[I really don’t know where I picked this biography from (a great lack of tidiness on my part in my archives), but it’s so complete and living that I decided to publish it without changing an iota. If any way the pages below are copyrighted and/or authored, I’ll gladly credit it to the right person. My thanks to him/her. Now let’s go.]
“A few years ago an old friend gave me a wonderful gift. I was visiting him at home when, without warning, he suddenly produced a Swan 4 slice toaster box saying, “This is for you.” I insisted I didn’t need a toaster whereupon he laughingly invited me to look inside. I nervously opened the box and my eyes almost popped out of my head (actually they popped out, bounced off all four walls and popped back in again). The box was crammed full of 7 inch singles, all country, all 50s to 70s, rescued from American jukeboxes and included records by George Jones, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb, Willie, Dolly, Tammy and a whole lot more.
The amazing thing was that it also contained records by artists whose names I knew but had never heard before and it was a treat to hear them at last. One record, however, intrigued me most. It contained absolutely fantastic versions of two Willie Nelson songs “I Gotta Get Drunk” and “Who’ll Buy My Memories” performed by a guy called Joe Carson. I tried books, magazines, the internet, friends, everything I could think of in an effort to find out more about him but drew a blank every single time, despite the fact that the record was on Liberty, a major label. Who was this guy? Surely with a voice like his he made more than one record? How come no one knew who he was? I didn’t even know which part of the USA he was from, or even if he WAS American. I finally admitted defeat and contented myself with the one record I had. All corrections/additions in […]
[I already knew Joe Carson for years, via several Mercury and Capitol songs taped on the fabulous Tom Sims cassettes, and wanted other stuff from him. I bought in 1982 the French reissue of his solitary Liberty album, but was a bit disappointed: it sounded more Country than hillbilly, nevertheless well done 1960’s Honky tonk. Anyway I couldn’t last finding everything Carson had recorded before. Then I found the D single from 1959: wonderful Hillbilly uptempo ballads. All in all, he had published 11 singles only during his short career.]
Then, one day, a miracle occurred. A few months ago I was perusing the latest in a regular line of catalogues from German record label Bear Family when my eye caught a feature on the very same Joe Carson.
Born in Holiday, Texas, in 1936 [November 21], it seems the reason Joe Carson wasn’t a major household name was that, just as he was on the verge of hitting the big time, he lost his life in a car accident on Feb 27, 1964 (the day before I was born). He was just 27 years old.
Carson left tragically few recordings behind and now Bear Family had gathered them all together on one CD called “Hillbilly Band From Mars“. I ordered it without delay. I camped out by the letterbox and was ecstatic when it finally arrived for what dropped onto my hall carpet was quite simply ‘The Best Texas Honky Tonk Album In The World…Ever!’ With a staggering 33 tracks, any one of which would stand out on anyone else’s record, it was nothing short of Honky-Tonk Heaven.
The songs are, roughly, in chronological order and represent all of Carson’s commercial releases together with previously unreleased gems including the title track; the wonderful “Don’t Be Afraid to Laugh” and Bakersfield style shuffle “Guess You Don’t Love Me Anymore”. Listening to them in order you get a real sense of just how great a star Carson could have become.
The CD begins with a bunch of very mature sounding Carson originals, recorded when he was only 16, and featuring backing from one of the top bands of the time; Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys (voted 1 band 13 years running). Carson had caught Thompson’s attention at the famous Southern Club in Lawton, Oklahoma where he regularly appeared as part of Tommy Allsup’s Southernaires. It’s easy to see why Thompson was impressed enough to invite Carson to record some demos at his studio. He also secured Carson a deal with Mercury Records on the strength of those same demos.
“I’ll do the dishes” (Mercury 70315)
“I don’t have a contract (with you)”(Mercury 70315)
Although lacking studio experience, the young Carson seemed to know just what he wanted and Brazos Valley Boys member famous Amos Hedrick recalled how, during those first sessions, when Carson felt they weren’t hitting it quite right, he turned to the band and said “I thought you guys were musicians?” The band took their revenge at a later session when they each smashed a copy of Carson’s brand new 78rpm record, “I’ll Do The Dishes” – OVER HIS HEAD!
