Earlier today I read that the great guitarist Pete Carr, doyen of the session scene in Muscle Shoals and elsewhere, had died aged 70.
Chance circumstances brought Pete and myself close together for a brief period during the summer of 1977. I had just started working for Sir Productions, the New York company headed by my friend Pete Rudge who between 1971 and 1976 looked after The Who’s American affairs. He also tour managed The Rolling Stones and properly managed Lynyrd Skynyrd; as well as .38 Special, whose singer was Donnie Van Zant, Ronnie’s younger brother; an Australian group called The Dingoes; and the duo of Lenny Leblanc & Pete Carr. My motive at the time was to learn how to manage music acts so as to one day maybe manage one of my own, and my duties at Sir were diverse, essentially to do whatever Rudge required of me. I pitched in enthusiastically, glad of what turned out to be a temporary change from writing about music and musicians to being in the thick of it and them.
I handled press inquiries, wrote press releases, dabbled in radio promotion, hustled record labels and checked that shops were stocking our records. Once, when her father arrived at the office for a meeting, I looked after five-year-old Jade Jagger, taking her and her nanny to the zoo in Central Park. I sat in on meetings with record labels while Rudge harangued their staff to work harder on his acts. I replenished the office booze cabinet, helped myself to a lot of promo records and flirted with the girls who worked there.
The most onerous yet at the same time most fulfilling duty, however, was tour managing The Dingoes and Leblanc & Carr. This was my first taste of the sharp end of the rock biz, being out there on the road, taking responsibility for getting a band from place to place, checking them into and out of hotels, getting to and from gigs, collecting monies owed, distributing per diems, paying our way, marshalling the road crew and keeping the musicians in a fit state to perform night after night. I was thankful that I worked for Rudge, who had a key role in the set-up that controlled the Stones, Who and Skynyrd. This meant that people I met on the road showed me some respect.
It would have been in July that year when I found myself dealing with a short road trip by Leblanc & Carr. Pete Carr lived in Sheffield in northern Alabama, close enough for a daily commute to the Muscle Shoals recording studios, where he principally worked, and not far from the Tennessee state line. It was my first and only trip to this part of America, the Bible Belt, where god and guns dominate the landscape. Sheffield was in a dry county, no booze, though Pete, like everyone else, simply drove to the Tennessee state line to stock up.
I stayed for three nights in the spare room at Pete’s house, a rambling bungalow with a bit of land. Each morning his wife made me grits for breakfast and we talked about how best to promote the duo he’d formed with singer Lenny Leblanc. He was a quietly-spoken professional, not one for showing off but his CV read like a Who’s Who: Barbra Streisand, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Boz Scaggs, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart and more. Before he took to sessions, he’d been in a group called Hourglass with Duane and Gregg Allman. His house was full of wonderful guitars. We got on well.
Leblanc & Carr were signed to Big Tree Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, and they had a minor hit with a song called ‘Falling’ from an album called Midnight Light. Their music reminded me a bit of Hall & Oates. Later that year Lenny, on his own, would have a hit with ‘Hound Dog Man’, a song about Elvis recorded a year before Elvis died but repromoted after the event.
Pete had assembled a group for roadwork – bass, keyboards, drums and a girl back-up singer – and I went to watch them rehearse in a school gym. A day or two later they did a Saturday night warm-up gig at a local hall that held maybe 1,500 and it was full. Half way through their set an over-excited member of the audience somehow climbed onstage and looked like he was about to make mischief, at the very least to put Lenny and Pete off their stride, so I ran on and grabbed him, then led him away. The band didn’t miss a beat and afterwards I felt great, like I’d diffused a potentially ugly situation. Rudge would have been proud of me, I thought. It also gained me the band’s respect and impressed a nice-looking friend of Pete’s wife with whom I thought I might be in with a chance, but it didn’t happen.
The warm-up was for a five-night stint at the Ritz Club in Memphis. We drove there the following Monday, a distance of about 150 miles, two cars and a van with the gear, and checked into a motel before heading over to the club to set up and sound check. It was busy on opening night. They were excellent musicians, session guys all, and while their playing was flawless I felt they needed to put a bit more zest into the show. Gingerly, I mentioned this Pete and he seemed to agree.
The next night they were better, looser, but the crowd was smaller. They opened their shows with ‘Something About You’, the Four Tops song, which swung like the devil, and as well as original material, mostly blue eyed soul, they covered ‘Johnny Too Bad’, the reggae song, and offered up a gorgeous, lilting take on ‘Desperado’ by the Eagles. They were even better on the third night so I called Rudge in New York, urging him to come down and see for himself how tight and assured this little Leblanc & Carr band had become. He never made it. There was hardly anyone there to watch them on the final two nights but they played superbly, letting their hair down as they realised there was nothing to lose, closing the sets with impromptu rock’n’roll medleys on which everyone got to blow steaming hot. Crowd or no crowd, it gave me a warm feeling to think that I was in some small way responsible for how they’d developed over the week, and that I might be part of their future.
It was while we were in Memphis that Pete, Lenny and myself went to visit Graceland, just to stand by the gates and look up the drive towards the famous mock Gothic porch and four imposing pillars on either side of the front door. I have every reason to believe that its famous occupant was in residence that day. I can’t remember who took our photograph outside the gates, probably one of L&C's band, or even how I came to have a copy of it but I treasure a print still. About six weeks later Elvis was carried out of Graceland on a stretcher.
Pete, CC and Lenny, Graceland, July 1977
At the end of the week I went back to New York and delivered a glowing report on Leblanc & Carr to my boss. I urged Rudge to let them support Lynyrd Skynyrd on the upcoming tour to promote their new album Street Survivors, and this was duly arranged. I was looking forward to resuming my role as their tour manager on these dates. Then there was the plane crash and the tour didn’t happen. Rudge ceased to manage Leblanc & Carr, I left his employment and the next time I saw Pete Carr I was back in London – watching him on TV, playing a gold Les Paul behind Simon & Garfunkel at their 1981 concert in New York’s Central Park.
RIP old mate.