, you couldn’t hear, but that’s all I did to it, the whole of the vocal was just as it was, you see I just couldn’t change it (laughs) because I was on a two track tape and the tapes were not separated by two different microphones. All of the sound went on both tracks from one microphone. It was quite interesting to get it done, in fact I had an engineer at the studio that told me that he didn’t think he could do that. I said ‘just leave it to me, I’ll do it’ and I did.






At this stage when you’ve got your own label you are now recording virtually everything in your studio yourself, including the drum section as well?



Oh yes, I have a Alesis drum machine. Back then I think I had a Lendrum. The old Lendrum machine, in fact I still have it, is broken down and it comes aloud, but I love it, I just won’t get rid of it. I need to get rid of it, but it has such sentimental value, but the old Lendrum played ‘Strokin’’, it played ’Love Me With a Feeling’, it played quite a number of the songs that I have you see, I just hate to get rid of the old thing.





John Abbey, set up this record company on your doorstep and it’s got good distribution, so your records start to come out on a Ichiban



Yes I met John Abbey and he told me he was putting together a record label and I told him I had some songs I was trying to get distributed and he said well, we might form a good partnership here. And that’s what we did. The thing I used to like about John was he would just let me do whatever I thought sounded good. He never bothered me about what I cut, or how it should be cut, or whom I should use, or anything like that. He just let me do it and I liked it that way, that was a good relationship. I would cut some of the stuff by myself and sometime go on Muscle Shoals and get an engineer. I would still be doing all of them, you know playing the keyboard and drum machines. I would go there to Broadway Sounds studio where I could have an engineer to work with and I wouldn’t have to push the buttons you see and that makes it much easier. So I was able to go over there and do things like that and then take it back to John once we had finished. You see the background voices were over there and then you could go off site, got through with the product, you could mix it, I had an engineer to do the mixing. All I had to do was tell it what I heard how I wanted it done. And it was much easier, much less work.



‘ Messing With My Mind’ was a particularly impressive recording.



Oh yes, ‘Messing With My Mind’, I really thought that that was gonna be a big, big breakaway. I believe George Jackson wrote the lyrics to it and he told me later on that he never thought of it sounding the way I had it. Now I didn’t do that by myself, I had live musicians and it came out absolutely great. And the guitar player that I was trying to think of just a little while ago, his name was Ken Bell. He is one of the finest guitar players that I have ever met. I always knew, felt it anyway, that anytime I had Ken Bell on a recording session, I was gonna get a hit record. He was gonna think of something to do on a guitar that nobody else would think of. ‘Messing With My Mind’, I didn’t play anything at all, all I did was sing, they did the playing. I showed them how like where to go. They did the rest of the playing.



How did the African experience come about?



Well it was rather simple, long years ago Percy Sledge used to go over to South Africa and do a lot of work, so Rogers Redding who is my booking agent came to me one day with an idea. He said you know Percy has been going to South Africa for many a year, he said but now they want you to come over, but they don’t want to pay much money, but I believe if you go they will pay more money the next time. So I said well how much do they pay? He told me and I said well that’s not very much money, you’re right, but let’s just try it, just see. We were coming out of the disco era and in the disco era blues artists were not going to get very much work and I looked at it as an opportunity to go elsewhere. There were people here who said they want you to come, so if they want you to come, then that’s different from you trying to find a way to get there. So I went over [to] South Africa the first time was 1980. He told me about the circumstances of the apartheid, the whole thing over there. He informed me as to how it was over there, but I said well, you know I’m not going to be working for the government, I’m just gonna be over there working for the individual who is promoting a show. That’s the way I looked at it.



Was there anybody else on the show with you ?


They had a lady out of England on the show. I can’t think of what her name was, but they also had Doby Gray, then really it was just adding me. Doby I think had been there before and they were just adding me as another person on the show.



Did you take any musicians with you?


That time I did not. I did not take any musicians, I used South African musicians and I sent them a tape, and I put about twelve songs on the tape. I even had songs on there I had not even done and I didn’t know when, but when I got there, surprisingly enough, they knew every one of those songs. In fact, I had to learn some of them, but they knew them all and they played them absolutely perfect. They were such good musicians, I wanted to take them all on tour. They could play! And it did not take them long to understand exactly every move I made. If I turned around and waved my hand or whatever I did, they knew exactly what I wanted them to do. They were good! In fact they were so good we ended up cutting an album, we did a live album on that. What we did was, once the promoters found out how well I could do a show, they asked me would I mind if they recorded the show and maybe just listen back and maybe come up with an album. Well I thought that was a good idea, they had the recording equipment already set up at the venue so let’s try it, let’s see what happens. So each night we cut and we did that for about a week and then we went through it, well we didn’t go through it there. What happened was they gave it me the tapes. When I went back home, I sorted through them; I went over to a guy who had a studio who could play that kind of a tape. It was an eight track tape but not the eight track cartridge, it was an eight track machine tape like a one inch tape and I knew a guy in Atlanta who has a studio, so I got him to transfer that tape. We went through it and picked out the best cuts and had him transfer that tape to a twenty four track tape and then I was able to do all like the backgrounds thing and I put the album together live in Johannesburg and that’s what we did, we released that album.



Did you travel around the country much or was it mainly in Johannesburg?



No, we did shows in Durban, we did shows in Capetown and did shows in East London.

Believe it or not when I went over there the audience was integrated. The first time I went to South Africa they did not have any black people like clerks in stores, that kind of thing, but the more I went over there the more people I saw in different positions than there used to be when I first started going. There were people in the States that would question me as to why would I go over there to a place that was segregated like that. And my explanation was to them was I’m a person that believes that you cannot solve a problem by leaving it alone, just going about your business, somebody has to talk about it, somebody has to be there. The people in South Africa, when I would go there, you think about the many people I put to work, musicians, people to work at the theatres where the shows were being held, it got to the point, by the time I did my first show in South Africa all of the other shows for the next six weeks I was scheduled there sold out the next day. So you see I put a lot of people to work, they had to add another band to the show, so we had three bands on the show. So these are people who were working there who would not ordinarily be working. I used to have people come over to my room and they would tell me ‘Clarence, you are not like the other artists, you talk to us’ Well they would come over and they would tell me about some of their problems and I guess we could relate to one another because they had problems just as we had had in the South, in the United States so I understood their problems and they didn’t mind talking to me.



