Clarence Carter is the quintessential Southern Soul artist. A gritty, honest, no-frills singer-songwriter-musician who delivers each song like it’s a page from his life story. Here for the first time on CD are both sides of his first 12 solo singles recorded at FAME Studios and, I’m delighted to note, taken directly from the FAME master tapes.
I first saw Clarence live on stage in Birmingham, Alabama some years back. Right from the first song he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, carried away by the driving, feel-good Southern Soul music and his infectious humour. Clarence has been blind from birth and the standard tools of a soulman’s stagecraft such as thrilling dance moves or prowling the stage and dropping to the knees for effect aren’t available to him. Instead he has to rely on his direct earthy singing, the perfect timing of his delivery and, most importantly, his self-penned, witty songs. Many of the numbers I heard that night are contained on this excellent CD, with 15 of the 24 songs on offer written or co-written by Clarence himself.
Having convinced FAME owner Rick Hall to sign him up in 1966, Clarence came straight out of the blocks with the upbeat ‘Tell Daddy’. It’s probably best-known today for Etta James’ excellent cover version 'Tell Mama', but Clarence’s original was good enough to make the R&B Top 40. Not bad for a debut release. In fact 10 of the 12 singles on here made the R&B charts, six of which, starting with the terrific cheating song ‘Slip Away’ in 1968, broke the Top 10. While echoing the sentiments of Jimmy Hughes’ ‘Steal Away’ (an earlier hit on the Fame label), the mid-tempo groove and warmth of Clarence’s voice on ‘Slip Away’ allude to the delights of slippin’ around, rather than to Hughes’ guilty angst about the gravity of the situation.
Clarence was on a roll now and his next record, ‘Too Weak To Fight’, made it to #3 R&B. His joyous delivery of the simple but effective lyrics, on top of a terrific horn-led beat, make this record a personal Southern Soul favourite. Clarence’s down-home views on the vagaries of love continued to find favour with R&B fans, and ‘Snatching It Back’, ‘The Feeling Is Right’, ‘I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone’ and ‘Doin’ Our Thing’, complete with Clarence’s trademark devilish chuckle, followed each other to the top end of the charts. Even when he failed to chart with ‘That Old Time Feeling’, his wife-to-be Candi Staton recorded her own version and made it a #5 R&B hit in 1970.
These Clarence Carter singles helped secure FAME studio’s pride of place in the annals of Southern Soul. This essential CD will leave you in no doubt why.
By Martin Goggin
(The credits for the illustrations to the booklet have inadvertently been missed off. They should say: Photographs courtesy Fame Records. Labels and records courtesy Roger Armstrong, Tony Rounce and Dean Rudland. Sheet music courtesy Roger Stewart. Adverts courtesy the Ace Records Ltd Collection.)