His story begins on December 12, 1929, when he was born in Eagleton, Arkansas, one of ten siblings, the son of an itinerant share cropper. By the time he was nine years old, he was singing on KGHI out of Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1937 , the family moved to Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Bill’s father got a job with the Southern Pacific Railroad in Indio, California, in 1943, and the family headed west. Bill’s interest in music was encouraged, and he took voice lessons during his teens, as well as performing on radio stations KRBO (Indio) and KROX (Modesto), modelling himself on Eddy Arnold. After graduating from Coachella Valley High school, Bill gained employment with the Johnson lumber Company in Grass Valley, and confined his performings to weekends.
In 1949 he joined USAF, and whilst stationed at Lackland and subsequently Parks AFB in Calfornia, Bill formed several bands, playing with the likes of Shorty Lavender (lead guitar and fiddle), Slim Roberts (fiddle), and Bob Cooper (drums). His music was firmly strenched in C&W and performing at NCO clubs kept his hand in. Whilst still in the Air Force, he got to perform with Cal Smith’s band in San Leandro, as well as playing dates in the San Francisco area, and venturing as far afield as San Antonio, Texas radio stations to perform.
Upon receiving his discharge in 1953, Bill joined Big Jim DeNoone’s country band. They were well known through appearing on « California Hayride » on KPIX-TV out of San Francisco. (It eventually moved to Channel KOVR in Stockton). Initially known as the Hoffman Hayride, it had Cottonseed Clark as the host with Big Jim DeNoone leading the band. Dubbed « The Giant of Western Swing », DeNoone cut some sides on Gilt-Edge in 1953, and then appeared on 4 Star the same year. Bill Carter made his recording debut as the featured vocalist on the Gilt Edge recordings. The band at that time included Bill Hendricks on guitar, Bobby Black on steel, Tex Neal and Big Jim DeNoone on fiddle, Vern Orr on bass and Heck Luperini on drums. The Hoffman Hayride entertained a whole host of artists that included Cal Smith, Tommy Duncan and Merle Travis.
Here he acquired a new band that apart from himself on vocal and guitar, consisted merely of Jody McCauley on steel and A. V. Looper on drums. This engagement, on and off, lasted all of five years, whilst Bill sought to attain more than local prominence. He became a regular contributor to « Folk & Country Songs » in 1956, and wrote a regular article for a couple of years.
Meantime on the recording scene, Carter landed a one off shot on Republic 7126 early in ’56 (probably cut in Nashville) with the original of « By the sweat of my brow » (later sung by Hank Locklin on RCA and the Maddox Brothers on Columbia in 1957, and much much later by Hazel Dickens in the ’90s), a good social protest song for the time being, and the uptempo bopper « You ain’t got my address ». Note that “By the sweat of my brow” was written by the prolific Jack Rhodes. In 1957 he went to the D.J. convention in Nashville, and a « Cowboy Songs » June annouced a forthcoming record (a duet with « California Hayride » Jerri Jones) on Starday-Mercury…which was never issued neither even cut! Same article revealed Carter and Jones had been signed to the personal management of Jess Willard, 4 Star recording artist [Willard never recorded for 4 Star] and disc jockey on KEEN, San Jose (a true fact at last). Whether the press annoucement was merely premature, or a complete fabrication is not clear.
“By the sweat of my brow”
“You ain’t got my address”
Same year (1957) saw Bill Carter recording four sides for Tally in Bakersfield, California. The most well known are the fast « I wanna feel good » (# 111), which became his biggest hit and led him even to the famous « Louisiana Hayride » or Grand Ole Opry, and « I used to love you » (# 112). He performed at the Western Top Hat in Oakland, California, from June to December 1957, backed by Jody McCauley’s Western Playboys. Meantime he did a stint at the Aces Club with a band that included Philip Baugh on lead guitar, Vern Stovall on rhythm guitar, Fred Rose and Billy Armstrong on fiddle, Fred Maddox on bass and Roy Keith on drums. After about a year, Bill Carter returned to Bill Peluso’s 1902 Club and formed a new outfit called « Bill Carter & the Handshaking Strangers ». Again it went for an economy of personnel, with Bill on guitar, Bob « Pessoup » Anderson on steel and Pappy Meacham on drums.
“I wanna feel good”
In 1959, Carter had a brief foray into rockabilly with « Cool tom cat » (written by Jimmie O’Neal) on Ozark, as well as appearing on one side, « Baby Brother » , of Black Jack Wayne‘s Black Jack single # 105, backed by the Roving Gamblers. That same year he also recorded on Johnny O’Neal’s Rural Rhythm label with Roy and Gene Henderson, and cut his first session on Honey-B. Subsequent recordings for Rural Rhythm (O’Neal’s label) in 1960 saw Carter working with the Cooper Brothers, cutting further gospel oriented material. It was also around this time that Carter started working at Cal Veale’s studio in Modesto, recording not only himself, but singing harmony on other artists’ records as well as getting involved in the production side of the business. One can find him on recordings on the Indio label (Jimmy North, Ray Smith, Dave Miller, Larry McGill), Rural Rhythm (Fred Lewis, Billy Montana), Plaid (Cal Smith), Check (Gene Duncan), Buddy (Joe Richie) and Peach (Del Reeves).
“Cool Tom cat”
During the first half of the 60’s decade, he appeared on 13 labels, either in his own right or as a harmony singer. He became heavily involved in the early part of Del Reeves‘ career. The latter helped in return on Carter’s « Shot four times and dying/Stranger shake hands with a fool », two tunes cut at Cal Veale’s, leased to the « D » label (# 1183) in 1961, then to MGM. Just about this time Bill embraced Christianity, coming into contact with a young Baptist preacher named Leonard Sipes, formerly Tommy Collins. In 1969, he formed his own group, the Bill Carter Singers in Nashville before heading back to California where he cut a couple of albums.
(from Adam Komorowski’s article published in an old Hillbilly Researcher issue of the ’90s)
For a nice interview (in English and Spanish) of Bill Carter, go to : http://50sspirit.blogspot.fr/2010/05/libro-revista-life-elvis-presley.html