Did you play any outdoor gigs in the townships or were they all in theatres?


No, we did some performances at a stadium in Soweto, I remember that very well, it was absolutely packed, now whether that was a mixed audience, I do not know!



Tell us about’ Girl From Soweto’


You know what happened was, I had heard about the town, about Soweto the township, I had been over there like I said we did some shows there and I talked to several people from over there, just general conversations, and when I got ready to do the album I was telling my brother it would be great if I could just come up with a song that I could put on this album and it would be about somewhere here in South Africa. And I just kept thinking about it, I went to my room and I got my guitar and started strumming on…’where did the girl go from Soweto.. I said ‘I got it! I got it’ and that’s what I did, all I had to do then was to develop the idea.



How many times did you go back to tour?



I went to South Africa in 1980, I went in 81, I went in 82 and I think the last time I went was 84 and after 84 I never did go back until I think I went back in 95.



In the mid nineties you appeared in a movie ..



Yes it was called ‘Another Day In Paradise’ with James Woods and Melanie Griffith. They just called me up and asked me to go to Hollywood to film me with the band doing ‘Looking For a Fox’.



Of the artists that you performed with over the years, which ones in particular stand out?



I’ve performed with many – Bobby Bland, B.B. King, Etta James, long years ago I performed with Joe Tex. I used to back up John Lee Hooker when he would come to Montgomery. I used to back Solomon Burke when he would come to Montgomery, lot of these people – Otis Redding when he first came to Montgomery. I’ve done a lot of shows with Millie Jackson, in fact years ago before Millie had a band, my band used to play for her.





Is there a particular composer that you enjoy?



Well ‘Beethoven’, ‘Bach’ – any of them, you see with me having been trained playing a piano, in order for me to graduate, I had to do several different kinds of sonatas – most of that stuff I had to learn to do in order to graduate, I don’t even remember, but I like the music itself. You have to do a recital before you can graduate so several of those things I did but I won’t remember them now.





Theodis Ealey was based in Atlanta and recorded for Ichiban do you know him?



Theodis that I know, he has a band and he just put out a record that is doing very well now, I think it’s called ‘Stand Up In It’.I met him in Chicago a few months ago. He once upon a time was also with Ichiban. Well the way he came up with this Stand Up In It thing, he does similar things to me, you know the laughing thing, the guitar lick. When you do hear the record, you really hear me (laughs) because that’s what he did.





Do you still get to play in ‘black’ clubs back home?



Oh yeah! When I’m at home I play clubs but I think now, 70-75% of my shows now are not in black clubs, they are more or less in white clubs. Since I did ‘Strokin’’ there are more of the white clubs that I play than black clubs. I didn’t even know that it was going to happen that way, but so many of the black clubs that I know are no longer there, they closed down for one reason or the other. A lot of them, and I’ve realised how my age is going, a lot of them (the people that used to run them) are no longer there you see.



Did you ever play The Royal Peacock?




Yes I used to play there, in fact The Royal Peacock is the place where – I don’t know if you remember Phil Walden and his brother Alan Walden. Well once upon a time they were my managers and that’s where they heard me do ‘Dark End Of The Street’, and they thought so much of it until they kept after me about doing it and putting it on a record. And that’s how I ended up putting ‘Dark End Of The Street’ on a record because they just thought it was so fantastic that that’s what should happen. They heard me do it at The Royal Peacock! I used to love to play The Royal Peacock. It was quite a place to play. I got to know the guy called Henry Wynn. In fact the first tour I ever went on, when I had ‘Slip Away’, well actually the tour had been planned say six months before ‘Slip Away’ came out. We didn’t even know that’Slip Away’ was going to become a hit record when they put me on the tour and fortunately for them, I was already on the tour by the time ‘Slip Away’ became such a big record. Now I play in Atlanta very seldom really. Actually, most time I play in Atlanta I play like the Civic Centre or I play the Fox Theatre, but I play a lot of shows in the casinos.



The casinos are a good source of work.



Right! You see the casino has taken the place of the nightclub.









My thing is to go out and make people laugh, make people forget about what they, if they have any problems, we just gonna forget about it for this period of time right here, while I’m out here on stage. Even if I have problems, I leave them where I came from. My thing is to go out and have us some fun here. That’s the way I’ve always approached them, I always try to say that, even when I go to a recording studio, if I can’t have any fun in here then lets don’t go in here.



Do promoters ever ask you to bring a horn section sometimes?


No because I let them know when they call me I don’t have one. I would like to carry one, I really would – my brother used to be my road manager and at that time I used to have horns and when I no longer had horns, I would be singing and all of a sudden I would look over because I knew it was time for the horns to play and when I’d come off stage he’d say ‘Clarence will you stop looking over there at those horns’ But I love horns because to me they add colourization to the song. You see when you’ve got a rhythm section, I don’t care how good the rhythm section is, as a musician to me, you lose something because you can’t change the flow of the song, the sound is still the same, but if you’ve got some horns to come in, that’s gonna bring something else to the song! My ideal situation is at least three horns and three background singers. Not having a horn section will cut down on the number of songs I do, then added to it. You see, with musicians today a lot of them they don’t remember what Clarence Carter used to do, like for example they won’t remember, I wanted to do ‘Road Of Love’. You see they won’t remember that, they don’t know I ever did it because they are not as ‘detailed’ as I used to be. For example, back when Solomon Burke came to Montgomery, he didn’t even get there in time for us to rehearse with him. All we had time to do was bring him on stage and that’s the way Solomon still is, but we played so well behind him. He told the audience, he said ‘I know you all not gonna believe me but I’ve never met these people before in my life’ –that’s why he kept calling back to Montgomery trying to get us to go on the road with him it was because at that time I took pride. If I had to play for an artist whatever I think he may have had, I knew it by the time he got there.Clarence Carter by Ray Ellis and Dave Williams



The recent death of Ray Charles and the release of the biographical film ‘Ray’ has reminded us that blindness is not an insurmountable hurdle when striving for success in the music business. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles are the high profile names that come to mind when thinking of blind performers but when it comes to longevity in the soul and R&B field Clarence Carter is an artist whose track record is more than equal to that of his sighted contemporaries. We were fortunate enough to meet him in Porretta in 2004 where he gave us time to talk to him about various aspects of his long and fruitful career.





You grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. Who were your earliest influences?



When I was very young mother made you have to go to church, that’s just the way life was, but by me being away in school for nine months out of the year, see I was out of her clutches, so I didn’t have to go, but at the school where I did go, they would have services on Sunday which you had to attend. They gave us bible class every day and it was not a religious school either, it was a state-run school.



So gospel music was not a major influence?



No, I don’t think gospel was. What was a major influence on me was my stepfather used to buy all of those old records like Washboard Sam and Tommy McLennan. I didn’t listen to the radio very often because we didn’t have one so what used to happen was, my step-father used to go out and when he would hear a record he liked, he just would bring it home. He heard a record by John Lee Hooker and he would bring it home and he heard a record by Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, he’d bring it home. They were stars at that time; well I figured they were stars anyway. Tommy McLennan, Washboard Sam – some of the older guys who I never really did know, but he would bring those records home. I never will forget when one day he came home and had ‘Move On Up A Little Higher’ by Mahalia Jackson. You see those are the things that mostly stick with me because we had what they call a vitrola that you played a record on. When he would bring whatever song he wanted home, well then - he was just simply going to get into his booze or whatever he was gonna drink and I was the one who had to keep playing the record over and over on the vitrola you see. As a result you were either going to learn something from it or you were going to go crazy, one of the two! So (laughs) as I’m not crazy, I guess I learnt something. That was the most useful influence on me, it wasn’t about gospel [or] singing in a gospel group.



That’s how I would hear them and as a result I just took a guitar and tried to play what I heard them play. My mother bought me a guitar when I was about eleven, but you see I was not at home most of the time. I went to a school where I would stay six/nine months of the year – in school instead of at home. So I didn’t really grow up that much in Montgomery, I grew up at the boarding school where I lived. They have a famous race track there now.



That was the famous Talladega blind school?


Yes, that’s where it was. I really grew up at the school, and growing up there, I was formerly trained in music but not with a guitar. I played a trumpet for a little while but I didn’t do very well with that, I did most of my best work with a piano. The trumpet was the kind of thing where we had a band, we didn’t march but we would be in a parade. I played the trumpet in the band but I was never very successful with a trumpet. I was more successful with a trombone than a trumpet but my most musical success was with the piano because I learned how to play a piano in school there. Then when I graduated from there, I went to higher learning [at] Alabama State college [where] I continued with the piano. I was [a] self-taught guitar player and I could play what I wanted to hear.



Was the Talladega School for the Blind where you met Calvin Scott?


Yeah I met Calvin there. I think some people get mixed up and say Calvin Thomas and I don’t know why. He was just a student there. We [had] nearly a hundred students there and course a lot of us are still in contact with each other even now. They had in Atlanta last week a national convention for the National Federation for the Blind. And they had their annual conference in Atlanta last week, in fact I went to it, and there they had about three to four thousand blind people. And you know it’s good to get together like that because you can share [the] same interests, share the same anxieties, you share the same problems, you know it gives you a way to work all these things out or an opportunity to exchange ideas.








So you got together with him and actually cut something for Fairlane?


Yeah we did I think one 45 for Fairlane, (two singles) I think maybe two for Duke (four singles). That was the introduction to Rick Hall. I rented the studio to go in to record ‘Step By Step’ I did it for twofold purpose. I did it because first I wanted to try and get us something recorded. Secondly, I wanted to record it there, hoping that whoever owned the studio would hear us and would want to sign us to a record label. That’s what I really wanted .You know in Alabama it doesn’t take very long for news to spread about being successful. I knew the studio was there and I knew the name of it, I just didn’t know the person who owned it. But it didn’t take long to find out because just as I figured, when we went in there and started to record, he did hear us and he did invite us to come up to his office and I told Calvin then, I said ‘we’ll see.’ Just what I wanted to happen has happened. ‘He’s wanting us to come up there and he’s gonna offer us some kind of a contract.’ We didn’t have anyone to take us there so the best way to get there was to rent the studio and that’s what I did and he said he wanted to talk to us when we got finished.



The way I got it on the market was, I knew there was a radio station in Montgomery and I knew the guy who owned the radio station. And I took the record to him and he knew Jerry who works for them and he got Jerry to put the record out for me. The guy who owned the radio station was not a DJ there, he just owned the station.



Calvin unfortunately had a road accident..



Well, I was at the same accident with him, it didn’t do very much to him, everybody thinks it was the end of his career but it was not. He had an album with Stax after that but the reality was, once we had the accident he and his wife wanted [us] to go [our] separate ways as far as recording was concerned and that’s what I did



You mentioned the other night, when you were singing ‘A Man Down There’, that you played with Jimmy Reed. It must have been around this time, tell us a bit about that.



