Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mickey Carroll: The Old Tricks Still Work Part III

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.

BBP. Yeah. Same thing is going on. I know that the hip hop people tend to do that a lot..

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.











Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mickey Carroll: The Old Tricks Still Work Part II

Here is Part II of our interview with Mickey Carroll. In it, he talks more about Don Cornelius; “Love is Where You Find it,” the song he wrote for the Whispers and about the role race played in the music world of the 1950’s, when he started out. He also talks about his own efforts to use music as a tool for creating a better world. 
As we started this segment, Carroll talked about his Grammy-nominated album Love Life:   

Carroll:  Love Life is me and Eric Schilling. I recorded that in Miami in Coconut Grove. Coconut Grove is a studio there that Bill Szymczyk owned.  Bill Szymczyk produced B.B. King and the Eagles, and Eric worked for him and I met Eric when I did my RCA album.  And then of course Eric and I went into that studio in Miami, in Coconut Grove, and we recorded Love Life, and the funny part about that is that Love Life was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist. But it was kind of a jazz thing, you know, and nobody knew where to play it.  You know, they were just starting out in those days with smooth jazz stations, and that’s what it leaned into a little bit, you know.  So I was kind of a day late and a dollar short on that. We did sell out what we pressed up so that was an indication that people did like it. And “People Love Life” comes from that, the song I mentioned to you earlier.

BBP: Okay. Didn’t you re-release that album, I think?

Carroll: Yeah, I’m on three different little labels.  One is Bendera; it’s an Asian company, it’s Korean, excuse me. And of course they license to put it out, and they were nice to me and gave me a nice advance and they loved the album. And it’s out now. And I understand it’s doing pretty good.

BBP: Oh, that’s great. What made you decide to re-release it?

Carroll: Um (laughs) they offered me money.

BBP: This company did…

Carroll: Yes, that would be Bendera. Isn’t it funny Kirk what happens when people say “I’ll give you a check? “

BBP: Yeah, that moves things, it really does. (laughs)

Carroll: Well yeah, they got it out, and we’re okay with it. And I also have it out on Vision Records. And I told them, “You know it’s already out on Vision.” And they said “That’s okay, we want to put it out.” They did! And now, as I understand it, Vision is all over the world. There’s no question about that, they’re distributed by Orchard, which is on the Internet. That’s probably the largest distributor, and they just went to all the Asian countries and I do believe to even China.

BBP: So wait a minute, you have this record on two different companies that are distributing it at the same time?

Carroll: Can you believe that, man? Love Life, the album you mentioned, is on two different companies. Yes it is.

BBP: And there’s no legal wrangling over things?

Carroll: No, I told them, there’s no secret about it. I wouldn’t be telling you. They didn’t mind at all.  They wanted to put it out and it’s out.

BBP: Oh wow, that must be a first.

Carroll: (laughs) Well, the recording at sea was a first, Kirk.

BBP: Well this is a new first with this album, right?

Carroll: Hey, let no song be served until its time.

BBP: Wow, I guess that’s quite an accomplishment.

Carroll: I didn’t set out to do it. I think it’s funny, and I enjoyed telling people about it when they ask me. You know…you’re right, I think it is a first. And Vision has been good to me, Howard and Ron Albert Studio in Miami.  And they are really—they’re friends. I’m just a lucky guy that way: I’ve got buddies in the business that still think I’m hot stuff, so they’re going to go and spend their dime and do what they do.

BBP: That’s good. That’s great….

Carroll: But Kirk, I’m getting old, man!

BBP: Well, it’s better than sitting around and being bored doing nothing…

Carroll: I know. That’s not for me. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but with “Old Dogs” in the back yard there, I’ve got a little claw-foot tub up on my deck. If you look at the video, you’ll see it.  And I sit out there in that tub, man, and I have a nice glass of Scotch and I say my prayers and I’m good with God and everybody.  (laughs)

BBP: I guess you do! You have two different companies putting out your record, that’s quite an accomplishment. I’m pretty amazed by that.  Well, I was curious: the first time you said that Don Cornelius heard you in Miami at the Hideaway, was that the first time you met him?

