“Hey, Carter! How high can you sing?”
“I don’t know, pretty high I guess.”
“Well, starting with this note, just go as high as you can.”
And I did. That simple exchange was the beginning of one of my favorite “braggy, showbiz stories.”
Barny and I were still living in our little one room house we called the Alamo on Valleyheart Drive, in Sherman Oaks. After the shocking death of my manager, and with the help of our attorney, the dark years of being tied up in the old contract had finally come to an end. The cost of freedom had not come without an emotional price tag that at times threatened my soul with bankruptcy. In life, there are some pretty outrageous psychological balloon payments that have a way of showing up and insisting on being paid in full.
I had lived for so long in that twisted reality that I was like a newly released prisoner, happy but guarded, relearning how to live. Fortunately I was young, and we were choosing to enjoy a simple life of embracing our art. For the first time we were able to dream of our future without restraint.
When the phone rang that night, I recognized the voice on the other end without introduction. It was our friend Loyd, one of the members of the group I had moved to Hollywood with. He had become an engineer and was working with several well known artists. He was a great vocalist himself, which I’m sure made him an even better engineer. He and Barny had become friends, and it was through him that we were able to do those off-hour recordings I spoke of earlier.
After hearing him sing the starting note into the receiver, I began singing my way up the scale until he stopped me and asked if I would do it one more time. I laughingly obliged. We were always doing crazy stuff like this, so I didn’t think it was that unusual. When I was finished I heard a voice say something like, “That’s good, cool.” I didn’t have time to ask any questions because Loyd immediately got back on the line and asked me if I knew who I had just sang for, to which I answered, “Noooooooooo…who?”
“James Taylor. He wants to know if you can come down to the studio and do a session for him?” Pause.
Now, I’m not someone who gets star struck. However, James Taylor? “Sweet Baby James?” “Fire and Rain?” That James Taylor? Trying hard not to let the excitement show too much in my voice, I set up a time when I could come in. If Mr. Taylor had been able to see me after the phone call he may have changed his mind. I was jumping up and down like some little kid who’s been told they get to go swimming, while Barny was watching me thinking I had absolutely crossed over to the other side. Loyd knew me well, or at least well enough to not tell me who I was auditioning for on the other end of the line. Good call, friend!
The session was booked for the Warner Brothers Amigo Studios in North Hollywood, and a few days later I was on my way. Driving there, in spite of my shaking knees, I kept telling myself this was like any other job, and I needed to be the professional that I had become. Then the little raspy voice on my shoulder would light a cigarette and say, “Yeah, good luck with that.”
Not giving in to the fear, a slightly stronger voice would yank the cigarette out, extinguishing it with one snub, and remind me that life might just be getting ready to turn around. I mean, at that very moment I was on my way to do a recording session with James Taylor, for heaven’s sake. Straighten up!
By the time I arrived at the studio, I was nearly dizzy from the crazy conversations with all three of my selves! I took a deep breath and walked in. Sitting behind the console was my friend Loyd and Mr. Taylor. Introductions were extended and his very low key, soft-spoken demeanor quickly put me at ease.
After explaining what he needed me to do, I turned and walked out into the studio. I stood there and sang one long note at a time working my way up the scale. These notes would later become part of a vocal choir that they were putting together on separate tracks to create the ethereal sound on “Shower the People.”
When I was finished singing, I stepped into the control room to see if they needed anything else. Mr. Taylor told me he was pleased with what I had done and asked if I’d like to hear an example of how they were going to use the vocals. I was intrigued and sat for a moment while Loyd put it all together. Even though it was a quick mix, it sounded to me like a symphony of voices, and I told them so.
As I was gathering up my things, James said they were all going out for a drink and asked if I’d like to join them. I wanted to, I really did, but I didn’t want to ruin something that had been so wonderful. Sometimes it’s best not to get to know the people you admire. I shyly declined the invitation, saying I needed to get home to Barny.
Once back in the safety of the old van, I took a deep breath and told myself, “Well done, Carter, well done.” Loyd called the next day to thank me. He laughed and told me I missed out on a good night, and that I should have come along.
Maybe. But home felt pretty good too. It was nice to be asked though.
“Hey, Carter! How high can you sing?”