Oh yes, Jimmy Reed was quite a character, he used to (laughs) he loves some spirit, he was gonna have whatever he drank, I don’t know what it was, but it was always a thrill for me to be around him because he took up time with me so far as laughing and talking and just sitting down and talking about this and that. We used to do some shows together, I was the new man on the block then, I was just coming out doing shows, we did some shows in Arkansas, we did some in Memphis, the promoters then would put all of us on the bus you see and take us from one place to the next. We would be staying in the same hotel and early in the morning, he would wake up about seven in the morning and I’d hear somebody knocking on my door saying, ‘Clarence come on! We gotta go down there and eat; I’m ready to eat’. I said, ‘Jimmy can’t you just go by yourself?‘‘. ‘No I want you to go with me, I want to talk’ Like that, that kind of thing. It was a thrill to me because in my growing up with his records, I used to listen to them all the time and I’m now being able to talk to the man! It was quite a thrill you know and when he used to come to Montgomery he would come and he didn’t have a band you see so he would hire my band to play for him. They had a club there called Tijuana Club and then they had one called durby Supper Club. The durby Supper Club used to have some of the best entertainers there, BB King used to play there all the time. You name any artist of that era and they used to play there and a lot of times like Tijuana Club, the very first time that Otis Redding played there, they had my band to play. Otis didn’t have a band either at the time. When John Lee Hooker first came to Montgomery, the first time I remember his coming, they had to have a band so they hired my band again. My band was very popular when I lived in Montgomery and they knew when I had to play for an artist I would make sure that we knew their material when they got to town. Solomon Burke tried his best to get me to go on the road with him but (laughs) I wouldn’t go. In those days I had I think about six pieces, we had two horns and four rhythms. No, we had a guitar (which was me), organ, base, drums and two horns.



Another guy I used to know out of Atlanta, see I used to try and do a little booking also, I used to always get Piano Red. He used to come to Montgomery quite often, in fact when I was playing with Calvin Scott, I used to have what we call our little Clarence and Calvin’s anniversary and Piano Red, I would book him to come and be our guest band for a whole week. We used to do things like that and once I started trying to do some things on my own, Piano Red used to play the Magnolia Ball Room in Atlanta and whenever I would go to Atlanta on a Monday night, he would always invite me to come down and we would sit in on his show, it was just a lot of fun you know musicians with musicians.



So after the parting with Calvin that left you were on your own..



I always have had all of the faith in what I could get done. You see Calvin and me was the kind of fate that really happened for the best, in fact my Mother told me that at the time, she said, ‘Well you know, things happen for the better’. At that moment, I couldn’t think of what the better would be because I thought by him not being with me that Rick Hall would not do a contract. So I said well now, to myself – how am I gonna be able to convince Rick Hall that I can sing and I don’t have to have Calvin to do it? You see he only knew Clarence and Calvin, he didn’t know Clarence Carter so when I called him and told him that there was no more Clarence and Calvin he said, ‘well I don’t know, I don’t know what to do’ Then he said ‘well who wrote the songs?’ I said ‘I did’ He said ‘well I’ll tell you what to do, I haven’t heard you sing by yourself’ He said ‘come on up and lets just see what happens’ Well I didn’t know at the time that publishing companies wanted songs to publish, you see I didn’t know that, but he did. So when he invited me to come up I said to myself ‘ this is gonna be my only chance, I’m gonna either do it now or I’m not gonna get it done, not this way’ So I went on up and out of that came ‘Thread The Needle’, out of that came ‘Tell Daddy’. Then out of that came ‘I Stayed Away Too Long’, ‘Looking For A Fox’, ‘Slip Away’….



Of course ‘Tell Daddy’ became ‘Tell Mama’ which was very big….



It happened that way because when we cut ‘Tell Daddy’ I kept trying to convince Rick Hall that that was a hit record and he didn’t believe me. So we had a song the other side of the record called ‘I stayed away too long’ and he really thought that was the better song and that’s the record they were going after when we put it out. The only thing about it was the disc jockeys turned it over. When they turned it over and started playing the other side, then he realized that I knew what I was talking about because the record jumped to number one in several large cities, like Washington DC – went to number one! Then there was Texas – number one! Miami, Florida – number one! So he realized, so when they sent Etta James down there for him to produce, he knew that song was in his publishing company. So you know [to] try [to] cut this on somebody else and that’s what he did. He called me and asked me if it would be alright if we changed the name to ‘Tell Mama’ and add a couple of different lyrics to it – ‘Oh yep no problem.’ She didn’t want to do it. They had to pacify her with whatever she wanted in order to get her to do that song. I was not there when they did it but finally they said she told them ‘Oh alright then but I’m tired of you all bothering me about this song, I’ve done it anyway just to shut ‘em up’



It’s just amazing how things happen that way and likewise the song ‘Slip Away’. I had that song cut long before you all heard it, but he didn’t want to believe what I knew I was talking about. I kept telling him ‘I’m telling you that it is a hit’ So we came up with a song ‘Funky Fever’. And he called me and said ‘What do think we gonna put on the flip side?’ I said ‘Well, since that ‘Slip Away’ is not going to be a hit record anyway, lets just put that on the other side’. He said ‘Ggood idea’ Well the disc jockeys turned it over – again. So there we had ‘Slip Away’ you see, but we had cut that song long time back. I even tried to get Joe Simon [to do it]. Well John R (John Richbourg), he was Joe Simon’s producer, I even paid them to pitch the song ‘Slip Away’ to Joe Simon and John Richbourg decided not to do it on Joe Simon and I know how that happened because Rick Hall didn’t think much of the song anyway, you see? So Joe Simon, when this song became a hit record, he told me, he said, ‘You know they pitched that song to me and we just decided not to do it.’ I said ‘well I’m glad John didn’t’.





It is interesting that you were recording in a studio surrounded by predominantly white musicians right at a time of major social change in America..



Believe it or not, we would get in their studio and we never thought about who was white and who was black, it never became an issue. Where it would become an issue was like when we would take a break and get ready to go out to eat, now you had the problem because they would be frustrated because they could not eat with us, even some of them would say ‘there’s just something wrong with this!’ But other than that – we never had an issue! The studio, we just got in there, we played, we would come up with different ideas and you never felt who was black and who was white, it really didn’t matter. The main concern was to try and get a record on the market. I just recorded because I just enjoyed the song, you know sometime when I would go up to do a recording session and Rick would play me a song, he said ‘you know I kind of think this song here has good potential, listen to it and see what comes to your mind.’ Well I think part of ‘country’ was already in me because I used to listen even growing up I used to listen to the ‘Grand Old Opry’ out of Nashville all the time especially on Saturday night. You see I knew all about Ernest Tubb, I knew Roy Acuff, I knew like Minnie Pearl, I knew all those artists, I knew George Morgan when he first came to ‘the ‘Grand Old Opry’ so I think I had some ‘country’ in me already so it was just a matter of me singing. It came so natural to me til I never thought about it until people began to analyse it.



