Kenny Carter-Showdown-The Complete 1966 RCA Recordings.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: CD.

When twenty-five year old Kenny Carter signed to RCA Victor in 1965 this was an opportunity for the balladeer to kickstart his career. He had only released two singles in the early sixties but neither Hey Lover nor Will My Baby Be With Me came close to troubling the charts. Despite having no track record to speak of, and commercial success having eluded his two previous singles, the A&R scouts at RCA Victor recognised Kenny Carter’s potential and signed him on a long-term exclusive contract.

Two days after Christmas 1965, Kenny Carter made his way to the huge Studio A at Bell Sound in Manhattan where he met leading arranger Garry Sherman. He introduced RCA Victor’s latest signing to the orchestra and chorus plus backing vocalists Val Simpson, Nik Ashford, Leslie Miller and Toni Wine. They all thought they were going to feature on Kenny Carter’s debut album. Instead, these were the sessions for the million dollar album that was never released. 

That’s until now when the twenty-two tracks from this session feature on the new Kenny Carter compilation Showdown-The Complete 1966 RCA Recordings that has just been released by Kent Soul. It’s a reminder of a session that it was hoped would transform Kenny Carter’s career.

No expense was spared for the session and this included the material that Kenny Carter was about to record. Some of the songs were written by Larry Banks’ songwriting team, which included Kenny Carter, Tony May and Herman Kelley. In total, twenty-two tracks including new material and covers were recorded between the ‘27th’ December 1965 and Friday the ‘1st’ of April 1966.

Garry Sherman who took charge of the sessions, was  one of the leading arrangers and remember the session vividly. There was: “a multimillion-dollar orchestra and chorus. In the violin section we had at least seven or eight Strads (each valued at $1,000,000+)–many were concertmasters for major symphony orchestras and are on hundreds of hit records.” Would the feature on a hit single by Kenny Carter?

Monday 27th’ December 1965.

During the first day of the sessions, which took place between 7pm-10pm on the ‘27th’ December 1965 Kenny Carter recorded four tracks. This included a cover of Larry Banks and Milton Bennett’s Don’t Go which features a pleading vocal full of emotion and desperation. Kenny Carter dipped into the Great American Songbook as he reinvents Body and Soul. He also recorded Bey Boyce’s Round In Circles and his own composition I’ve Gotta Get Myself Together which later became a favourite on the UK Northern Soul scene. Although the session lasted just three hours, Kenny Carter had managed to record four songs. It must have seemed like a good start to this new chapter in his career.

Saturday ‘22nd’ January 1966.

Just under a month later, Kenny Carter returned to Bell Sound in Manhattan on Saturday ‘22nd’ January 1966 where he recorded two songs between 2pm and 5pm. This included I’ve Gotta Find Her which he wrote with Larry Banks. It features an orchestrated arrangement, soaring harmonies and a soul-baring vocal and was one of the finest tracks recorded at the first two sessions. The other track that was recorded during this session was the story telling ballad Showdown which Lawrence Banks and Milton Bennett cowrote. Thirty-one years after it was recorded it featured on Deep Soul Treasures (Taken From The Vaults…) (Volume 1).

Saturday ‘12th’ March 1966.

There was a gap of nearly seven weeks before Kenny Carter returned to the studio and recorded four tracks between 2pm and 6pm. This included the George and Larry Banks’ composition Living In The Land Of Heartache and What’s That On Your Finger which a year later was covered by Willie Kendrick. This Larry Banks, Anthony Cotto and Kenny Carter composition which features brassy horns, harmonies and a vocal full of disbelief and despair is without doubt one of the highlights of the compilation.

The other tracks recorded at this session included Larry Banks and Anthony Cotto’s I Can’t Stop Laughing where Kenny Carter promises “I’m gonna find me a new love” and promises “I can make it without you, forget about you” on this beautiful ballad which is a roller coaster of emotions. How Can You Say Goodbye was the final song recorded during the session and this melodic hidden gem featured on the B-Side of Kenny Carter’s final single for RCA Victor. That was all in the future.

Wednesday ‘16th’ March 1966.

