|Birth name||Goree Chester Carter
or Christer Carter
|Also known as||Little T-Bone
December 31, 1930|
Houston, Texas, United States
|Died||December 29, 1990
Houston, Texas, United States
Goree Chester Carter or Christer Carter (December 31, 1930 – December 29, 1990), known as Goree Carter, was an American singer, guitarist, drummer, songwriter and soldier. He was also credited with the stage names Little T-Bone, Rocky Thompson and Gory Carter, and recorded music in blues genres such as electric blues, jump blues and Texas blues, as well as rock and roll.
He is best known for his 1949 single, "Rock Awhile," which has been cited by several sources as the first rock and roll record, featuring an over-driven electric guitar style similar to that of Chuck Berry years later. Carter recorded "Rock Awhile" at the age of 18, and its rediscovery has posthumously brought him recognition as a forefather of rock and roll. As a soldier, he was drafted into military service at the age of 19, and was a veteran of the Korean War.
Early life and career
Goree Carter was born in Houston, Texas. He was born in the Fifth Ward, and lived at 1310 Bayou Street. He began playing blues music at the age of 12, and learnt to play on a cousin's guitar. Because there were very few guitarists in his area back then, he had no one to teach him how to play the guitar, so he taught himself how to play it by listening to some of his favorite records on a Victrola machine and picking string-by-string on the guitar. He learnt a few chords from listening and then learnt more about them from a chord book. When he became a teenager, he began earning a living by hoisting sacks at the local Comet Rice Mill. He had a Gibson guitar and began fronting bands in his early teenage years.
Goree Carter and His Hepcats
In 1949, he and his jump blues band, The Hepcats, also known as Goree Carter and His Hepcats or Goree Carter & His Hepcats, signed for Freedom Records, a local record label set up by Sol Kahal, and recorded the label's first release, "Sweet Ole Woman Blues." Kahal discovered him in either late 1948 or early 1949. As well as Carter's guitar, the band featured two saxophones, a trumpet, piano, bass, and drums. Carter's electric guitar style was influenced by Aaron "T-Bone" Walker, but was over-driven and had a rougher edge which presaged the sound of rock and roll a few years later. His single-string runs and two-string "blue note" chords anticipated, and may have influenced, Chuck Berry.
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At the age of 18, he recorded his best known single "Rock Awhile" in April 1949. It has been cited as a strong contender for the title of "first rock and roll record" and a "much more appropriate candidate" than the more frequently cited "Rocket 88" (1951) by Ike Turner. The intro to "Rock Awhile" resembles those in several later Chuck Berry records from 1955 onwards. The music historian Robert Palmer regards "Rock Awhile" to be a more appropriate candidate for the "first rock and roll record" title, because it was recorded two years earlier, and because of Carter's guitar work bearing a striking resemblance to Chuck Berry's later guitar work, while making use of an over-driven amplifier, along with the backing of boogie-based rhythms, and the appropriate title and lyrical subject matter. Roger Wood and John Nova Lomax have also cited "Rock Awhile" as the first rock & roll record. The song was recorded at Bill Holford's Audiophile Custom Associates Studio. However, "Rock Awhile" was not as commercially successful as later rock & roll records. Nevertheless, he had some moderate success, touring and recording for a while.
Korean War and return to Houston
In 1950, at the age of 19, he was drafted into military service. He served as a private first class infantry soldier in the Korean War for over a year. He was in Korea when many of the country's most vicious battles took place. After returning from Korea to Houston around 1951, his musical career began declining. Carter recorded for several labels in the early 1950s, including Imperial, Coral, and Modern, but last recorded in 1954. He wrote a number of songs during this time but said he "tore them up" because record labels wouldn’t let him record them, saying he "was ahead of" himself.
Later life and death
After leaving the music industry, he continued working at the local Comet Rice Mill until its closure decades later. Carter continued to play occasional local gigs in Houston, and sat-in with visiting artist B.B. King; his last live performance was in 1970. He developed arthritis later in his life, and had not been heard from again until 1982, when he was visited at his Fifth Ward home by members of the band Juke Jumpers. He died in Houston, at the age of 59, in 1990. He died at the same house where he was born, and is buried at the Houston National Cemetery. Both his old house at 1310 Bayou and the Audiophile Custom Associates Studio at 612 Westheimer no longer exist.
Goree Carter & His Hepcats songs released in 1949:
- "Rock Awhile"
- "Back Home Blues"
- "How Can You Love Me?"
- "I'll Send You"
- "I Just Thought of You"
Goree Carter songs recorded during 1949-1950 and released during 1949-1951:
- "Love's a Gamble"
- "Christmas Time"
- "Sweet Ole Woman's Blues"
- "My Love is Coming Down"
- "She's Just Old Fashioned"
- "Workin' with My Baby"
- "Is it True?"
- "What a Friend Will Do"
- "She's my Best Bet"
- "Come on Let's Boogie"
- "Lonely World"
- "Drunk or Sober"
- "You are my Everything"
- "Every Dog Has His Day"
- "Everybody's Love Crazy"
- "I'm Just Another Fool"
- "If It's True What They Tell Me"
- "Let's Rock"
- "True Love is Hard to Find"
- "Goree Carter". Allmusic. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
- Robert Palmer, "Church of the Sonic Guitar", pp. 13-38 in Anthony DeCurtis, Present Tense, Duke University Press, 1992, p. 19. ISBN 0-8223-1265-4.
- John Nova Lomax (December 2014), Roll Over, Ike Turner, Texas Monthly
- Bob L. Eagle, Eric S. LeBlanc, Blues: A Regional Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2013, p.399
- Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 1990 - 1991". Thedeadrockstarsclub.com. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
- Roger Wood (2003), Down in Houston: Bayou City Blues, pages 46-47, University of Texas Press
- Larry Birnbaum (2013), Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock 'n' Roll, page 275
- Billboard (May 21, 1949), page 30
- "Labels 2". Home.earthlink.net. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
- Goree Carter and his Hepcats - Rock Awhile (BB-306) - 1983 mono vinyl release by Blues Boy Records - (Liner notes) Goree Carter quote: "So I came back to Houston and I just cleared out a litlle bit. B.B.King would come to town, I'd go up there and sit in with him, and several of the little bands around. But I wasn't gonna do lots of playing"......He played his last gig about 1970.