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Pete Carr

An Interview with Muscle Shoals Guitar Legend, Pete Carr

by Michael B. Smith /with Roxanne Crutcher
May 2000

Pete Carr, recognized as one of the most versatile studio guitarists of the past three decades, has contributed to hit recordings by Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart, Wilson Pickett, Hank Williams, Jr., The Staple Singers, Barbra Streisand, Luther Ingram and many other artists. Carr is known for versatility, using the electric or acoustic guitar, playing with taste and his ability to create standout guitar lines on hit songs. Being a recording engineer and producer adds even more depth to Pete's talents and understanding of the recording studio environment.

Jimmy Johnson, the rhythm guitar player for the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section says "Duane Allman had a magic touch with the guitar that no one else had, with the exception of Pete Carr."

Rodney Hall from FAME recording studios in Muscle Shoals says "I've got to say here that I think Pete Carr contributed more to Muscle Shoals Music than any other guitar player to come through Muscle Shoals. Yeah, there was Jimmy Johnson and Duane Allman. Duane wasn't here but about a year, and Jimmy is a great rhythm player but as far as lead goes, Pete's the man."

Pete Carr has distinguished himself as the only studio musician in the Muscle Shoals area to succeed as a top studio musician, artist, composer, engineer and producer. Tom Dowd called Carr to Los Angeles to play on a Rod Stewart album, which produced the big hit "Tonight's The Night." Pete's guitar playing was a prominent part of the hit. He layered rhythm and lead guitars throughout the song. In 1980 Carr was chosen to play for the Simon and Garfunkel Reunion World Tour and the legendary HBO Central Park Concert where he played acoustic and electric guitars.

Rolling Stone magazine gave Pete a rave review for his bluesy and tasty electric guitar solo on the Barbra Streisand song "Make It Like a Memory" from her "Guilty" album. The song "Woman In Love" from the same album was a big hit for Streisand. Pete's opening harmony guitar lines were notably unique and hard to categorize but very effective in introducing this Streisand hit.

Countless people around the world enjoy Pete Carr's contribution to American music everyday. During the Falklands War of 1982, as British battle ships set sail to reclaim the Islands the BBC (The British Broadcasting Corporation) played the Rod Stewart song "Sailing" nation wide. "Sailing" featured Pete Carr's acoustic and electric guitar playing.

SWAMPLAND.COM is fortunate to be given the opportunity to interview one of the hottest players to ever slide fingers across a fretboard, the great Pete Carr.

Where were you born, and how did you become interested in music Pete?

I was born in Daytona Beach Florida. I was about 12 or 13 years old when I became interested in playing. I went with my mother to see my older sister who was grown, married and had a kid. Her husband Bob had an acoustic guitar in the bedroom and I went over, picked it up and sat down on the bed to play with it. After a few minutes I became captivated with it. It just seemed very interesting getting this thing to make musical sounds. I asked if I could take it home for a few days and my interest just grew. My fingers grew sore also. After a while I got my own acoustic guitar. Later I got an electric guitar that opened up a whole other world of guitar style to me.

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were leading the "British Invasion" at that time. I bought their records and others such as the Yardbirds, The Animals and The Searchers, which helped me learn the guitar. The first few albums released by the Beatles and the Stones contained many American Rhythm & Blues songs. The Rolling Stones at that time were deeply influenced by American R&B artists. Two of my favorite "Stones" songs at the time were "It's All Over Now" by Bobby Womack and "Mercy, Mercy" by Don Covay, both American R&B recording artists. I never dreamed that I would one day play guitar on their recordings. Another radio hit, "Walk Don't Run 64" was one of my favorite guitar instrumentals. It was one of the first good instrumentals that I learned note for note. Around this time a guitar player from Memphis, Travis Wammack, released an instrumental guitar record named "Scratchy." The other side of the record was named "Fire Fly." When I heard "Scratchy" on the radio I was so impressed that I immediately went out and bought the record. I wondered how could anyone play this fast! When Wammack went on tour, to support the hit "Scratchy", he played at a music spot over the ocean called the Daytona Beach Pier. I stood up front and on the side of the stage all night. I also learned from listening to guitarists such as James Burton, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Ted Connors and Chet Atkins.