Where did your famous chuckle come from?


About that time I did the chuckle on a record – I got that from another disc jockey who was on the air but he wasn’t in that radio station. And Rick Hall suggested that I do a chuckle in one of the songs we were cutting and I thought about the guy in Montgomery who had that little chuckle that I used to like.





Who was the D.J.?



We called him Mr. Lee. I’ve really forgotten the call letters of the radio station, I think it was APX – I have forgotten! But I do know he was well known on the radio and I do remember him having that little chuckle and that’s what we used to do.





What about songs which had quite ironic titles like ‘I Can’t See Myself’ and ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’?



Well ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ is a song that there again belonged to Rick Hall and Etta James did it. And it was quite a hit but I don’t know whether it was Rick Hall or Phil Walden’s idea to do that with me simply because I couldn’t see and I think that’s where they made their ties, but I told them when I did it that it was a pretty good song but it was not a hit record for me, I didn’t think so, but I said well I’ll do my best on it! But ‘I Can’t See Myself’ - I wrote that‘ and ‘Crying Over You’ I loved that song…



What about ‘The Few Troubles I’ve Had’ the real killer line in that song was when you say something along the lines of ‘oh why Lord do you make me human’…



Well Tommy Hunt (I believe that’s his name) had a song out called ‘Human’and I used to do that song at a nightclub, I used to love to do his song because I liked it and I just put the monologue in front of it, that’s what I did, that’s why it ended up me saying ‘ Lord why do you make me human?’. I used the same type of thing when I did ‘Making Love At The Dark End Of The Street’ where you know James Carr had the song ‘Dark End Of The Street’





You met Candi Staton during that time and you recorded a 45 with Candi Staton..



Do you know I think we did just one song . ‘If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them’ – that’s what it was! But that was the only one we ever did together. I took her into the studio, I took her to Rick Hall because he always had been telling me that if I found a female that I thought sounded good, just bring her up there.



How did you meet her then?


At one of my shows I did in Nashville. She was living with her sister and they came to the show. But I had met her a couple of years earlier when I had a band playing locally in Birmingham, Alabama. The manager of the club told me he had a girl that he wanted to let her sing that night and would we mind playing for her? And I told him no, we didn’t mind playing and that’s who it was. Well she just sang that night and she left and I never did think that I would see her again. I think she sang maybe ‘Tell Mama’ or something, whatever she sang it was by other people you know. Just songs that different girls that when they would get on stage they would ask you could you play this, could you play that? And that’s all I thought about it until I saw her again in Nashville and she and her sister came back stage when I came off stage and she asked me if I remembered her. And I told her ‘ yeah -I remembered we played for you a couple of years ago’ She said ‘well at the time I was married, but I’m no longer married.’ So I said ‘oh you’re not’ (laughs). So you see we just struck up a conversation. I said ‘well do you still sing’? She said ‘yes, well I still try’ I said ‘I know Rick Hall and he’s been telling me if I find a girl that could sing, bring her, so if you’d like to go up there’? That’s how I took her in to see Rick Hall.



I don’t know if you remember Laura Lee? Well Laura Lee, the company she was with sent her down for Rick Hall to produce her. I think she was with Chess. He had some songs there that he was gonna let Laura Lee listen to but he needed somebody to ‘sing’ the songs. So that’s what he did, he let Candi sing the songs that he was gonna let Laura Lee do, but he ended up cutting those songs on Candi. Laura Lee never heard of them until she heard them with Candi singing them!



At this time, what kind of songs were you singing on the circuit?


Well I was singing practically what you heard me singing in the studio. Except that I would sing other people’s songs, I used to sing some of the Otis Redding songs, I used to love to sing the song ‘Human’ stuff like that.



Who was in your band at this time, can you remember the names of the guys in the band?



No there’s no telling who was there. I always had my own band, I never did like to do things with just somebody else’s band. It was always gonna be my band but people used to try and book me on different shows but they wanted me to use the band they had and I would just tell em you know ‘no if we can’t afford to bring my musicians then I’d rather pass because my musicians will play the way I want it’ When I first went to the Apollo Theatre, they wanted me to play with Otis Redding’s band and Otis Redding’s band when they went in for rehearsal; they ran it down and they said ‘well we can’t spend too much time’ I said ‘well you’re gonna have to spend whatever time it is to the way I think it’s ok’ And of course I’m no star at this time, you know what I’m saying. They must have thought ‘Who does he think he is?’ But when we did get on the Apollo stage, when I started the song off, it wasn’t the way I wanted – I said ‘stop, wait a minute, don’t you all play, I only need my musicians to play’ That’s what I did, I stopped em from playing right then and right there and the whole time I was at the Apollo I only used just my three musicians.



You were with Fame for some years up until around 73, after you left Fame you went on to ABC.



The first album was called ‘Real’ and it didn’t do very well and one of the reasons why it didn’t because they told me when I went to ABC that they want to have some young producers and they wanted to let them do the productions, they wanted me to leave that part alone and they offered me a nice, good size of money to do just that. And I figured oh ok if you’ve got the money, I’ve got the time. And you know when you’ve got producers who fail to contact the artist to find out what key he’s going to sing a song in and you just run some musicians there in the studio and cut some tracks – it’s never gonna work. I was able to convince ABC that your money would be better spent if you let ‘me’ do the project. I called the people in Muscle Shoals, all the musicians came to Atlanta and I knew we were gonna come up with something and we did.



