This week’s artist is the real deal y’all. Any legitimate discussion of southern soul music has to include the name of James Carr. This despite the fact that although Carr recorded a number of classic soul records, he never achieved any kind of crossover success on the pop charts. Sadly, a portion of the blame for his lack of success has to be attributed to the severe depression that plagued him for his entire life.
Carr was born near Clarksdale, MS in 1942, and moved with his family to Memphis at a young age. He started singing in church, and later began looking for a career in secular music. Stax passed on him, but in late 1964 Goldwax Records signed him and Carr began to release a series of singles for the label.
In 1966, Carr had his first top ten R&B single with “You Got My Mind Messed Up”. “Dark End of the Street,” Carr’s masterpiece, followed not long after that, and there were several other hits during Carr’s prime era in 1966-67.
Despite the chart success, Carr remained plagued by depression. He simply couldn’t take the pressure of touring. By 1968 he couldn’t even handle recording sessions. He managed to complete a second album, but barely. At what would be his final recording session for some time, he sat at the microphone and stared off into space. Goldwax went bankrupt. Capitol had planned to buy out Carr’s contract, but they became aware of his mental state and pulled the contract.
In 1977, Carr attempted a comeback with a single for Roosevelt Jamison’s River City label, and even undertook a tour of Japan. It started off well, but by the time the tour reached Tokyo, Carr was in an anti-depressant haze and could not continue. He remained that way through much of the ’80s.
At the beginning of the ’90s, Goldwax was revived. With improved medication, Carr was prepared to make yet another go of it. He recorded another album and toured around on the blues circuit. Sadly, around that time Carr was diagnosed with lung cancer, and fought the disease for several years until his death in 2001.
James Carr was a brilliant talent, deserving of mention in the company of immortals like Otis Redding and Percy Sledge. Who knows what could have been had his career not been derailed by mental illness.