Carroll: That was the first time. He and Griffey were looking for some kind of new talent, and I believe they had gone to the islands, if I remember correctly. And they came to Miami after that, and they had their ladies with them and their staff, some of them from Soul Train. They were just absolutely wonderful people.  I couldn’t have been treated any better, buddy, I mean to tell you. They put me up at the Beverly Hills Hotel, you want to believe this? I had a cottage, not a room.  Isn’t that something, man?  And a limo would pick me up, and I’d go to dinner with these guys and they were showing off the town and Holy Canolee, I went to one they called the Canteen or the Cafeteria or something there—near where The Johnny Carson Show was—and sitting in there was Marlon Brando, and what the hell—another cat—Ed McMahon, and just all of these celebrities.  I’m sitting in there; I’m going “Oh My God, I’m from Camden, New Jersey. Here I am here, having a hamburger.”

BBP: “Pinch me, pinch me. Make sure it’s real…”

Carroll: I got a big kick out of that. And then they—they were just sweet. They really did roll out the carpet. God bless ‘em, man. They thought I was going to set the world on fire, you know. I’m pretty sure they were looking to spill over into the pop market, you know, from R&B. And they noticed I had a little something that connected with them that might spill over into that. So that would be my guess.

BBP: And you were involved with Soul Train in some capacity, right?

Carroll: Not on a production level, but I did write for Soul Train Gang’s first album. Did “I Can Do It All Night,” which is a little dance floor thing, a little funky thing. And I wrote of course for Griffey’s—I guess that was his top group—the Whispers. I wrote their title cut called “Love is Where You Find It.” And hey man, it worked out!  And I made a few bucks too!

BBP: Yeah, that always helps. 

Carroll: Oh, of course. Are you kidding me? These are the arts. You’ve got to do that. There’s no way to avoid that. I mean even at this place in time, I’m doing things like that too. I actually have to keep it down a little bit, because my wife goes “are you getting paid?” (laughs)

BBP: Don Cornelius. Over the years did you stay in touch with him?

Carroll: Yeah, as a matter of fact I talked to him about a year prior to his death. And I was amazed at that. I had no idea that he had that in him. He was a very internal guy, very powerful personality. Internalized, I don’t think he shared everything he was thinking. And he was also premeditated, you know. He’d be thinking about a couple of things while he was talking to you, you know. But it wasn’t disturbing. It was just the way he was.

BBP: He was a promoter, he was a business person.

Carroll: There you go. And he wasn’t stupid, man. He was smart.  What those guys did was an amazing thing for their generation at that point in time. They really did build some stairway.

BBP: So you were shocked when you heard that he had committed suicide, that he had been ill?

Carroll: Oh, yeah. That’s so sad. All I can do is guess that he was suffering, I would imagine, and he didn’t want to deal with it.

BBP: Yeah. That’s probably what led to that. You also mentioned that you were one of the few white acts during that time. What was the racial situation like when you started out in the fifties? I mean I’ve heard stories. …

Carroll: I always have to step back a little bit. Because when I went to high school, I was being played on black radio, as well as doing—there was a show called “The Mitch Thomas Show” which was a black dance show, sort of an answer to “Bandstand.” And I’d come back to school and those kids wanted my autograph, all the black kids. I broke right through the barrier there, and I realized at that point in time that music—the arts in general, not just music—can do it. It can do it. Kirk, it can do a lot of stuff. You always think about God creating the world in seven days, well there’s the word: create.  And I truly believe that when you’re creating, you are close to your Creator.  That’s a prime example of it. That let me know that everybody’s on a playing field, that we’re all even when we chose that. Sports and music, it does that. You don’t have a choice. You’ve got to answer up and do it, or not. And I learned that about music and I fell in love with that aspect as well. That was quite a place in time in the fifties.  And I would do the record hops and things and they would love the music and sign autographs and do all that. And I can remember thinking then, they just play wonderful. I would do some of them live with a band. And I thought “these guys are just” and you know they were jazzers.