Who were some of the first bands you heard that inspired you?

The first band I went to see was playing at the Daytona Beach City Island Recreation Center. I don't think I even had started to play guitar yet but I loved to watch the bands.They were called the House Rockers, an early version of the Allman Joys. I was very young, but I remember the two guitar players had blonde hair. I didn't talk with them at the time. It would be at a later date when I would meet the two guitar players, Gregg and Duane Allman. Later, another popular Daytona Beach band called the Night Crawlers were playing at the same place. I would watch The Night Crawlers play songs from the first few Rolling Stones records, which I had been learning to play from. I learned more as I watched the bands two guitar players, Sylvan Wells and Pete Thomason. Now I play an acoustic guitar made by Wells.

So when did you see The Allman Joys for the first time?

I was about 15, and I went to see the Allman Joys play at the Club Martinique in Daytona Beach. I had my guitar case with me, and introduced myself when the band took a break and asked Gregg Allman to show me some guitar lines. Gregg replied, "That's my brother, Duane's, department." At that point I introduced myself to Duane Allman. That meeting began a friendship, which lasted until Duane's death in a motorcycle crash on October 29,1971.

Tell us about The Five Men-its.

Duane and Gregg told me about a band in Alabama that they knew who needed a guitar player. So I moved to Decatur Alabama in 1966 to play guitar for a band called The Five Minutes. Their guitar player, Eddie Hinton, was leaving the band to pursue studio work, and I was called in to be his replacement. Irony and fate have shown their faces to me many times in my life. I would later become the replacement for Eddie Hinton again when he left the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section in a twist of fate. Johnny Sandlin, Mabron McKinney and Paul Hornsby were the other members of the band. I remember Sandlin playing me songs such as "It's All Over Now" by Bobby Womack and the Valentinoes. I already knew the Rolling Stones version of that song, which I loved, but I also liked Womack's version. Sandlin had heard Womack's version first and did not like the Stones version. They were both great recordings in different ways. Sandlin also got me to sit down with the classic B.B. King album "Live at the Regal." I credit Johnny Sandlin and Paul Hornsby as both being big-brother influences and teachers that helped me in my music career.

I first met John Wyker. A long time friend of mine, who is from Decatur, at Johnny Sandlin's house. John was in a band called the Rubber Band and had a hit single out. John Wyker recalls, "I remember the first time I ever saw Pete when Duane Allman brought him to Decatur in about 1965 when Pete was about somethingteen, (1?) 13 or 15 or 16, but not much older than that and he was so thin that you could barely see anything except long wild hair and big Beatle boots with stacked Cuban heels and he talked like the great baseball player Pete Rose, attitude and lightning fast and he was playing guitar like a cocky little mad genius and he was smokin' Duane Allman and Gregg loved his playing. I mean Pete was a kid, but even back then you just knew that Pete's brain was wired to be lightning fast. Computers were invented years later and Pete was one of the first ones to learn to play hot licks on them too! A few years later, as I watched in the recording studio, Pete and whoever would go back to the studio and take their places. Pete would pick up his guitar and instantly start playing EXACTLY what the song needed, intro, feel, EVERYTHANG and that's the way it went session after session, over and over and time and again."

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How did the Hour Glass come to be?

The Five Men-its band couldn't find a lead singer and we were about to disband. At the same time Duane and Gregg Allman needed new band members and called upon Sandlin, Hornsby and McKinney to join their band. I was just a kid and they really had no need for three guitar players in the band so I left and traveled around Alabama meeting some great musicians. I would also go back to Daytona Beach and play at the Pier over the ocean. This new Allman Joys band would later be seen in St. Louis by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Bands' manager who persuaded them to move to California and changed their name to Hour Glass. I lived just across the river from Gregg and Duane, about a ten minute drive, and they had just flown back home from California with a recording of the first Hour Glass Album.

They seemed very excited with the new album and it sounded good to me. Gregg was really singing! Gregg was also home for a draft notification which would have ruined everything for the whole band if he, the lead singer, left for the army. I mean a lot of peoples' careers were on the line. He had to do something, so he drank a few belts of whiskey, went into the front yard, and shot himself in the foot. The next day he got on the bus for Jacksonville. The army people turned him down and the band was saved. Gregg and Duane asked if I would like to fly back to California with them and I accepted the offer. In a twist of fate I again joined forces with the Allmans, Sandlin and Hornsby when Bob Keller, who was playing bass for them at the time, just got up and left one day before a show at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go on Sunset Blvd. They asked if I would play bass for them and I accepted. I figured if Paul McCartney played guitar first and picked up the bass out of necessity I would give it a try also. It all worked out fine at the show that night and I became a permanent part of the band.

Duane and I shared an apartment and we would play guitars together a lot. I remember Gregg, Duane and I playing and singing 'Long Black Veil' a few times, which is a country standard. It started "Ten years ago, on a cold dark night, there was someone killed, in the town that night".

I remember us harmonizing on it and it really was a moment separated from everything else we were doing. It was like a close family thing. I remember my mother talking about that song and how my Aunt Gertie would play and sing songs like that. She also sang a lot of country blues because my mother said she used to use a kitchen butter knife to play slide guitar. I wish I could have played music with her but she died before I was old enough to really remember her. She had epilepsy and I think I recall Mom saying that had something to do with her death. I don't really know. It seems like a dream since I don't remember her except vaguely. I seem to remember her falling from the doorway into the yard one time and people gathering around. Maybe she was having an epileptic seizure. It is like a dream to me now, very vague and shadowy images. I was probably two or three years old.

In 1967 Gregg, Duane, Paul Hornsby, Johnny Sandlin and I, as Hour Glass, played together on the "The Power Of Love" album. The Hour Glass had recorded songs in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, at Rick Hall's Fame Studios, which was known for innovative productions and great sound.One song recorded at Fame, "Sweet Little Angel", was later released in a —Duane Allman Anthology‚ set. This recording is now considered a classic piece of raw electric southern rock blues. When we got back to California we played the tape we made in Muscle Shoals for our producer and he didn't like it. He was looking for a hit single and the Muscle Shoals cuts had no radio top ten type of hit singles. We went ahead and finished the "Power of Love" album and it turned out fairly well for the time but we never got that radio hit record. We finally disbanded and everybody went their separate ways.

When did you first discover your love of producing and engineering?

While making the "Power of Love" album and recording in other studios I found I really liked the technical side of record making. I liked to play guitar but I also liked to produce and engineer. I liked pulling things together from start to finish. I even loved doing the final mix downs of the projects, etc. I loved all the different ways you could affect the sounds of the drums, guitars and vocals, etc. when mixing the final product. That really is the make or break phase of recording. We are dealing with sound and this last phase of a project is all about how well you can put all the pieces together and bring life to it. If a song is mixed badly it can take all the life out of it.

After the Hour Glass Johnny Sandlin called me in Daytona to come to Miami and work with him in a studio there. We cut some hits and Phil Walden asked us to move to Macon, Georgia to be a part of Capricorn, a new record label he was forming. He was managing a lot of R&B acts like Otis Redding and wanted to have his own Memphis type recording conglomerate in Macon. We envisioned ourselves being like a Macon version of the Stax studio group "Booker T. and the M.G.'s". As we worked in the new studio I learned more and more about the technical side of it all. Again, when the Allman Brothers took off and Macon's Capricorn records became the mecca of the new southern rock band movement, there was no need for a R&B studio group so the studio band disbanded. I eventually moved to Muscle Shoals around the age of 20.

Johnny Wyker and Court Pickett were working on their "Motorcycle Mama" Sailcat album. I was called on to contribute as musician, engineer and producer of the project. I dug in and really pulled things together production and engineering wise. The album was a commercial success for us all. After that, I moved into the lead guitarist seat for the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section. The 70's were among the most productive for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and I managed to play on almost all the sessions, which were so many I could never remember them all. I played on the Bob Seger hit "Main Street" which people seem to love the guitar part. The Rhythm Section also co-produced Paul Simon's "There Goes Rhymin' Simon" which earned us a Grammy nomination.

