Who was/is Carl Carlton ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
At the beginning, Carl Carlton was Back Beat Records boss Don Robey’s answer to Stevie Wonder. The young singer was billed then as Little Carl Carlton, echoing Berry Gordy’s christening of his sightless discovery Little Stevie Wonder. But Carl grew up fast.
Born Carlton Hudgens on May 21, 1952 in Detroit, Little Carl was 12 when he bowed on Lando in 1964 with I Think Of How I Love Her, encoring the next year with Don’t You Need A Boy Like Me and then So What. Big Ed Wingate’s Golden World label—Berry Gordy’s chief local rival--sub-billed Carlton as ‘The 12 Year Old Wonder’ on his pounding Nothin’ No Sweeter Than Love, which sounded like a Motown platter. Then Don Robey’s Houston-based Back Beat label snapped Carlton up, and Little Carl, as he remained labeled in 1968, began visiting the charts.
Competition Ain’t Nothin’, Carl’s first Back Beat outing, made it to #36 R&B in the summer of ’68. His Buddy Lamp-penned 46 Drums – 1 Guitar did even better that autumn, peaking at #19 (Back Beat had Little Carl pegged as a ’14 Year Old Sensation’ on the label, though he was actually 16). 1969 brought more hits with Look At Mary Wonder (How I Got Over) and the Andre Williams-produced Don’t Walk Away. Drop By My Place, produced by ex-Motown saxist Mike Terry and written by Joshie Jo Armstead, jumped to #12 R&B in 1970. The ‘Little’ fell from the singer’s name on his Armstead-penned/produced ’71 hit I Can Feel It.
Carlton recorded all over for Back Beat—Houston, Muscle Shoals, Philly, and with producers Papa Don Schroeder (the man behind James & Bobby Purify’s ’66 blockbuster I’m Your Puppet) and Tommy Cogbill, Woodland Studios in Nashville, where he cut Everlasting Love. It wasn’t the first time the Buzz Cason/Mac Gayden composition had been made into a hit in Music City; Robert Knight’s original version for the Rising Sons logo was a #13 pop/#14 R&B seller in 1967. According to Papa Don, producing Carlton’s Everlasting Love wasn’t exactly a breeze.
“It took me 14 hours to get his performance on ‘Everlasting Love,’” says Schroeder. “But I cut it. Cut the tracks. Didn’t work, didn’t like it. I did horns, didn’t like it. Man, I’m gonna tell you something. I’m talking about (from) taking the project ‘til the time the record was on the market was about six months.” When one ABC Records exec (they’d bought Back Beat along with Duke and Peacock) didn’t dig the master, Papa Don pleaded his case by phone: “This is better than ‘I’m Your Puppet,’ this is better than ‘Shake A Tail Feather,’ this is better than anything I did on Chuck Jackson or anybody!’” he claimed. “’This is the best record I ever cut!’” ABC slipped it out on Back Beat, and Carl had a #6 pop/#11 R&B hit in the fall of ‘74.
Smokin’ Room, a cover of a Rufus song helmed by the band’s producer Bob Monaco, was a #13 R&B hit for Carl in early ’75. He nailed his top seller in 1981 with the Leon Haywood-produced dance floor special She’s A Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked) on Casablanca, which went gold as it rocketed to #2 R&B. Carlton was still registering R&B hits in the mid-‘80s and remains on the circuit today.
- Bill Dahl -
Various - Sweet Soul Music 23 Scorching Classics From 1974
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