BBP: I remember talking to African-American musicians at the time and some of them were telling me really harrowing stories about touring the south and getting pulled over by the police…

Carroll: Oh yeah, well they were outside of...Oh, man, yeah, I know. I know that, and I know that’s true. But from my perspective, I can only tell you what happened with me, and you remember I’m white….but at the same time I always wondered at certain events, how I would be treated.  Because I would be the only..well Billy as well…the only white guys there. And nothing happened that bad, buddy, or I’d tell you. Everything went smooth, they just loved the music.

BBP: Do you think, as time went on, did that ever change? Through the sixties, the seventies and the eighties, I mean…

Carroll: I thought so. I used to go to a club to hear people play because most of the music I liked was, like I say, blues or R&B, and I would go to a club there called the Sir John in Liberty City in Miami, which is know, you don’t do that now. that’s a strong indication that the days that I knew, I’m not saying they were innocent or perfect, but it wasn’t as violent as now. There weren’t the weapons that they have now.  Have you heard “Song from my Son?”  It’s a song that has maybe 102 or 103 thousand views on YouTube.  It’s about the subject that we’re talking about, about kids and weapons and, you know, the change that’s taken place.

BBP: A lot of this is very disturbing to you, it sounds like.

Carroll: Oh, man, come on. They’re kids. I don’t care what color. They’re all kids. And the attitude, the thing’s changed, quite a bit. I wish I could tell you what’s causing it, only thing I could dip into is education—I know they’re programs and things to help out and all that, so I would say that there needs to be, it’s always communication. And you know what, I did a show here—wait ‘til you hear this—I did a show here in Mount Dora that was called “Mother J,” that’s where the Mother J Productions comes from, I did a show and I wrote the town into it, Kirk. I wrote the police chief, the fire chief…everybody… the Center for the Arts, I wrote them all into it. They all had something to do with that play. And that created an atmosphere of harmony because they call it East Town, which is the black area here, and it’s really Mount Dora, and I kind of got pissed at that. “What do you call that East Town for? What are we doing with this?” And I went over there and I recruited my kids from school and things from school and we were all on the stage, everybody was up there together.  And we did a play and guess what? They stood in line to get in, buddy! There should be a movie about this. Because we hit a home run with that. And on top of that, we raised money. Out in the lobby you had all kinds of different-colored people associating and saying “hi.” Well guess what does that?  The arts! The idea, for example, when I did my show, I talked to the art teacher at the high school and all of the kids created the posters for the show. They had posters they created for Mother J. Mother J, the story of Mother J is that she had found an old church in the city…she got an old church in the ghetto—let’s put it that way—and she decided—she’s a blues singer—she decided that she’s not in love with playing those clubs as much anymore. She wanted to do something with a higher call, so she decides to take that church over and work with kids in the neighborhood, so that opened up different songs for me. It’s where “Song For My Son” comes from, and she’s singing—Jacqueline Jones played Mother J in this, she’s a blues singer here, kind of a blues diva in the Orlando area. She played the part and she played it well. I mean it was just cookin’. And of course, the kids don’t know, they don’t know entirely what they’re listening to. They know it had a beat and it was danceable and it was high energy and she was selling the audience, so they felt good to be in the play. Then we had at the art center afterwards, we hung up their art and all the art had to do with was—oh—spirituality; what do you think of God? What about cultural diversity, what do you think of your parents, personal things? But at the same time they got to express themselves. And guess what happened? This is just too good, okay? Not only did they have their art hanging up—it wasn’t judged, they all got an award, for doing it—but meanwhile, the people in the town fell in love with this, and I proposed to them that they build an archway in the park and have the kids do the same thing with tiles. But this time I wanted seniors involved, so we had seniors and kids down there doing tiles that have to do with—oh—spirituality and giving back. The archway is called the “Unity in the Community Archway.” And guess what? I got an award. I got an arts and humanities award for that particular project.

