Guitarist Fred Carter, Jr. (1933-2010) was one of Nashville's all-time great session players, a "usual suspects" studio pro who played on countless sessions, from the biggest pop and country hits to hundreds of independent "private press" albums made by hopefuls and amateur artists who flocked to Music City. Born in Louisiana, Carter landed a gig on the Louisiana Hayride during the 1950s, and cut a few rockabilly-oriented singles before joining Roy Orbison's band. He performed on several records with the rock icon and later toured with roots-rocker Ronnie Hawkins and his band, the Hawks -- a group that eventually morphed into The Band. Years later, Carter was recruited to play in drummer Levon Helms' easygoing jam-band, the RCO All-Stars.
In the early '60s, Carter moved to Nashville and became one of the town's most in-demand musicians, playing on sessions such as Bob Dylan's pioneering country-rock records, and perhaps most famously on Simon & Garfunkel's mega-hit, "The Boxer." In 1968 he purchased the Nugget record label from the country comedy team of Lonzo & Oscar, intending to build it from an indie into a major label, although apparently he got sidelined by running it as a custom/vanity press company. Carter owned the label and ran his own Fred Carter Studios in Goodlettsville, Tennessee from 1968-75, when financial pressure made him fold up shop. Afterwards, he continued working steadily as a session player and is now known to many modern country fans as the father of '90s Top Forty star Deana Carter.
Fred Carter, Jr. "...Plays Goldsboro" (United Artists, 1968) (LP)
Fred Carter, Jr. "Blues Grass" (Gusto, 1982) (LP)
(Produced by Fred Carter, Jr & Michael S. Stone)
An excellent album of music performed at the highest level, though still with plenty of soul and affection. Carter kicks things off in oldies mode, plucking through beautiful renditions of "Wildwood Flower" and "Rank Strangers," slowly moving towards a slightly grittier feel in some of the vocal numbers. He's backed in places by an unidentified female singer, though mostly he handles the vocals himself, and his rugged, easygoing style provides an interesting contrast to his sleek, super-perfect picking. Indeed, by album's end the artist he most reminded me of was John Hartford, who had a similar mix of resolute rootsiness and undeniable virtuosity. The only really goopy moment comes on his version of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer," but since Mr. Carter created those guitar parts, I figure we can cut him a little slack... And sure enough, give that track a chance and you'll love hearing how he fleshed out those iconic melodies. Interesingly enough, even though he was a mega-studio insider, Carter's backed here by a cadre of little-known pickers, who take the music into a bluegrassy direction... Sounds great! Highly recommended.
Fred Carter, Jr. "The Roots Of American Music, v. 1-4" (Gusto, 1982) (LP)
Deana Carter "Father Christmas" (Rounder, 2001)
A remarkably understated acoustic Christmas album, and a lovely father-daughter collaboration... Usually when Top 40 country stars do a holiday record, they tend to blast away at the songs -- I guess it's a chance for them to wail away on a different type of material? -- but Carter prefers to croon, and the results are low-key and rather nice. Her dad backs her on acoustic guitar and in an interesting family-oriented bonus, the disc also includes an interview she conducted with him when she was a little kid, all about his old days in Nashville. Definitely worth checking out, if you're in a holiday mood, or if you just wanna hear some nice picking and singing. (For other Christmas records, see my Hillbilly Holiday section.)
Hick Music Index