Hall Singer/songwriter/guitarist Clarence Carter has overcome a good many obstacles in his 73 years, most of them by way of his natural musical gift. Born blind and raised in rural Alabama, he attended a school for the blind at age 6 and learned guitar at age 11 when his grandmother bought him one (and told him Santa would never have anything for him after that). He copied records by his Blues heroes Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker and ultimately earned a music degree from Alabama State University at a time when neither blacks nor the blind were common sights on any college campus.
Carter and his friend Calvin Scott, also blind, formed a duo (Clarence and Calvin, then the C and C Boys), recorded a handful of ignored singles and label-hopped until a car accident forced Scott’s retirement and launched Carter’s solo career
. Signed to Rick Hall’s Muscle Shoals-based Fame label, Carter got a crash course in songwriting, arranging and performance from some of the best in the business and also began to fashion his own unique hybrid of gritty Blues and smooth R&B and Soul. Carter’s Muscle Shoals endeavors resulted in a string of R&B hits and ultimately Pop crossover success in 1968, when he charted with “Slip Away,” “Too Weak to Fight” and the slightly lewd Christmas hit “Back Door Santa.”
Another trio of hits in 1969, including “Snatching It Back” and its brilliant B-side, “The Dark End of the Street,” were ultimately followed by Carter’s most enduring song, 1970’s “Patches,” an emotionally heartwrenching story song that became one of the year’s biggest hits. Although his career has had its spikes — including a million seller in 1986 with the nudge-wink naughtiness of “Strokin’” — Carter has continued to record (his last album was 2007’s The Final Stroke
) and tour with amazing consistency.
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