I was able to convince ABC to allow me to produce my own product; they could sell more records that they had sold on the first album. And at the time I had a commercial studio in Atlanta, Georgia. I moved to Atlanta in 72, but I did the recordings around 1974/75, somewhere in that era. I moved to Atlanta because in Montgomery everywhere you were going to go, you had to go through Atlanta-that was the only way to get there-if you were going to Washington, you were going through Atlanta, it was the hub city. And then, they also said that that the music industry was going to locate there and I was going to be on the ground breaking so to speak. Anyway, I was able to convince ABC records to let me do that so what I did was, instead of going to Muscle Shoals to do the album, I brought the musicians to Atlanta and we did it there. The name of the album was ‘Loneliness and Temptation’. We did it at the studio and it was an instant hit, I had something called ‘I Got Caught’.



Was that your own studio then or a hired studio in Atlanta?


No it was my own studio.



Who did you bring for those sessions?


I had, let me see, I had Roger Hawkins and then I had I believe David Hood and then I had on guitar, I can’t think of his name at the moment. They were all from Muscle Shoals, I called all of the guys that I knew that could make hit records. And also I got a young guy from Atlanta, he had started playing in my band when he was about 17 years old. His name was Reggie Harges, but he subsequently put a group together called Brick, but he really started with me. Brick was quite popular during the middle 70s, they had quite a number of top ten billboard hit records out. Anyway, Reggie was a very good guitar player and to put him together with the other guitar player from Muscle Shoals, they made quite a do of it in there. You just can’t imagine what good sounds they got out of there; I can’t believe it was happening myself.



The only reason why I left ABC is because they went out of business, they just folded.



Was that when you decided to set up your own label?



‘Future Stars’ came about, then I had Big C Records also.



You recorded a few other people On Future Stars …


Yes, Margie Alexander and Matilda Jones. Margie Alexander had been singing with my band for quite a while. I think I recorded her though while I was still with Rick Hall, but what happened was, I ended up placing her with Stax Records.Willie Johnson, I had been knowing him when he used to sing Gospel and Hersey Taylor I met him because I used to play a local night club in Birmingham every Friday and Saturday and sometimes we would have two bands in there and Hersey Taylor was with the other band. I thought he sounded pretty good, I decided to try my hand at producing him. But with Matilda Jones – I’ve forgotten how I met Matilda .As for Pat Coolie, there was a guy who came by my studio and he had some songs that he wanted me to take and record on some people. And I asked him ‘Well, who is this girl singing this, this is a person we need to record the songs on’ That’s how I met with her.





You then started Big C Records and were very successful with a version of ‘Love Me With A Feeling’.





When people told me about that earlier version of that kind of thing, it was new to me; I didn’t even know it had ever been. I did that myself, I had been singing that song, in fact I’ll tell you how long I had been singing that song, I had been singing that song since before I had cut’ Slip Away’. I used to do it live in clubs you see, in fact I tried to get Rick Hall to cut that once upon a time, but he told me that the way the music industry was, you couldn’t cut anything like that then. So once I started to cut it myself, once I started being the producer, I decided I’d do it. It was quite successful, I don’t whether it would have been successful, ahead of it’s own time maybe, I don’t know, but I do know that once we did do it, it was quite successful.





When does it become Clarence in the studio playing instruments overdubbing and overlaying them?



That came around the beginning of the 80s probably because I remember when all the synthesized music started I decided I was going to try my hand at producing a song like the young guys do. So I went and bought a couple of synthesizers, got me a sequencer. Next thing I had to learn how to operate it, in order to do it the operation instructions had to be done, find somebody to put that in Braille because I had to read it in Braille you see. I managed to find a company over in Houston, Texas that took the manuals that go to the keyboards and put them in Braille, then I was able to read how to operate them. Then I had to get someone to come and show me each, you know each keyboard has several buttons on there and you got to know where those buttons are, I had to get somebody to come and let me know where the locations of the buttons were. I learned all of that and then I started to put together a song and it ended up being ‘Strokin’.



When you’re doing everything yourself, you’ve got to think of this, think of that, where as when you give a song to somebody, you say ‘ok we are gonna cut this song here’ they always gonna interject their ideas and as a result you can come up with a lot of good things that you’re not gonna think of yourself. That to me is one of the disadvantages of cutting by yourself. The advantage of doing it on your own is you can cut it when you want it, exactly how you want it, in fact that’s the way I’m doing my new album now, I’m doing that all by myself that’s why it’s taking me so long to get it done. I’m using synthesizers because you can get any sound you want out of them. If I want to have a grand piano or if I want an old Wurlitzer sounding piano, the synthesizers have them.



Do you think there is any difference in the feel that you get in comparing a synthesized sound as it were as opposed to the real sound of an original instrument?



I don’t think the feel is any different, I think where the feel comes in is that you’re not playing it yourself. I think if you’ve got somebody else playing it you can get the feel – if I heard different people in the studio, even though they would be playing a synthesizer keyboard, I bet they can still get the same feel, but you can’t get the same feel with one person playing all the instruments.



Can we talk about ‘Love Building’. Wwas that the forerunner of ‘Stroking’?


I’m trying think, no, I did one other tune also that was similar to that but it wasn’t live, it was a similar tune I did back around 79 to 80 called ‘Don’t Bother Me When I’m Busy’ and that was a big, big record that caused me to start going to South Africa. Well the ‘Love Building’ thing came about – I had a show to do over in South Carolina, in fact I think it was in Aken, South Carolina and I had a two track tape recorder. It was I think a Crown two track tape recorder but it ran seven and a half speed, so I just plugged up a microphone, turned it on just as they were calling me on stage and I just let it run. And when I got finished I went back to the dressing room and ran it back to see what I had and that’s what I had on there. I subsequently took that back to the studio and dressed up whatever I needed to dress up, but the original voice and crowd noise and all that kind of thing was on that two-track tape. Some of it was put on afterwards but what it was, you know you can tick the tape and you can play it in the background while you over-dub whatever else you need to do and some of the links that didn’t come out loud enough. I simply redid them the way they were done, except the original links were just so quiet, you couldn’t hear, but that’s all I did to it, the whole of the vocal was just as it was, you see I just couldn’t change it (laughs) because I was on a two track tape and the tapes were not separated by two different microphones. All of the sound went on both tracks from one microphone. It was quite interesting to get it done, in fact I had an engineer at the studio that told me that he didn’t think he could do that. I said ‘just leave it to me, I’ll do it’ and I did.






