Photo: Branko Madunic
In 2006, Barbara Carr performed at blues festival in Mönsterås. She was interviewed then by Tommy Jansson. The interview was used as a base for a description of the Southern Soul scene with her as a guide, see Jefferson 149. Then it became more quiet about her until her new album last year, the Catfood release where Staffan Solding concludes review review in J: 174 ”A continued blazing fire that gives warmth.”
The album gave her momentum and she appeared on the big blues festival in Lucerne and was also nominated for a Blues Award. Barbara is one of the most powerful singers of rank at Southern Soul scene. With a good song material the result is fantastic. Unfortunately, she has since the Ecko-years released records on companies without the same quality philosophy as Ecko, why the level went down. Although she did not like the risqué songs Ecko supplied her, it was the combination of the strong lyrics and the supporting voice that gave her the biggest successes and those that she is still remembered for. Although she did not liked the lyrics, as shown below, she sang as she did, as evidenced from Tommy’s article.
When you are now reading Mike Stephenson interview, in a way, her biography, one is struck by the urge to never give up, to seek new ways and to take the opportunities offered. She is a true professional, in the same category as many other older people in the southern soul genre. They have never given up the blues foundation, only modified it to reflect the current conditions. And now and then they step out with incredible performances and records and show nothing has been lost with age. Anders Lillsunde
I was born in St, Louis Missouri and that is where I grew up, and my mother is from Laurel, Mississippi and my father is from Soso, Mississippi and they settled in St. Louis. My mother and father were very musical inclined, and we grew up around that environment at home. We had an old upright piano and my mother and father would play that day in and day out, so we couldn’t do anything but music. My father taught me and my sisters how to harmonise and we began to sing a lot and we were going to church from little kids upwards, so we got into the choirs and my mother would play for the choir. Then, as I went to school at Elmwood Park school to the eight grade, I was in a lot of talent shows and I got to like performing for people at an early age.
In the talent shows I was singing songs of the day. We would listen to the radio back then, and a show from Nashville called Randy’s, or something like that, I would listen to and love it and when I heard Jimmy Reed I fell in love with that music. My sisters and I would sing gospel on the front and back porch, and we would sing anything that was out at the time. Any kind of harmony we would do. Me and my sisters would sing gospel in the church and when we all got married and began our families that went away. The church was called Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, it was up on a hill in St Louis. We used to go from church to church doing programmes and we sang until we got married.
After all of that I formed a group called the Comets Combo and there were three guys, Rubin Laurence, Paul Broiles and William Laurence and they were musicians and singers, and they all went into the service so that broke us up. We played for Junior Parker in St. Louis. That group lasted for almost three years and we used to play just about everywhere in St Louis. We were at a club called the Dynaflow Inn regularly. After that, my husband went into the service so we moved to Colorado Springs in Colorado in Fort Carson. I didn’t sing when I was there, as my family was coming into the world. So I raised them and we came back to St. Louis in about 1963. When we came back to St Louis, I had had all four of my children at twenty two years old. It was hard. I have three daughters and one son and I now have nine grandchildren and I am very proud.
When I got back to St. Louis, I got itchy to get out and sing again and that’s when I met Oliver Sain. I met him at a place called Gaslight Square in St. Louis at that time. Oliver Sain used to play down there and my brother in law Leon Carr was a bouncer and he would come home and tell me that the group at the club were looking for a lady singer. I said I would check them out but I never did. He would come home all the time and tell me this and he told me that Fontella Bass had just left as her ‘Rescue Me’ had just come out and she went on her career. I thought that maybe, this may be a chance for me, so I went down to the club and I really loved Oliver Sain and his group The Olivets, and Bobby McClure was playing there, so I joined them and I was with Oliver for about seven years. This was about 1964 or 1965. I was out touring with Oliver all over the Southern US and Canada.
I connected with Chess Records through Oliver Sain. He had connections with the label and I got to meet Phil and Leonard Chess and I went to Chicago to their studios on Michigan Avenue. It was just like a warehouse. The guy who played on my recordings, Maurice White, he was the drummer there. My first record was “I Can’t Stop Now’ and I recorded that at the Chess studios. ‘Don’t Knock Love’ I recorded at Chess Records. Others like ‘My Mama Told Me’ and ‘Think About It Baby’ I recorded at Oliver Sain’s studio at Natural Bridge in St Louis, but it was still for Chess. The records didn’t do too much.
I stayed with Oliver for seven years and then I went into groups of my own around St. Louis and we travelled lots of places. I had about three or four bands, one was One Shade Lighter, another was The Apostles with Billy Elam. They were my groups and I was singing in them. I didn’t record with any of those groups, I just had a great time working with them, which took me up to about 1972 or thereabouts. I then got a day job and started working for this company for twenty two years, and then I retired from that because my husband was sick and I had to stay at home and help him, and during this time I was still taking care of my family. With the help of my mother in law Bennie Carr we raised them. I did a single for Gateway in the late seventies called ‘Physical Love Affair’ and it went no place, it was just a local thing in St. Louis. See ‘Physical Love Affair’ was done when I did the first Bar Car LP. I guess they took a number off it.
Both myself and my husband formed Bar Car, our own label, because it just seemed like we were going down some form of road which wasn’t the right one; everyone promised a lot of things but it never seemed to happen. We started our own record company, we had no money and it was very hard because I had this lovely family, and then we issued the ‘Good Woman Go Bad’ album in the eighties. This was based on recordings we had done before and some put out on singles, and some of the numbers were ‘Physical Love Affair’ and ‘Think About It Baby’. I recorded a lot of that material at Muscle Shoals in Alabama at Wishbone Studio. It was a beautiful studio and James Brown had recorded there so I thought I had it going on.
