Tuesday, March 27, 2012

JOE CARSON - THE LAST SONG (I'm Ever Gonna Sing)

I have always maintained that there is no such thing as "originality". If you do the research long enough, you'll almost ALWAYS find a precursor to that "original" idea. This is why, for example, there is NO right answer to the question "what was the first rock and roll record?" There IS no first, because it's all part of a continuum - there are at least 20 records from the late 1940s that could be called "rock and roll", but they could just as easily be called "R&B" or "jump blues" or "country boogie" or even "jazz".

The concept of "originality" has a LOT to do with people's perception - which, not coincidentally, is one of the fundamental rules of good salesmanship; it's all about people's perception of the product you're selling, no matter how crappy or useless the product is. With the arts (music, theater, painting, etc.), a different criterion also comes into play - obscurity. As in: the more obscure the person you're stealing from, the more "original" your work will seem to others.

I am NOT saying that the people who "steal" from these more obscure artists and become famous for being "original" are talentless hacks. Those who "steal" are usually the ones who love their particular art form SO MUCH that they are influenced by EVERYTHING they listen to - because they are listening to EVERYTHING in the first place! So if Keith Richards "steals" a Chuck Berry chord progression for a Rolling Stones record, and people who aren't all that familiar with Chuck's output (I don't know any of those people) buy the Stones record, they're gonna think, "Wow! What a great chord change! Keith Richards is a genius!" But that doesn't mean that Keith should be looked at as a no-talent hack who just steals other folks' riffs (though I'm pretty sure that Chuck sees it that way), it just means that Keith's Chuck Berry fixation has been so ingrained in his psyche, that Chuck and his riffs inform everything Keith does, even at the sub-conscious (or, in Keith's case, semi-conscious) level. Again, it's all part of a continuum, and also all about people's perception.

I think that same case could be made for the above record by Joe Carson being "stolen" by John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival for 1969's "Lodi". It's almost the exact same story: young musician goes to the big city to become a star, gets a few gigs, gets written up in the papers once or twice, but ends up going nowhere fast. Only difference between the two records is that while Fogerty is lamenting his lot in life, he's still gonna plug away at his chosen path, depressing as that may be, while Joe Carson is ready to quit, because he just can't take it anymore.

Ironically, Joe Carson was on his way to becoming a MAJOR country star when his life was cut short on February 28, 1964 in an auto accident. Born on November 21, 1936 in Holliday, Texas, "Little Joe" showed a remarkable aptitude for music, and by the age of 12 embarked on a professional music career. At sixteen he joined The Southernaires, who were the house band for the Southern Club in Lawton, Oklahoma, which was a major venue for many of the top country performers of the day, like Hank Williams, Tex Ritter, Little Jimmy Dickens, and Lefty Frizzell. Another member of the Southernaires was a young guitar player named Tommy Allsup, who would later become famous for playing lead guitar for Buddy Holly on that last, fateful tour of early 1959.

In 1954, Carson signed his first record deal with Mercury Records, releasing four singles which went nowhere. But Carson was a popular live act (appearing around this time on the Big D Jamboree out of Dallas, TX), and had no problem securing a deal with Capitol in late 1956 after the Mercury contract ended. Though the Capitol files say that Ken Nelson produced the sessions, pretty much everyone agrees that Joe Carson's old friend Tommy Allsup was really in charge. Unfortunately, the two Capitol singles Carson recorded died a quick death, and after making one more failed single for the D label in 1959, Joe Carson went back on the road, still searching for that one hit record that would put him over the top.

Carson's live act continued to impress, mainly because he was one of the greatest honky-tonk singers to ever step behind a microphone, right up there with Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, George Jones and Johnny Paycheck. He managed to secure a contract with Liberty Records in 1962, and after one flop single, "Shoot The Buffalo", that elusive first hit showed up - in the form of Willie Nelson.

At the time, Nelson was just beginning to taste success with his songwriting, with songs like "Family Bible" by Claude Gray and "Hello Walls" by Faron Young. Nelson was a big fan of Carson's, having seen him a number of times in Texas, and wrote a song for Joe called "I Gotta Get Drunk (And I Shore Do Dread It)". Joe recorded it on January 9, 1963, under the eye of his good friend Tommy Allsup, and it became a smash Top Ten hit on the country charts upon its release in May of 1963. The follow-up, "Helpless" (featuring a young Glen Campbell on guitar and backing vocals), also became a Top 20 country hit in August.

The flip of "Helpless" was "The Last Song (I'm Ever Gonna Sing)", and over the years it has become a lost classic - not only because of the pre-"Lodi" connection, but because of the ironic title (sort of like Chuck Willis dying after releasing "What Am I Living For" or Eddie Cochran after putting out "Three Steps To Heaven"). Of course, this record is LOADED with folks who worked closely with Buddy Holly - the song was written by Jerry Allison and Sonny Curtis, and was produced, once again, by Tommy Allsup - even more of an eerie coincidence.

After one more single, "Double Life", in January, 1964, Carson went back on the road. After a concert in Wichita Falls, TX on February 28th (in which, reportedly, the last song Carson sang was "The Last Song"), Carson packed his gear and got in his car. Unfortunately, he never made it home. He was 27 years old, leaving a wife, a young son, and the prospects of one of the greatest careers in country music history.

Joe Carson - The Last Song (I'm Ever Gonna Sing) (Liberty 55614) - 1963

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