Tuesday, May 4, 2010

James Carr- "You Gotta Have Soul" / "At the Dark End of the Street"

The story of singer James Carr is just one of the tragic tales of soul music. Born in Coahoma, Mississippi in 1942, James was brought up as the son of a Baptist preacher and sang in many gospel groups. In 1964, at the age of sixteen, he was singing with The Harmony Echoes when songwriter Roosevelt Jamison brought him to the newly formed Goldwax label. Goldwax had only been formed that year by music veteran Quentin Clauch, founding member of the Hi Records label, and Memphis pharmacist Rudolph V. “Doc” Russell who put up much of the capital to get the label going.

James Carr ended up having several hits on Goldwax including the classic “Dark End of the Street”, “You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up”, and “Pouring Water on a Drowning Man”. The tragic portion of Carr’s career is that he was not a mentally stable person. He suffered from heavy bouts of depression, and one time while on tour in Japan he became catatonic onstage from heavy doses of anti-depressants. There have also been tales of producers having to talk James down off the roof of the studio just to get his recordings done.

When Goldwax closed its doors in 1969, it effectively ended the career of James Carr. Several other labels, including Atlantic Records which contracted him for one single 1970‘s “Hold On“, expressed interest in signing him, but his behavior in the studio was so erratic that none of the deals ever stuck. Carr ended up living in a Memphis housing project with his sister through the ‘70’s and ‘80’s with his only output being a 1977 single “Let Me Be Right (I Don’t Want To Be Wrong)” for the River City label. He did attempt one other comeback in 1994 with the record Soul Survivor, but while his voice was as solid as ever, the recording was marred by a dated, synth heavy production.

James Carr’s voice should have landed him in the same echelon of performers as Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, or Otis Redding, but probably due to his mental problems his career never reached those heights. While I want to feature one of my favorite tracks of James Carr today, “You Gotta Have Soul”, I’m also going to include a soul stirring version of “At the Dark End of the Street”. Take time and listen to these, and I think you’ll find that the real tragedy of James Carr is that he has sadly been all but forgotten.