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I found an album the other day with your name on it. "Hank Williams, Jr. and Friends." That one had my old friend Toy Caldwell playing pedal-steel on it too!

I played on a few Hank albums. I played most of the guitars (electric & acoustic) on the Hank and Friends Album. That album was Hank's turning point from old country to new southern music. That album really started a new career for him. I did an album with Willie Nelson that was also considered a pivotal point in his career as well, called "Phases and Stages." When you mention Hank Jr. that reminds me of the time that I went to a Phil Walden Capricorn Records picnic and Dickey Betts and Hank, Jr. and I were riding in a pickup truck driven by Dickey. I was in the middle and Hank was riding shot gun. All of sudden Dickey just runs up on the middle median like it was normal, doing about 80 mph! I thought we were going to wreck for sure but he finally made it back on the road. Hank and I just acted like nothin' out of the ordinary happened and kept on talking.

Of course I have had a few close calls myself. A friend of mine and a great guitar player from Huntsville, Alabama, Ray Brand says "I have a lot of Cat Tales, like the time we had just left a party and Pete was driving a Z and it was raining like hell. There was a bad storm moving in and there was water standing on the road, so the car went into a spin backwards for about 150 feet. No joke, my heart rate sped up to the tempo of "Wipe Out" as I watched the phone poles race by. I was just waiting for the crash, boom, bang. And as we came to a stop, nothing was said for a few seconds and then Pete said "I didn't scare you, did I" with a smile. But some how I knew he was scared too, and happy to be a live.

Tell us about your solo albums.

Jerry Wexler, a world-renowned record executive and producer, helped me find a record label for my productions. I put together the group LeBlanc & Carr and created the album "Midnight Light" as both artist and producer. The song "Falling" became a big hit for LeBlanc & Carr. "Falling" was mixed at Fame Studios, which is where I did most of the mixing for his production projects.

What was the biggest thrill for you in your music career thus far?

That really is hard to answer. I always thought Paul Simon was fantastic, in the same league as the Beatles, so when he walked in the studio the first time it was a very awe-inspiring moment for me. I remember vividly as he walked through the front door and I saw his face. I had taught myself an acoustic guitar instrumental he did on a Simon and Garfunkel album called "Angie" when I was a kid. I always thought that he was one of the best, if not the best songwriter ever. Simon, Dylan, Lennon & McCartney. My favorites. I still think Simon, along with the other three I just mentioned, did some of the best song writing work ever done. Even today you can't say he is surpassed by anyone for quality, crafted, intelligent songwriting.
The Simon and Garfunkel Concert in Central Park was big. Close to a half million people attended. I was proud to have been chosen to play guitar. It's funny. I would rather play for thousands of people than in a living room with a few people. I mean nervousness wise. Of course the studio is another story.

I really liked the Rod Stewart session, which produced the hit "Tonight's The Night" Tom Dowd produced it and flew me to L.A. The drummer, Jeff Porcaro was from the group Toto. He is one of the best drummers I have worked with. Such a natural. He was from a very musical family. Sadly, Jeff Porcaro died of a heart attack in 1992.

There have been so many. That's why I liked the studio. One day Rod Stewart, the next day Bob Seger, Paul Simon another day, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Jr., etc., never the same thing all the time. I loved playing with Bob Seger. He is a great person, easy to work with.

