Country Guitar, Bill Carper, Country Guitar Player

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The Blues My Way

by Bill Carper

This all starts in Columbus Ohio in the 1950's. It all started for me at 16 yrs. old when I asked a school buddy to show how to tune a guitar the correct way. My bud & his father had been playing together for a long time. Bill Powell, and another school bud had a trio called the Playboys! Steve was an out of sight piano player. I went to Bill's house, and he, and his father got me started. I learned 3 chords, and a melody line.

The next night we were on local tv. There I was beating out "Am I Blue" just like I knew what I was doing. After that I spent all the time I could locked in my room learning Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The song "Love Is Strange" by Mickey and Silvia just blew me away. I could not figure out how this guy was playing the lead riff's. It blows me away even today now that I know how. It was just way ahead of it's time.

I got a call one night from a guy that would go on to be Loretta Lynn's bass player, telling me he needed a lead player, and I had been recommended to him. So there was the beginning of the clubs for me. I took the job, Friday & Saturday nights for $15 a night playing for rock & roll Ray behind the chicken wire. Ray plastered 16x20 pictures of me all over town, and in the Sunday paper every week.

Now enters the late Chuck Howard Sr. Chuck would go on to write many country guitar hits, and produce Ringo Starr's country album. Chuck was the big act in town at that time, and had his records on local radio. He figured it would be better to have me working for him than have the competition. I played for him for a short time, and then left to be part a newly formed group called The Corvettes. Chuck & I formed a friend ship that lasted a lot of years. Chuck took over booking us, and management.

We were getting ready to leave on the road, when a group on the road from Toledo came into town, Johnny & The Thunderbirds. Chuck told me I had to go see them, and check out their guitar player. I walked into the Musical Bar, and around the corner where the stage was, there stood this guitar player with a Gibson L5 Switch Master around his neck. Sam Kerns, this man was big enough that, that big guitar looked right at home on him. This was my introduction to the Blues. When Sam played I started thinking about Love is Strange, he was bending strings, and playing stuff I had never heard before. I spent 6 nights talking to Sam & listening to what he was playing. Sam showed me alot of what he called Detroit Blues.

Strings were a big issue back at that time, you couldn't just go buy a set of slinky strings, so we used a combination of banjo strings. For a good third string we would take a wound third, and strip the winding off of it The players of today have no idea what we went through in those days to make it easier for them today.

On the road, every time we went to a new state or a new town our drummer would drag me down to the black district, and find a record shop. He would buy Blues records, and take them back to our hotel room then play them for me. He would say: "hear that?! play it !" - I learned Blues guitar from a drummer!

Two years on the road, and record companies that we turned down - the group broke up, and we went our separate ways. I went to California, and stayed with my folks until I could get on my feet. I didn't even have a guitar, my Gretch country gentleman got broke, and the music store wouldn't fix it until I finished paying for it, so I told them to stick it, and I left.

My dad got me a job working for the aerospace co. where he worked. The first thing I did was order a Gibson Byrdland, really pissed him off. He thought the music business was a bunch of crap! The guitar came in, and I paid cash for it. I started hanging out in clubs like The Johnny Otis club in east L. A. I put a group together called "Soul for Sale", and started making waves. The Detroit Blues style I had put together was new at that time to Southern California. We released a record produced by George Denno & Sid Talmage of Hollywood. The B side was an up tempo rock song, I used a famous surf band, and myself on it. I incorporated some Blues guitar riff's in it, and all hell was about to break loose.

Blues guitar was nothing new to the Mexican & Black musicians, but the white guys were way behind. We played alot in the clubs of southern California, and I was amazed at how many guitar players came out to watch and listen. We also played a lot in Vegas, in the lounges of some of the big hotels. Vegas was always fun and a good time. I had a lot of offers from record companies, but they wanted me to play behind other artists, and I wasn't up for that. I wanted my own Blues album. I did do some work for Capitol records just to get the money for my own recordings.

In 1958 I recorded a couple of songs in a studio in Compton that was owned and engineered by a black dude, he wasn't impressed at all with the Richie Valens type songs I did, but they got some notice from the industry. In 1961 I went back to that studio, and laid down two instrumentals - "Hard Times" and "Lush Head". The black dude couldn't believe what he was hearing, he remembered me, and he said to me: "Where did you learn all that shit"! Set in's at places like the Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood produced guys trying to play my stuff on recordings like Memphis, and Secret agent man, but the smooth melodic's just were not there. Sloppy choppy garbage came out, and were hits.

Uncle Sam came knocking, so I did my time in the military, our record was pulled off the market after reaching the top 100 because I couldn't do shows to back it up. After the military, I came home and went back to work for the aerospace company and my first marriage that produced my oldest daughter. I got back into the club business which lead to my first divorce. I married my school days sweetheart, the biggest mistake I have ever made!

It did lead to my returning to Ohio. Blues & R & B had gone down to Acid rock, and psychedelic rock. Not for me! I started playing country guitar music, and found out the Blues riff's fit perfectly. We put together a band called "The Inn Keepers" to back a Country singer and produced a couple of 45's.We were tagged as the "unconventional" Country group because of my guitar playing, and the fact I used a rock drummer, and bass player. We won some Country awards, and then broke up.

That sound that we created has carried on to today's country music. I went to work for Bob Dorsey, and his Elvis show, big show! We used a brass section with back up singers, and the five piece group. For me it meant no more Country, and back to Rock, and being able to do some Blues. I used the five piece group to do the front show, Blues, R & B, and some Waylon Jennings. No Country performer has ever grabbed me like Waylon did!

Big troubles at home sent me back to California. During this time, I didn't play music. Had another daughter, and another divorce. Then my dad died unexpectedly, and I moved into my mothers house to try and help her out. My third marriage, and my first wife! She had been married to the drummer of "Soul For Sale", we hadn't seen each other for 19 years. We moved to Arizona where I put together the Blues group, "The Dallas Blues Band". After 6 years, back surgery, and adopting my wife's granddaughter we moved to the Ozarks of Arkansas. We were in Arkansas for 7 years, during that time I didn't play at all.

The Ozarks are home to acoustic folk music, and blue grass. A little blue grass goes a long way with me. During our last year, and a half in Arkansas I rekindled my friendship with Bob Dorsey in Ohio. He told me he had a recording studio, and wanted me to make the trip, and record an album. Right after that my Mother died, and that caused a big split in our family. I decided to go do the album, and try to dump some of the stress.

I went to Columbus for two weeks, and recorded a Country Gospel album that had some songs on it that I had written. I dedicated it to my mother, she had been the only family member that ever supported my music. I came home with a different feeling that I couldn't explain, but was soon to find out why. I had been Mayor of our community in Arkansas, after leaving office the place just went to hell !

The new Mayor, and council were giving us just to much trouble. I knew, and my wife knew if we stayed some one was going to get hurt really bad. We figured we had one more move left in us, so decided to move to Ohio, and be close to my kids, and the grand kids. I told my wife if we moved to Ohio I would no doubt be back in the music business, that was ok with her as she has always been very supportive of my music.

We made a trip back, and found a house, and 5 acres in the country. We went back to Arkansas, and moved to Ohio. Bob and I put together a trio with him on electronic key board, me on guitar, and Bob's son of 11 years RJ on the drums. The kid is a natural. Then Bob made my dream come true - to record an all Blues album. All my music life that is the one thing I want to do before I die. I have recorded many records over the years, Rock & Country, and now at the age of 62 years I finally got to record the album of my dreams.

Contact Bill Carper

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from the bookTouched By the Blues

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