BBP: When did you do this? How long ago?

Carroll: Oh, let’s see. I’d say a good eight years ago. Maybe eight years, nine years. And that, I’m sure you’d find on the Internet. If you looked at my website you might find it.

BBP: Well, you know earlier you brought up the Whispers, and actually they were one of my favorite groups when I was coming along. “Olivia Lost and Turned Out,” I used to love that song.  Tell me a little bit on your association with them, how you met them. They’re twins in that group, right?

Carroll: Yes, they’re twins. I didn’t hang with The Whispers, I just knew them, met them a few times through Dick Griffey. And they showed up at the boat, they came out to the boat when I recorded on the ship, I mean. And that was my first introduction to The Whispers. They didn’t have any hits or anything, yet. And there was something about them: they had class. You know there was something about them, you just got the feeling that they were on the way to something. And then on top of that, they were surrounded by some serious company. So they got done what they wanted to do. I could tell they wanted to be in that place in time where they were, and have that class act, you know. And deliver those romantic pieces that they had. And you know, they got a little funky too, so you had fun with them, you know.  And, you know as people, I really didn’t spend time hanging. We had dinner together at Fisherman’s Wharf, with Griffey. He picked up the tab.

BBP: That’s incredible.

Carroll: I neglected to say, when you asked me about “Old Dogs,”  I neglected to tell you that “Growing Bolder,” which is a marvelous show, I mean, you’ve got to dig it, you’ve got to check it out. They cover all kinds of different stories in regard to what people are achieving at a certain age. And they liked “Old Dogs,” and they came by the house and they shot a whole story on me. Man, it just took off! I’m talking about the L.A. Times, The Chicago Tribune, Eye in the Sky, the Orlando Sentinel. I mean it just spread all over the place. All the TV galleries picked it up. So that means if they need to use it, they have it.

BBP: Let me ask you, I know you’ve written songs for other people, and I was just curious: when you write a song for somebody, how do you go about doing it? What’s your approach?

Carroll: You know, it’s a labor of love, and it’s not for me.  I’m talking about for me; everybody’s different.  I’m not a prolific writer; I’m not one of these guys that say “Hey, I’ve written 350 songs this year, you know.” I… to me, it’s so personal that it’s painful to try to get it done the way I want.  And of course, if it’s not accepted in a way that people would buy it…that of course is not something you want. What you really have to want is, did you achieve what’s in you? Did you say what you want to say? And to me that’s hard.  It’s not like starting out with the drum track and paying attention to the drum, which I’ve done. But at my age now, it’s quite an undertaking.

BBP: But when you write the song, do you have it in mind for a particular person?

Carroll: Oh, gosh. I wish I could say yeah. I just feel what I need to say and I go after it. I don’t think about a person or a radio station or anything. I just “I want to do this. I want to say this.” Of course if it gets wings like “Love is Where You Find it,” (which) to me is a Brazilian jazz piece, I wrote it kind of like a bossanova. (singing) Ba-bo-da-do-da-do-din-da. You notice on the end that one of the Whispers is scatting? (laughs)

BBP: Right! Yeah!

Carroll: He picked it up. He went, “okay, let’s lead it into jazz a little bit.”  And I really thought that was cool.

BBP: Well, they were good at it. That’s one thing about them I remember. A lot of their songs sounded like that. But did you hear that tendency in them to do that and you just decided to play off of it?

