Carter, R.I.P.

John Carter would quickly correct people with two words when they innocently called him “John”.  “Just Carter,” he would say. He and I worked together in Capitol’s A&R Department. Cancer got him at the age of 65.

Carter wrote “Incense and Peppermints” and “Acapulco Gold” as a teen. He got into A&R following a stint in record promotion. Carter brought people like Sammy Hagar and Bob Welch to Capitol, and he signed Tina Turner in ’82 against a huge amount of corporate resistance as most people thought she was “over”. I was on the label’s rock promotion team, and we looked up to him as a mentor. Fresh off my Knack signing once I became an A&R man myself, I saw a band called The Motels. Sensing they were right up his alley, I told him about them the next day. It turned out Carter had been aware of them a few years earlier, and it was an honor to sign the band with him. Carter’s post-A&R management career included Paula Cole, E from Eels, Sammy Hagar’s Chickenfoot, and a close creative collaboration with Melissa Etheridge.

Carter was a man of few words, and there wasn’t an ounce of bullshit in the man. Even in a highly corporate environment, he always found ways to do things in his own style. He was known for his “hobby” stamp, often used as his evaluation of less than spectacular demos that crossed his A&R desk. When keyboard/sax player Marty Jourard lamented the loss of a girlfriend, Carter quickly said “take the ‘L’ out of ‘Lover’ and it’s ‘Over’ “. Yes, the phrase became the title of a hit song. When Chickenfoot played in LA, he sent a message to a few of us: “I don’t expect you to come to this show but if your gardener wants to come, let me know.”

The memorial service was attended by hundreds last Tuesday at the Roxy. It was an upbeat affair, and the video presentation included messages from Tina, Steve Miller, Bob Welch, Sammy, and others. There was a heavy emphasis on his Capitol years, which were his best in A&R, and lots of Capitol colleagues were in the club. Melissa and Paula each sang, and Chickenfoot closed with a bunch of ripping songs that included “Red” and “Turn Up the Music” from Sammy’s Capitol era as a solo artist. He and Carter co-wrote “Music”. The most touching song of the night was “Total Control” by The Motels. Martha Davis was in excellent voice, and what made it special was that she was joined by both of the brothers for the first time in decades. Marty Jourard was on keyboard and sax, while Jeff Jourard played guitar. All of us at Capitol thought “Total Control” would break the band on the first album, but it only became a hit in Australia. The band absolutely nailed the song on this night after rehearsing it that afternoon. The emotions were intense and Martha talked later about how hard it was for her to get through it at the end. It was something I’ll never forget. “I’d sell my soul for total control, over you.” Carter produced that first album. I was fine at the memorial but when I closed my Friday radio show with a Carter tribute and “Total Control”, I barely got through the segment. Grief is completely unpredictable–we never know when it will consume us.

When The Motels played again Friday night, Martha told me how every time she thinks of Carter, she can’t help but smile. R.I.P., Carter. Hopefully there’s an afterlife and if so, you were delighted with the memorial and I’m sure you’re rocking out there with the best–but still marching to your own beat.


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