Meeting Gegg and Duane Allman from the Allman Joys when I was about 15 or 16 was exciting to me also but in a much different way. They were not yet famous like Paul Simon but they were Daytona's only real band that had traveled and played in other cities like Nashville, New York's Greenwich Village, etc. I had heard so much about them and how great they were. They were older than me but still just kids, also. I think they played the usual stuff that was popular at that time. Songs playing on the radio, etc. The first time I actually met them (I had seen them play a couple of years earlier as the House Rockers) was when they returned from playing at Trudy Heller's in New York's Greenwich Village. They were really hyped up about a band called The Blues MaGoos. Duane had a Vox distortion box clamped to his cream colored Telecaster which I believe he got from them or got the idea from them. Anyway, I had been playing at a club in Daytona called the Martinique. They were now called the Allman Joys and I really anticipated seeing them play since I had heard how great they were. The first time I heard them was when they came into the club and sat in on a few songs. They had had a few too many beers or whatever and I was not very impressed. Of course it wasn't like they had their own band and doing a real gig. It was just a spur of the moment, get up on stage and play something type of situation. There were other people up on stage singing along. Not a showcase episode for talent. They were probably talked into it by someone and they weren't prepared or in any state of mind to do a very good job. Anyway, I told my friends who had been building them up so much that I was not that impressed. Later Duane told me he heard I was disappointed in seeing them play that night and I could tell he planned on being more impressive the next time I heard them play. And I was very impressed later. They had a very good band called the Allman Joys, which seemed to be changing members very frequently. You know it is a hard thing to keep a band together. It always has been which is one reason I preferred recording studio work. Anyway the next time they played for real, I was very impressed with Duane's playing but I was more impressed with Gregg Allmans' singing. He was the best I had ever heard at that time to be a kid. I mean he could sing anything from a pretty R&B /Pop song to a gutsy Ray Charles style, and he was a teenager! He was and still is one of my favorite singers. He was just fantastic. Everyone I knew wished that they could sing like Gregg. Duane was great too, and I loved his playing but I could play a lot of what he was playing at the time also. He did have some cool gadgets like that Vox distortion box and that was impressive at the time. I was impressed enough that I got one and clamped it on my guitar also. Don't get me wrong though, I thought Duane was great and he was. This was teenage years for all of us! Duane and I played together many times over the years and I learned a lot from him. We were best of friends.

Who were your greatest musical influences?

I have a very broad base of musical influence. Pop, Rock & Roll, R&B, Country, and Folk etc. Groups such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones first impressed me.

Could you tell us about your time touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd?

My group, LeBanc & Carr, had just released an album and we signed with Peter Rudge who was Lynyrd Skynyrds' manager. He was also the manager for the Rolling Stones. We started promoting the album and were put on the 1977 "Street Survivors Tour." I don't remember a lot about it. We hadn't done much before the tour came to a tragic end. We all did a show in Miami and afterwards, since Lenny and I grew up in Daytona Beach, we wanted to do a show there for the home town people. So we went to Daytona and were going to meet backup with Lynyrd Skynyrd at the next show. Well, when we arrived in town to play the next concert we heard on the radio of the plane crash that took the lives of some of the members. We of course were shocked. That was the end of the tour. I had known a lot of the band members from when I used to go to Jacksonville, Florida and play in clubs there. They were from Jacksonville and I had seen them there a few times in the clubs etc.,

What is on the agenda for the future?

PlayThatGuitar.com is my main project as of now. Besides myself as an artist on the website I plan on adding and having other guitar players and their history, music etc. located there also. The key to being on PlayThatGuitar.com is that you have played on a few records that people would recognize your guitar parts on. Maybe not know that it was you but the guitar part stood out like Bob Segers' "Main Street." Everybody recognizes the guitar I played on that. Also guitar players who had hit instrumentals over the years or who backed up famous name artists on their records. Two I can think of right now is James Burton and Travis Wammack.

Internet music is what I am concentrating on now. The next year or two music and entertainment will become very mainstream on the Internet. These are the two areas that I know about, music and computers. I got my first computer around 1976 or 1977 and never looked back. I experimented with computer multimedia around this time. I had computer data recorded on a music album that when loaded into a computer would display extra information about the album. Denny Purcell, a top mastering engineer in Nashville, ran the test for me and it all worked fine. Denny was very impressed with the whole idea and setup Billboard Magazine to do an interview but I was busy at the time. Denny and I both believe that this was the first time digital computer information was included along with a music album. I plan on being ready and plan to expand my musical plans beyond just my own music. I have most of the puzzle pieces ready and am waiting for the right time which will be sometime in 2000. Of course the most important thing in my life now is my son, John Carr. He is nine years old and we are very close. My wife Debra and I love him more than anything. He has expressed interest in playing an instrument. He says he wants a flute, and it would be great fun if we played together. I asked him about guitar or keyboards but he says "No, I want to play the flute." Whatever, and if ever, he plays an instrument it would be great to play some music with him someday.


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