Austin-based Bill Carter writes the kind of songs other artists turn to for inspiration and for their own material. Over the past three decades, he has earned a reputation for his own recordings and for providing songs for many legends of rock, blues and country, including The Fabulous Thunderbirds, John Mayall, Ruth Brown, Robert Palmer, The Brian Setzer Orchestra and Waylon Jennings. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover of Carter’s “Crossfire” earned Carter a BMI “Million Air” award for more than three million spins.
On his own acclaimed records Carter has previously assembled some of the finest sidemen in music (as well as long-time friend and former bandmate actor Johnny Depp, who appeared backing Carter in 2013 on The Late Show With David Letterman ).
For his tenth release, it’s appropriate that Carter would return to the very basics of the songs that have built his career. “I love to get in the studio and record and arrange music with great players,” Carter says. “But I also firmly believe that a song should stand on its own merits, stripped down and performed with only the tools used to create it in the first place.”
For his new, eponymously titled release, Carter does just that, and in so doing, illustrates why he is considered among Texas’ elite songwriters and artists. For Carter, writing songs is not about making hits for other artists.
In fact, his approach is more art than commerce. “I try to make sure that every single word is right,” he says. “I can’t stand a ‘cringe-point’ in a song where it’s obvious the writer just settled for a word that kind of fit. I refuse to just throw stuff out there. The lyric and the melody — these matter to me. And that’s not easy to do.”
On Bill Carter , the recordings are no frills-edgy, with Carter providing all the vocals and instrumentation. Take “Crossfire,” for example, which opens the album with his sparse, stripped down production. On this version, his world weary tenor is a cry for help in the confusion of dehumanizing distraction.
The humorous “Why Get Up” — covered by the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Robert Palmer — takes on a universal question, while “Anything Made of Paper” is a re-telling of his tribute to the West Memphis 3’s Damien Echols and becomes a story of unrelenting love and endurance in the face of cruelty and injustice.
Not one to mine clichés, Carter immortalizes a real Chicago criminal’s flamboyant farewell on “Willie The Wimp,” and takes listeners down a dangerous strip of road in Texas on “Jacksboro Highway.” There’s the moment by moment of capturing the emotion of anticipation in “Paris.” He rants like a psychotic fugitive on “Fire On The Wire.”
“I am inspired to write by everything I experience; the weather, an odd conversation, a weird observation about someone, something that’s happening around me, and books I’ve read spark songs,” he explains. “Other music always penetrates my soul, especially the past masters who created the American roots blues, country, jazz, bluegrass and R&B. Writing is so cerebral that discipline is a major factor in delving deep into the cosmic consciousness and extracting some form of original substance.”
Though Carter just about holds native-son status in Austin, his roots actually trace back to Kentucky where his father, Cash Carter was born. Cash was the son of William Henry Carter (Bill’s namesake). William Henry’s first cousin was A.P. Carter, scion of country royals the Carter Family. Like so many kids of his generation, Carter picked up a guitar after hearing Bob Dylan and joined a band after hearing the Beatles. He made his way to Austin in 1976 and soon met his partner and collaborator, Ruth Ellsworth not long after.
With all its simplicity, Bill Carter is a gripping and honest collection filled with his perceptive lyrics told through an artistic blend of folk, rock, blues and Americana.
Visit Bill on his web page at http://www.billcarterandtheblame.com/.