The CD gets better the further in you go and it’s easy to hear that Carson was developing into a truly great Country song stylist, mastering his craft and using that tremendous voice to greater effect. It’s also important to note that Carson’s sessions often included the cream of Country Music sidemen including Buddy Emmons, Glen Hardin, “Pig” Robbins and guitar ace James Burton. One session even features a future superstar, a young guitarist/singer named Glen Campbell who sings the wonderful harmony on hit song “Helpless” (not posted).
“Show me now“(Mercury 70398)
“I’m not allergic to love”(Mercury 70738)
Joe Carson spent a little time recording in California where his sessions included players like Ralph Mooney, Joe Maphis and the legendary Buck Owens. It’s often said that had he relocated to the West Coast, as he was invited to do [in 1957], he would have become a major force in Country Music. One song recorded in California was ‘Passion And Pride‘ written by song-writing legend Leon Payne. Though not a commercial success the song was a favourite with other musicians and led directly to Carson’s meeting with Country legend George Jones. The story is told thus…
“Passion and pride“(Capitol 3645)
“Love transfusion“(Capitol 3645)
Carson was a fan of Jones and decided he wanted to meet him so he boldly knocked on the door of Jones’ tour bus. The musician who answered called up the bus “Joe Carson is here” to which Jones replied “ Is that the ‘Passion And Pride‘ Joe Carson?‘ Next thing Carson knew he was on the bus and Jones was handing him a guitar with a request to “Sing it for me“. He spent the next three days with Jones picking, singing and, of course, drinking.
“Crazy dream“(Capitol 3760)
“Time lock“(D 1083)
“Careless words“(D 1083)
Joe Carson’s final recording session featured the recent hits (now country standards) ‘Fraulein‘ and ‘Release Me‘. A poor choice I first thought but when I listened to them I was blown away. Carson breathes new life into them and I would even go so far as to say that his version of ‘Fraulein’ is the best I’ve ever heard, including the famous versions by Bobby Helms and Hank Locklin.
Though it’s difficult to pick any one stand out track my own favourites include Carson originals such as “I Don’t Have A Contract With You“, “Careless Words” and, a song sure to find it’s way into a John Miller set in the near future, the beautiful “I’ll Never Love No One But You“. Add to that the Willie Nelson songs I first heard and the Bakersfield shuffle of tracks like “Be A Good Girl” and “Double Life” and you already have a CD worthy of any true Country fan’s attention.
“The last song (I’m ever gonna sing)”(Liberty 55614)
“Shoot the buffalo“(Liberty 55547)
“I gotta get drunk“(Liberty 55578)
The CD even contains an early example of an Anti-Nashville song, ‘The Last Song I’m Ever Gonna Sing’, which, according to popular legend was indeed the last one performed by Carson before he packed up and headed out on that fateful February night. It’s known that Carson had a few troubles in mind that night, he was involved in a bitter pay dispute with his band and his little boy, Randy, was in hospital fighting meningitis. Was it a case of one too many drinks in an effort to forget? Or would the accident have happened anyway? All we know is that a brilliant musical career ended that night and all that remains now is Carson’s musical legacy… but what a legacy!
Joe Carson’s music deserves the massive audience it lost out on first time around. This is classic Texas Honky-Tonk at its very best.
If you like Webb Pierce, Ray Price, George, Lefty, Hank, Willie, etc. etc. Hell. If you like Dale Watson… BUY THIS CD. I’ve already bought it three times as I keep giving it to friends in an effort to spread the news. But don’t just take my word for it, go out and discover the magic of Joe Carson for yourself.”
Many thanks to Ronald Keppner for the scanning of Mercury records labels.
“Double life“(Liberty 55664)
“Fort Worth jail“(Liberty 15664)