My husband and I travelled from St. Louis to Alabama and we stayed a few days. Harrison Calloway helped with those sessions, but I was acquainted with Harrison before we did those sessions at Muscle Shoals. This is going back. This guy named Keith Fry, he connected us. He was from Georgia and we would speak with Keith all of the time and my husband asked him if he knew anyone that was a good producer, and Keith gave us three names, and we chose Harrison as he fit us more, and ever since then he has been a very dear friend and he will help me in anything I do.
How I actually connected with him was Keith Fry gave me his number and Charles, my husband who looked after the business side of things, and they started talking and we all got together and he started writing some songs as I was looking for a blues type tune. I’ve heard lots of songs that tell the story of a man is doing something that the woman don’t like and mistreating the lady. So Harrison said “When you realise a good thing has come, it’s going to be too late because you made your woman go bad”.
We thought that was it and he wrote the song ‘Good Woman Gone Bad’ and he wrote a lot of the other material we did at Muscle Shoals and I think he wrote ‘Physical Love Affair’. Harrison was the producer for those Muscle Shoals recordings. That album was later picked up by Stan Lewis and put out and re released on his Paula label, which helped with distribution for the record. I did the ‘Street Woman’ CD for Bar Car and Harrison Calloway did all of that as well. We put out a second CD on Bar Car titled ‘On My Own’ and that was a compilation of songs that I had pre recorded and released. I just wanted a CD out at the time when searching for a label. The mastering for that second CD was done at South Eastern Lab in Memphis.
I was still doing gigs during all of this, and I then came overseas and came to Italy and I worked throughout Europe for some while and then I got home and got a job for about five years or so for a school district in St Louis. I was a cashier and nutritionist and I liked that and I was still doing music around St Louis with different groups.
My next musical step was with ECKO Records from Memphis around 1996. I don’t know how ECKO found me. John Ward from ECKO called me and he introduced himself and at that time I had not heard of ECKO Records and he asked me to record with them. I spoke with my husband Charles about it and he thought it was a great idea. He would call me ‘wife’ all of the time and he said that nothing else had been working for us at that time, and he was a very sick man at that time so we decided to give it a shot. So we went to Memphis where ECKO Records was based. ECKO Records was in a house back then. So we did our first CD called ‘Footprints On The Ceiling’ In Memphis which came out in 1997.
When I heard all of the things that John Ward wanted me to sing I wasn’t sure, so I went back home and told Charles and told him I wasn’t sure about singing those type of songs, full of raunch and stuff. Charles let it rest for a while and he then said “Wife, give it a shot as we don’t have anything else going”. So when my husband tells me to give it a shot I felt better. Now ECKO Records put me on the map due to their publicity and distribution around the world. I wasn’t thinking that way though when I was singing and recording those songs. I thought that I had to or else they would not keep me. I was with ECKO Records for about seven years. Then I left and did a CD for Mardi Gras Records called ‘Talk To Me’. That was Harrison Calloway again. He told me he had this studio he wanted me to go to which was run by the late Senator Jones, and me and Charles got to meet him. But when I heard the songs I thought they just didn’t fit me, but I was so hungry to get out there, I let it happen. I’m not sure if I remember any of those songs. They were for younger people not for me. We recorded the material at Senator Jones’ studio in Mississippi. Then I went back to ECKO and recorded two more CDs called ‘Down Low Brother’ and ‘It’s My Time’. Every one of the ECKO Records CDs was recorded in Memphis. The label provided all of the stuff and the material and songs and all that risqué stuff.
Charles was with me throughout all of my career he has been my right hand, but he passed on six years ago and his health was failing and I miss him so.
I’ve been knowing Roy Roberts for many years and when we first met we have since been working together every now and then, and I have recorded at Roy Roberts’ studio. We have done duets together and they have been on his CDs for his label. I’ve also been knowing Johnny Rawls for a long time. We have done shows together, and Johnny Rawls is the one that got me with Catfood Records. He called me up and told me I have been out there a long time and he wanted to help me and he told me about Catfood Records and that they are really interested in me. I was ready for something, as I had gotten tired of bumping around so I told Johnny I was interested. So then in 2010 he put me in contact with Bob Trenchard who is the owner of Catfood Records. Bob told me that the Blues Foundation thing was coming up and he wanted me there. That’s where I formally met Bob Trenchard and his lovely wife Norma, and Johnny Rawls was there as he was up for an award.
I’m planning on remaining with Catfood Records and I told Bob that I was going to give them a try for one year, and he told me once I get there I will love it, and he was right. I recorded the Catfood Records CD ‘Keep The Fire Burning’ in Texas and I got to stay in a mansion when I was there. With ECKO Records I still have a very good relationship with them and I was told I could go back there any time and I don’t believe in burning my bridges either. Before Catfood I did an album with CDS Records called ‘Savvy Woman’ and that was for Dylann DeAnne. It was a mixture of tracks from different sessions, some of which were recorded at Roy Roberts’ studio in Greensboro, North Carolina. They have also put out a CD with me and Roy Roberts and Johnny Rawls titled ‘Three Pair’.
Interview conducted by Mike Stephenson in Lucerne, Switzerland in November 2012, with additional information supplied by Barbara, added in February 2013. Many thanks go to Bob Trenchard of Catfood Records for helping to arrange the interview.