been a fan of James Carr - often called the world's greatest soul
singer - since I first heard Willie Murphy play one of his songs on
his old KFAI radio show. We had not heard of any recent live performances
or new material being released so James was on our "dead or what"
1987 I was pleased when I could replace my old battered cassette tapes
culled from friends record collections with a Blue Side compilation
on vinyl of
some of James' best work. The back cover of the record tells of James
becoming "spellbound" and it seemed unlikely we would ever
hear from him again. In 1991 I picked up a new recording, Take
Me to The Limit, released by Ace/England. It was a rather uneven
effort but I wrote to Ace in London to see if they could put me in
touch with anyone who could arrange to get James to Minnesota. I never
received a reply. In 1994 I saw another new release- Soul Survivor.
In addition to being much better than Take Me to the Limit it had
what I needed most: a telephone number to call for bookings! It didn't
take long for manager/label owner/caretaker Quinton Claunch and I
to reach a tentative deal. He started out telling me James had a few
problems but would be fine. Later he alluded to physical problems
and when pressed, he confessed what most of us had assumed: that James
had a mental illness. I quickly shepherded a deal through the Blues
Saloon, glossing over the mental health issue, and soon James was
arriving for rehearsal.
was reluctant to get up on the stage, wanting us to play his material
without him while he sat alone at a table listening. We ran through
about half of the songlist without James singing and the Blues Saloon
management began to get a little nervous. We took a break and I sat
with James to tell him we needed him to do a little singing on mic
to complete a sound check for tomorrow night. He stepped up to the
mic and spoke into it quite softly. I could see the sound engineer
twisting knobs just to get any volume out of the mic. James nodded
that he was ready, the band brought the volume way down and when James
opened his mouth to sing I could see the engineer frantically trying
to bring the gain down as James' voice ripped through the speakers.
James apparently believed in the maxim- speak softly and carry a big
voice. Time and illness had taken some of his magnificent voice away
but his timing and phrasing remained intact. To hear James Carr sing
the songs that I loved sent chills up my spine. After rehearsal the
management said we had "too many slow songs" and we had
to come up with more uptempo tunes on the fly. I grabbed a James Carr
tape out of my car and we quickly learned "I'm Gonna Send You
Back to Georgia" and "You Didn't Know It But You Had Me"
and promised to learn more when time permitted.
Friday we arrived to find the sold out club in the palm of James'
hand. The crowd enjoyed the uptempo songs we had added but they really
came to see James plead the 12/8 ballads. Saturday afternoon James
came over to my house for fried chicken and a game of spades. Although
hardly talkative we laughed a lot and listened to records. Unlike
most of the artists that I know James actually wanted to hear his
own music, almost to make sure it was still there. The music that
thrilled him most however was Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers and
he broke into accapella versions of those spirituals for us (as well
as "Drowning in a Sea of Love" and a very memorable "Let
it Be Me") on many different occasions. We played with James
a handful of times after that first show but ultimately his health
declined to a point where Quinton and I both thought the gigs were
hurting his well being. James Carr died January 7th, 2001. We were
never asked to learn any more uptempo songs.
to other James Carr related pages: