Here is the third and final part of our interview with singer/guitarist Mickey Carroll. Here Carroll talks about what he thinks of today's music. He also reflects on the changes in music business technology that have taken place over the years:
BBP: I’m just curious, you’ve been in the business half-a-century, more than half-a-century. What do you think of the music that’s out now?
Carroll: You know, to me, there are two kinds of music, nowadays. There’s commercial art, and it’s art, and it takes a lot of creativity and academics to get that done, what we’re listening to, some of that stuff. I do get a little indifferent about—I know this is going to strike you as odd—but I’ll tell you the truth, since you asked me: I miss drama; I miss people that know how to act and sing. Like Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Eartha Kitt. These people knew how to dramatically sell a song by putting their heart into it. You could see it. You could feel it. Now the churchy thing that where people are hitting three octaves and twisting it around in a gospel way, and all the white kids too as well, it’s powerful and it’s wonderful but boy, there’s so much of it, Kirk, it’s just crazy. I want to see acting. I love acting. I like people to become the part that they’re singing, you know.
BBP: But when you say that though, do you mean like they’re acting on stage? When they’re doing records? Videos?
Carroll: If you listen to Nancy Wilson’s “Guess Who I Saw Today?” you’re going to be told a story. She’s going to act it out; she’s going to let you know what she saw today. (laughs)
BBP: Yeah, you’re cheating on her, right…
Carroll: She’s not after knocking you out with her vocal chops; she already knows those are there. She’s very confident in that part of it. But—I don’t know, you asked me and that’s what I miss. I’m not saying that there are not talented people out there, because there’s some wonderful talent out there. But I’m starting to get a little bored with the “stay in the studio” thing and pile up tracks, and see how you can shape the sound. I kind of like the truth, I like to see people hit the floor and be what they are.
BBP: But we talked about this earlier. You mentioned when you were starting out, they used to record the bands as a band. And after that they started laying tracks down. Would you like to see a return to that approach?Carroll: (laughs) I’m doing it! I don’t know if the younger generation will be even interested in it. I did like it when Eric Clapton did his live acoustic thing with Chuck Leavell –“Layla.” I think was one of the tunes he did, and I always like Tony Bennett when he hits the floor, but he’s not a stranger to that. If he stood up in a room and started singing, he wouldn’t even need a band…because he knows how to deliver things. Some people just have that. I don’t know…you’re not so worried about...well what can I say? Am I out of line saying this stuff?
BBP: No! No! Not at all. It’s interesting, because I mean you worked in the industry for so long and your observations are very interesting.
Carroll: …if you watch an old Jackie Gleason “Honeymooners” show, that was done live. Those laughs you were hearing, that was a real audience. And, uh, we’re talking about an hour show, buddy. Same way with the studio. When you sing, there’s no time for you to worry about this or that and ”can you do this” and “can I come back and sing over that.” Just go in and do it, baby! You’ve had plenty of time to practice. You know, half of your life, some of these people (laughs)… I mean, can you imagine Miles going in there and saying, “you know I think I want to add another trumpet over that one” and “that one’s a little out of tune, I’m going to tune that up and then...” it’s just not real.
BBP: I see what you’re saying. But another thing I was curious about was the way they distribute music and how that’s changed. I mean, you know when you were coming along they had records, 45’s I guess, and AM radio, and now they have satellite radio and IPod, and…
Carroll: I feel as though everything is going to go to the Internet. Television, everything is heading that way. It’s all going to be right in your living room, you know, you’re going to have so many choices. I don’t see it as a negative. I see it as a powerful tool. Satellite is going to serve us well. Right now, everybody’s looking for copyright, licensing, what are we going to do, they’re taking this or that, they’re downloading that for free, you know these are the issues right now. Well, hey, I’m sorry but somebody had to answer up and take care of that. And find out where it belongs and how to handle it and that accounting is something that has to be done. It’s not just music; it’s a lot of things. So, what’s going to happen with the business is, it’s starting all over again like it did in the fifties. You know when all of the independent little rock and roll labels started, and all of the independent artists and everything. And all of the conservatives kind of had to take a back seat because they weren’t buying the product. And the same thing’s happening. Guys back in those days selling their 45’s at a record hop or out of the trunk. You know, they go into a drive-in movie theatre and pay the guy that has a theatre to play their song while people are sitting in their car.
