60s crooner MEL CARTER is a name not that well-known in the soul mainstream. But the Cincinnati-born singer was there at the birth of the genre and, more importantly, he was a pal of one of soul’s founding fathers – Sam Cooke and went on to record for Cooke’s ill-fated SAR Records.
Like Cooke, Carter emerged from the 50s gospel circuit. He fronted the Robert Anderson Singers who often toured with Cooke’s group, The Soul Stirrers. The pair re-connected in Los Angeles where Carter was playing the jazz lounges. Working on building his new label’s roster, Cooke and his famed manager J.W. Alexander signed him up.
The first fruit of the deal was Carter’s 1963 single ‘When a Boy Falls In Love’ – a Sam Cooke song and engineered by the legendary Bones Howe. Oddly it was released not on SAR, but the Derby label – a poppier imprint. It was a good move, as the record spent ten weeks on both the Pop and R&B charts. A successful single meant Carter needed to maintain the momentum with an album; thus a 12 tracker named for the hit was hastily put together. The set was produced by Cooke and Alexander and was a mix of songs penned by them alongside some pop standards like ‘Twelfth Of Never’ and ‘When I Fall In Love’. Carter was allowed to include one of his own songs… ‘Why I Call Her Mine’ which became his next single.
The album, despite its link with Sam Cooke, has long been unavailable. Wisley, the SAR custodians ABKCO have just reissued it on LP, CD and digitally and for fans of early soul and Sam Cooke in particular it’s a must. The sound is sweet and lush and Carter is a supreme vocal stylist. For obvious reasons, the overall soundscape will remind you of Cooke’s catalogue… many of the songs are his and he was the producer!
This new issue offers the original album with two “bonus” tracks – the single mixes of ‘When Boy Falls In Love’ and ‘So Wonderful’. The package comes with full liner notes from R&B scholar Bill Dahl.
Carter enjoyed his biggest success after leaving SAR. His 1965 ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me’ was a massive hit and he continued to record into the 80s before moving into acting. He’s still alive and he recalls his time at SAR with real affection. He says: “Sam Cooke was like an older brother to me; he took care of everybody at the label. It was really like a family for us.”