James Carr (Born 13/06/1942, Died 07/01/2001)
|For some, Carr is the greatest soul voice of them all - better than Aretha, Otis, Percy Sledge and all the rest. For the Primer, there is an unevenness to his material which prevents his output from reaching the heights of the greatest, although there were good reasons for the variable quality - throughout his erratic career, Carr was pushed from pillar to post, he wrote none of his own material, he recorded in a variety of different styles, sometimes used different musicians, frequently froze in the studio. That anything ever gelled as often as it did is a miracle, and when it did the results were sublime.
Despite all the difficulties, and perhaps in some ways because of them, what Carr produced was some of the deepest and emotional recordings to be found in popular music. His deep, haunting baritone suggested a demon-driven man who was forever at the end of the line, always on the edge.
Carr was born in Coahoma County, Mississippi, on June 13, 1942. His parents brought the family to Memphis when he was quite young (too young for Carr to remember any details). Carr's musical background was the church. He listened avidly to the Jubilee Hummingbirds, the Pilgrim Travelers, Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers, and the Sensational Nightingales featuring Julius Cheeks.
In late 1964, Jamison got Carr signed to Quinton Claunch's Memphis-based Goldwax label (Claunch had previously been a founding partner in the Hi recording label but left around 1960 or 61 on fairly bad terms). Carr's first record, 'You Don't Want Me' sounded a lot like what B.B. King and Bobby Bland were doing at the time - uptown blues might well be the best description. Carr's first hit, in 1966, was 'You've Got My Mind Messed Up', written by O.B. McClinton who later became one of the few black country singers - it reached #7 on the R&B charts - he never went higher! (Carr was to record quite a lot of McClinton's material over the next 3-4 years). Early on, the label mixed up the styles and material and often recorded James in a style reminiscent of Otis Redding - 'Love Attack' from 1966 is a prime example.
Goldwax folded in 1969. Carr ended up on Atlantic, who released one single on him in 1971. In 1977, Roosevelt Jamison put out one James Carr single on his own label. In 1979, Carr toured Japan but whether through the over use of anti-depressants or anti-anxiety pills he went into a trance on stage and the tour had to be cancelled. Very little was the heard of Carr throughout the early to mid 80s until the Peter Guralnick essay appeared in 1986 as a trailer for his wonderful book Sweet Soul Music. Soon after, in 1987, the Blue Side label released a compilation of Carr's songs.
When the soul era of the mid-'60s was in full bloom, for a period of three years James Carr was the maker of some of its warmest and most emotional music. He is also one of the mystery men of the genre (a little like Howard Tate), perhaps ill-equipped for the life of a professional musician. Music this special simply didn't appear to come without a personal price. But the music wins out, because personal problems aside, the music James Carr made is as deep as you will ever hear Southern soul music get.