Just four days later, on Wednesday ‘12th’ March 1966, Kenny Carter made his way to the studio and recorded four songs between 7:30pm and 10:30pm. This included a cover of Smile where arranger Garry Sherman adds flutes to the arrangement where Kenny Carter delivers a tender vocal. Another familiar song is Time After Time which was covered by Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra. Kenny Carter’s cinematic cover sounds like a homage to the Chairman Of The Board.

George and Larry Banks penned I’m Not The One which features a vocal that’s a rueful vocal from Kenny Carter. He also joined forces with Larry Banks to write the mid-tempo big ballad You’d Better Get Hip Girl which was also recorded during this three hour session at Bell Sound.

Wednesday ‘23rd’ March 1966.

A week later Kenny Carter made the return journey to Bell Sound on Wednesday ‘23rd’ March 1966 where he recorded another four songs between 7:30pm and 10:30pm. This included I’ll Know from Guys and Dolls and the Larry Banks and Herman Kelley composition Like A Big Bad Rain. It feature a dramatic arrangement that’s the perfect accompaniment for a vocal full of emotion and despair. It’s a similar case on the cover of the Larry Banks composition Lights Out where the arrangement is tinged with drama and features a military drum roll. The final song recorded that night was a heartfelt and emotive cover of I Believe In You from the 1961 film How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.

Friday ‘1st’ April 1966.

The final session for Kenny Carter’s album took place on Friday ‘1st’ April 1966 :30pm and 10:30pm. That night, two standards and two Larry Banks and Kenny Carter compositions were recorded. I’ll Get By (As Long As I Have You) was the first of the standards and was followed by a beautiful cover of Cole Porter’s Every Time We Say Goodbye that’s full of emotion.

Joining the standards were I Still Love Her which features another soul-baring vocal that’s akin to a confession. The final song recorded during this final session was the ballad My Love. It’s a tale of love gone wrong  ballad where Kenny Carter’s vocal is full of sadness and regret. His own mood must have been very different as he left the studio that night, as he had just recorded more than enough material for his debut album.

Later in April 1966, RCA Victor released Kenny Carter’s first single for his new label. This was Body and Soul which featured I’ve Gotta Find Her on the B-Side. However, the single failed to find the audience it deserved and added to the doubts that executives at RCA Victor had about Kenny Carter.

They had signed Roy Hamilton who had already recorded his album The Impossible Drama and the title-track was chosen as the lead single. A full page advert was out in Cash Box announcing the release of the single. This was the start of a two month PR campaign. Roy Hamilton was RCA Victor’s chosen one.

In May 1966, Kenny Carter returned with Showdown which featured I’ve Gotta Get Myself Together on the B-Side. Just like his previous single, it sunk without trace and this was another disappointment for Kenny Carter.

Another five months passed before he returned in October 1966 with his third single for RCA Victor, Don’t Go. Rather ironically it featured How Can You Say Goodbye on the B-Side. After the commercial failure of the single, RCA Victor said goodbye to Kenny Carter.

RCA Victor never released another Kenny Carter single and his album was shelved. That was despite signing him on a long-term exclusive contract in 1965. The singles had been well received but failed to sell. Executives at RCA Victor decided to spend their promotional budget on Roy Hamilton who was a well known singer with a track record. Kenny Carter’s time at RCA Victor was over before it had even begun.

Part of the problem seems to have been that RCA Victor didn’t know how to promote artists like Kenny Carter and decided to cut their losses. Their losses must have been considerable given they had hired arranger Garry Sherman, an orchestra and chorus plus backing vocalists Val Simpson, Nik Ashford, Leslie Miller and Toni Wine. The twenty-two tracks on Showdown-The Complete 1966 RCA Recordings are a reminder of the million dollar album that never was, by the balladeer who could’ve been a star, but sadly commercial success and critical acclaim eluded this talented singer and songwriter who had the ability to breath life and meaning into songs.

Kenny Carter-Showdown-The Complete 1966 RCA Recordings.

1 Comment

  1. puw

    Thanks for all the detailed background info Derek.

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