At this stage when you’ve got your own label you are now recording virtually everything in your studio yourself, including the drum section as well?



Oh yes, I have a Alesis drum machine. Back then I think I had a Lendrum. The old Lendrum machine, in fact I still have it, is broken down and it comes aloud, but I love it, I just won’t get rid of it. I need to get rid of it, but it has such sentimental value, but the old Lendrum played ‘Strokin’’, it played ’Love Me With a Feeling’, it played quite a number of the songs that I have you see, I just hate to get rid of the old thing.





John Abbey, set up this record company on your doorstep and it’s got good distribution, so your records start to come out on a Ichiban



Yes I met John Abbey and he told me he was putting together a record label and I told him I had some songs I was trying to get distributed and he said well, we might form a good partnership here. And that’s what we did. The thing I used to like about John was he would just let me do whatever I thought sounded good. He never bothered me about what I cut, or how it should be cut, or whom I should use, or anything like that. He just let me do it and I liked it that way, that was a good relationship. I would cut some of the stuff by myself and sometime go on Muscle Shoals and get an engineer. I would still be doing all of them, you know playing the keyboard and drum machines. I would go there to Broadway Sounds studio where I could have an engineer to work with and I wouldn’t have to push the buttons you see and that makes it much easier. So I was able to go over there and do things like that and then take it back to John once we had finished. You see the background voices were over there and then you could go off site, got through with the product, you could mix it, I had an engineer to do the mixing. All I had to do was tell it what I heard how I wanted it done. And it was much easier, much less work.



‘ Messing With My Mind’ was a particularly impressive recording.



Oh yes, ‘Messing With My Mind’, I really thought that that was gonna be a big, big breakaway. I believe George Jackson wrote the lyrics to it and he told me later on that he never thought of it sounding the way I had it. Now I didn’t do that by myself, I had live musicians and it came out absolutely great. And the guitar player that I was trying to think of just a little while ago, his name was Ken Bell. He is one of the finest guitar players that I have ever met. I always knew, felt it anyway, that anytime I had Ken Bell on a recording session, I was gonna get a hit record. He was gonna think of something to do on a guitar that nobody else would think of. ‘Messing With My Mind’, I didn’t play anything at all, all I did was sing, they did the playing. I showed them how like where to go. They did the rest of the playing.



How did the African experience come about?



Well it was rather simple, long years ago Percy Sledge used to go over to South Africa and do a lot of work, so Rogers Redding who is my booking agent came to me one day with an idea. He said you know Percy has been going to South Africa for many a year, he said but now they want you to come over, but they don’t want to pay much money, but I believe if you go they will pay more money the next time. So I said well how much do they pay? He told me and I said well that’s not very much money, you’re right, but let’s just try it, just see. We were coming out of the disco era and in the disco era blues artists were not going to get very much work and I looked at it as an opportunity to go elsewhere. There were people here who said they want you to come, so if they want you to come, then that’s different from you trying to find a way to get there. So I went over [to] South Africa the first time was 1980. He told me about the circumstances of the apartheid, the whole thing over there. He informed me as to how it was over there, but I said well, you know I’m not going to be working for the government, I’m just gonna be over there working for the individual who is promoting a show. That’s the way I looked at it.



Was there anybody else on the show with you ?


They had a lady out of England on the show. I can’t think of what her name was, but they also had Doby Gray, then really it was just adding me. Doby I think had been there before and they were just adding me as another person on the show.



Did you take any musicians with you?


That time I did not. I did not take any musicians, I used South African musicians and I sent them a tape, and I put about twelve songs on the tape. I even had songs on there I had not even done and I didn’t know when, but when I got there, surprisingly enough, they knew every one of those songs. In fact, I had to learn some of them, but they knew them all and they played them absolutely perfect. They were such good musicians, I wanted to take them all on tour. They could play! And it did not take them long to understand exactly every move I made. If I turned around and waved my hand or whatever I did, they knew exactly what I wanted them to do. They were good! In fact they were so good we ended up cutting an album, we did a live album on that. What we did was, once the promoters found out how well I could do a show, they asked me would I mind if they recorded the show and maybe just listen back and maybe come up with an album. Well I thought that was a good idea, they had the recording equipment already set up at the venue so let’s try it, let’s see what happens. So each night we cut and we did that for about a week and then we went through it, well we didn’t go through it there. What happened was they gave it me the tapes. When I went back home, I sorted through them; I went over to a guy who had a studio who could play that kind of a tape. It was an eight track tape but not the eight track cartridge, it was an eight track machine tape like a one inch tape and I knew a guy in Atlanta who has a studio, so I got him to transfer that tape. We went through it and picked out the best cuts and had him transfer that tape to a twenty four track tape and then I was able to do all like the backgrounds thing and I put the album together live in Johannesburg and that’s what we did, we released that album.



Did you travel around the country much or was it mainly in Johannesburg?



No, we did shows in Durban, we did shows in Capetown and did shows in East London.

Believe it or not when I went over there the audience was integrated. The first time I went to South Africa they did not have any black people like clerks in stores, that kind of thing, but the more I went over there the more people I saw in different positions than there used to be when I first started going. There were people in the States that would question me as to why would I go over there to a place that was segregated like that. And my explanation was to them was I’m a person that believes that you cannot solve a problem by leaving it alone, just going about your business, somebody has to talk about it, somebody has to be there. The people in South Africa, when I would go there, you think about the many people I put to work, musicians, people to work at the theatres where the shows were being held, it got to the point, by the time I did my first show in South Africa all of the other shows for the next six weeks I was scheduled there sold out the next day. So you see I put a lot of people to work, they had to add another band to the show, so we had three bands on the show. So these are people who were working there who would not ordinarily be working. I used to have people come over to my room and they would tell me ‘Clarence, you are not like the other artists, you talk to us’ Well they would come over and they would tell me about some of their problems and I guess we could relate to one another because they had problems just as we had had in the South, in the United States so I understood their problems and they didn’t mind talking to me.



