If a winking leer could be transmitted on record, Clarence Carter was the man to do it. Backed by the cream of Muscle Shoals sessioneers, he sang often of slipping away to fool around at the dark end of the street—pretty steamy stuff for the late 1960s.
Born January 4, 1936 in Montgomery, Alabama, Clarence went blind at age one. At eight, music seduced the lad. "We used to live around this alley called Jennings Alley. There used to be a guy come down there, and he was blind. And he had a dude with him. He played the guitar, and this dude played the washboard," says Carter. "I said then, 'I'm gonna play me a guitar one of these days!'" When he was 11, his mother bought him one as a Christmas present. Clarence cranked up his stepdad's blues 78s by Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup, Lonnie Johnson, and Washboard Sam and soaked them up.
While attending a school for the sightless in Talladega, Clarence joined forces with a classmate, pianist Calvin Scott. The duo played in Montgomery at the Derby Club and recorded for Fairlane as Clarence & Calvin, notably a rocking '62 revamp of Goodnight Irene. Four singles on Houston-based Duke Records, half as by The C & C Boys, preceded the duo's Rooster Knees And Rice on Atco, done in Muscle Shoals. But a serious 1966 auto wreck derailed the pair. "He just got scared of being out on the road," says Carter. "So I went on and decided I'd try to do some things myself."
Carter signed with Rick Hall's Fame label as a solo. His first Muscle Shoals-cut single, Tell Daddy, charted R&B in early '67. So did his encore Thread The Needle, where he unleashed his trademark lascivious chuckle, borrowed from Montgomery deejay Mr. Lee. Hall moved Clarence to Atlantic for the sizzling Looking For A Fox, a Top 20 R&B entry. Then Carter waxed what Hall considered a smash, Funky Fever. Clarence preferred a sweaty cheating ode, Slip Away, that he'd cut some time before.
"Rick wouldn't put it out," said Clarence, who outsmarted his producer. "I said, 'Well, why don't you put that old "Slip Away" on the other side? It ain't no hit record no how.'" Clarence's judgment was confirmed after Funky Fever only made a mild chart impression. "They put it on there, and the disc jockeys turned it over and played 'Slip Away.' I knew that if the record ever got played on the radio, man, it was gonna go." Did it ever: Slip Away slipped right on up to #2 R&B and #6 pop, going gold.
- Bill Dahl -
Various - Sweet Soul Music
Various - Sweet Soul Music 29 Scorching Classics From 1968