Carroll: Exactly! That’s where it comes from. And I can also; I go back far enough to remember when jazz was doing hip-hop. I mean guys would get up with conga and upright bass and they’d recite a straight-ahead poem. In those days I believe they called it “beatniks.”
BBP: That’s kind of the origins of modern hip-hop, I guess you could say. A sort of precursor to it, or whatever.
Carroll: Oh yeah. Sure. Sure. A lot of this stuff goes right to Africa in terms of storytelling and rhythm. You know, from slavery on up. I think everything came out of folk, including classical music, where people were just sitting around town playing or telling a story, or doing it in church. You know, it gets sophisticated and it should, it should grow. But at the same time, technology is bringing us into a place where we have to communicate more. And we do have the tools to do it.
BBP: I guess as you think about “Old Dogs,” if you had written that song in the 1950’s, you would have thought, “Well, I gotta get it on AM radio.” Is it hard to make that jump to what’s going on now in terms of distributing your art?
Carroll: It’s a mindset. It’s always hard. That’s part of the road. It’s not easy for anybody, but anything that you do from the heart—that you do with passion—is not going to be easy. There are so many examples of that, why even get into it? But what you need to do is know yourself. You don’t have to be so concerned about the rest of the world—it’s vast—how many people are doing this or that and why not me. Don’t waste your time. Go to where you want to go creatively and say what you want to say. And if it’s meant to be, say your prayers baby! It will be meant to be! If that’s the way it is, it will happen. You know, I was telling my son about success and success is a pretty controversial word. I truly believe—I’m looking around at my family and a home and I have a beautiful little home in a nice town, and good friends, and I’m playing music. Let me tell you what: if that’s not success, I have no idea what success is.
BBP: Yeah...So what you’re saying is that, if you have the product, if you go learn what you need to learn, to get it out there.
Carroll: Yeah. You just listen to what you are. And say Kirk wants to do a certain type of show; he wants to say something and interview a certain clientele or a certain type of person, because that’s what he wants his show known for. He wants to go to that audience, he wants to have a demo situation of all those shows that you did and time and work that you did and all of a sudden you want to make a presentation and network that show. That all has to do with you, and that all has to do with your vision. And if you compromise yourself, that could be a failure. You’ve got to go with your heart, you got to know exactly what you’re focused on. And do it, okay? Take the punch. If it’s not meant to be, keep on going. Keep the same process going. Tell you what; you’re going to be happy (laughs)!
BBP: Yeah. That’s true. That’s true. As you look back at all of the people you interacted with, all of the musicians—is there any kind of moment that you recall, just one moment that just sort of stands out—I mean, if someone asks you the most defining experience you have ever had in life as an artist, what would that be?
Carroll: The best answer I could come up with is—I have never been asked the question before—but I do have to say that it happened to me when I was a little boy. I went to Catholic School, and I had to learn a Mary Alonzo tune “We Three Kings,” and I also learned a tune by Johnny Ray which was called “The Little White Cloud that Sat Right Down and Cried.” And they asked me if I’d be interested in singing. Something in me said “Yes,” because I already knew those tunes. And my grandma had me singing in the living room, and of course she praised me and gave me what I needed, and when I got out in front of those kids—I was a horrible student because we moved a lot, we didn’t stay in one school for long and my parents struggled, so I didn’t get to have the academics that the kids had in my class, and I had failed a few times. This was my opportunity to make myself known in terms of “yes, I’m valuable too; I can do something.” And I got up and sang with those kids and I blew them away! They were all my friends and I thought to myself, “Kirk, this works, man (laughs)!” The grid took place, man. I followed it, that’s all I did. Just went ahead and made it my life.
BBP: So that’s when you knew that music was what you’d want to do with your life?
Carroll: Oh, God, yeah. To me it was a special place in time, when you say a moment. It was a special place in time. And it stays there. It’s like—isn’t it funny how your body changes as you get older? And yet you still maintain the development of your soul and the things that mean much to you, you still have them? Isn’t that cool?
BBP: Yes, it is cool, I wish…well what plans do you have in terms of—well you have the “Old Dogs,” you want to do something with that…but beyond that, and I guess you want to do the Mother J-style work you were doing.
Carroll: Oh definitely. I’m creating a show with these songs. I want each song to have a video, and they do. And I want it to be known that the show that I was doing, just like I did with Mother J—has to do with them.