Did you play any outdoor gigs in the townships or were they all in theatres?


No, we did some performances at a stadium in Soweto, I remember that very well, it was absolutely packed, now whether that was a mixed audience, I do not know!



Tell us about’ Girl From Soweto’


You know what happened was, I had heard about the town, about Soweto the township, I had been over there like I said we did some shows there and I talked to several people from over there, just general conversations, and when I got ready to do the album I was telling my brother it would be great if I could just come up with a song that I could put on this album and it would be about somewhere here in South Africa. And I just kept thinking about it, I went to my room and I got my guitar and started strumming on…’where did the girl go from Soweto.. I said ‘I got it! I got it’ and that’s what I did, all I had to do then was to develop the idea.



How many times did you go back to tour?



I went to South Africa in 1980, I went in 81, I went in 82 and I think the last time I went was 84 and after 84 I never did go back until I think I went back in 95.



In the mid nineties you appeared in a movie ..



Yes it was called ‘Another Day In Paradise’ with James Woods and Melanie Griffith. They just called me up and asked me to go to Hollywood to film me with the band doing ‘Looking For a Fox’.



Of the artists that you performed with over the years, which ones in particular stand out?



I’ve performed with many – Bobby Bland, B.B. King, Etta James, long years ago I performed with Joe Tex. I used to back up John Lee Hooker when he would come to Montgomery. I used to back Solomon Burke when he would come to Montgomery, lot of these people – Otis Redding when he first came to Montgomery. I’ve done a lot of shows with Millie Jackson, in fact years ago before Millie had a band, my band used to play for her.





Is there a particular composer that you enjoy?



Well ‘Beethoven’, ‘Bach’ – any of them, you see with me having been trained playing a piano, in order for me to graduate, I had to do several different kinds of sonatas – most of that stuff I had to learn to do in order to graduate, I don’t even remember, but I like the music itself. You have to do a recital before you can graduate so several of those things I did but I won’t remember them now.





Theodis Ealey was based in Atlanta and recorded for Ichiban do you know him?



Theodis that I know, he has a band and he just put out a record that is doing very well now, I think it’s called ‘Stand Up In It’.I met him in Chicago a few months ago. He once upon a time was also with Ichiban. Well the way he came up with this Stand Up In It thing, he does similar things to me, you know the laughing thing, the guitar lick. When you do hear the record, you really hear me (laughs) because that’s what he did.





Do you still get to play in ‘black’ clubs back home?



Oh yeah! When I’m at home I play clubs but I think now, 70-75% of my shows now are not in black clubs, they are more or less in white clubs. Since I did ‘Strokin’’ there are more of the white clubs that I play than black clubs. I didn’t even know that it was going to happen that way, but so many of the black clubs that I know are no longer there, they closed down for one reason or the other. A lot of them, and I’ve realised how my age is going, a lot of them (the people that used to run them) are no longer there you see.



Did you ever play The Royal Peacock?




Yes I used to play there, in fact The Royal Peacock is the place where – I don’t know if you remember Phil Walden and his brother Alan Walden. Well once upon a time they were my managers and that’s where they heard me do ‘Dark End Of The Street’, and they thought so much of it until they kept after me about doing it and putting it on a record. And that’s how I ended up putting ‘Dark End Of The Street’ on a record because they just thought it was so fantastic that that’s what should happen. They heard me do it at The Royal Peacock! I used to love to play The Royal Peacock. It was quite a place to play. I got to know the guy called Henry Wynn. In fact the first tour I ever went on, when I had ‘Slip Away’, well actually the tour had been planned say six months before ‘Slip Away’ came out. We didn’t even know that’Slip Away’ was going to become a hit record when they put me on the tour and fortunately for them, I was already on the tour by the time ‘Slip Away’ became such a big record. Now I play in Atlanta very seldom really. Actually, most time I play in Atlanta I play like the Civic Centre or I play the Fox Theatre, but I play a lot of shows in the casinos.



The casinos are a good source of work.



Right! You see the casino has taken the place of the nightclub.









My thing is to go out and make people laugh, make people forget about what they, if they have any problems, we just gonna forget about it for this period of time right here, while I’m out here on stage. Even if I have problems, I leave them where I came from. My thing is to go out and have us some fun here. That’s the way I’ve always approached them, I always try to say that, even when I go to a recording studio, if I can’t have any fun in here then lets don’t go in here.



Do promoters ever ask you to bring a horn section sometimes?


No because I let them know when they call me I don’t have one. I would like to carry one, I really would – my brother used to be my road manager and at that time I used to have horns and when I no longer had horns, I would be singing and all of a sudden I would look over because I knew it was time for the horns to play and when I’d come off stage he’d say ‘Clarence will you stop looking over there at those horns’ But I love horns because to me they add colourization to the song. You see when you’ve got a rhythm section, I don’t care how good the rhythm section is, as a musician to me, you lose something because you can’t change the flow of the song, the sound is still the same, but if you’ve got some horns to come in, that’s gonna bring something else to the song! My ideal situation is at least three horns and three background singers. Not having a horn section will cut down on the number of songs I do, then added to it. You see, with musicians today a lot of them they don’t remember what Clarence Carter used to do, like for example they won’t remember, I wanted to do ‘Road Of Love’. You see they won’t remember that, they don’t know I ever did it because they are not as ‘detailed’ as I used to be. For example, back when Solomon Burke came to Montgomery, he didn’t even get there in time for us to rehearse with him. All we had time to do was bring him on stage and that’s the way Solomon still is, but we played so well behind him. He told the audience, he said ‘I know you all not gonna believe me but I’ve never met these people before in my life’ –that’s why he kept calling back to Montgomery trying to get us to go on the road with him it was because at that time I took pride. If I had to play for an artist whatever I think he may have had, I knew it by the time he got there.


Reviews


to write a review