Carroll: Um, I guess—you know, I did get to hear them work a little bit in L.A., but I didn’t stay for the whole session and I just kind of heard a little bit.  But it wasn’t something I could say I knew their whole groove, but when I heard them sing, I thought “Oh my, these cats, they’re able to stretch out here a little bit.” It had nothing to do with me writing a tune, I was just out there and they were doing a session. That’s it…”Love is Where You Find It,” I actually did that live, with a big band. I had the university jazz band—well not all of it, but most of it—Miami University, and man, it was cooking! And I was lucky enough to get video of that, and this is way back in the day! These guys shot it.  And of course, we’re all sitting around the studio going, “Man, look at this!” So we sent it off to Dick Griffey, because I already knew Dick and had recorded for those guys, and they said “Yeah baby, we’re going to record this!” (laughs).  It was a hell of a demo to send somebody, I can tell you that!



Monday, January 14, 2013

Mickey Carroll: The Old Tricks Still Work Part I

At 72, singer/performer Mickey Carroll is an “Old Dog.”

To  some of you young pups out there, that may translate to “out-of-date.”

But Carroll wears the title with pride. So much so that he has recorded a song about it.

Entitled “Old Dogs,” the single is a New Orleans-style testament that experience--in his case, decades of experience--doesn’t mean obsolescence. “Now they might be a little slow,” Carroll sings. “But there ain’t much that they don’t know.”

Released in 2011, “Old Dogs” is the title track from a CD of the same name Carroll will release next month.
The song applies to music as much as life for Carroll, a Grammy nominated singer/songwriter/guitarist who once worked with Don Cornelius of Soul Train fame and has penned songs for performers ranging from John Mayall to the Whispers.

A South Jersey native who now resides in Mount Dora, Florida, Carroll caught his first taste of show biz as a dancer on American Bandstand in the pre-Dick Clark days when the show was still being hosted by founder Bob Horn. Carroll then went on to form a doo-wop singing duo with a friend, Billy Harner.

During the 1960’s, Carroll spent time down in New Orleans. The quality of the musicians in the Crescent City made him realize  he'd have to step up his game a little on guitar, his chosen instrument, he recalls with a chuckle.  “I got out there and I realized I’d better woodshed, man,” he says. “These cats play! They’re not just playing blues progressions; they’re playing some really creative stuff.”

But he learned a lot in New Orleans, and some of the styles he absorbed took hold, resurfacing later in works like "Old Dogs."

He met Cornelius one day while playing the Hideaway Lounge in Hollywood, Florida. After hearing Carroll play, Cornelius and Dick Griffey, founder of the rhythm and blues label Solar Records, wanted to make an album with him.

Entitled Mickey Carroll, the recording is believed to be a first—not because of the music it featured—but because of where it was recorded: a 110-foot boat!

The musicians who joined Carroll for the recording—many of whom arrived by seaplane from other gigs—included many of the best in the business at that time: Leon Pendarvis, a keyboardist who later became music director for Saturday Night Live; Chuck Leavell who had performed with the Allman Brothers and would later play with the Rolling Stones; Tim Drummond, a bassist who over his career has worked with Bob Dylan, James Brown, Eric Clapton and Neil Young; and drummer Willie Hall, who would later appear in the Blues Brothers movie with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

The album was produced by Bob Johnston, who at that time had previously worked with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.

Also on the boat was a young engineer-in-training named Eric Schilling. Carroll would later tap him to work on his 1978 album Love Life, which was nominated for a Grammy.  
In 1984, Carroll  hit another career milestone after a recording by the Whispers of his song “Love Is Where You Find It,” became a gold record.

But the 1980’s also saw Carroll turn his music towards another pursuit: social activism. Partnering with the performing arts organization PACE, he put on shows for the disabled, senior citizens, and others who needed help.

In 2000 he founded Mother J productions, a non-profit based in the Mount Dora area that raised money for art education through concerts and community events. In May, 2005 the organization held a concert for the deaf at a Mt. Dora gymnasium. Later that year, after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, the group organized a concert for hurricane victims at a Mount Dora park.

More recently, Carroll organized a free concert to raise money for victims of the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

“People just know when they come to see me that I’m up to something,” Carroll says. “I did a wonderful gig not long ago in an airport. They took a whole airplane hangar like a World War II kind of deal, you know—U.S.O. show, that’s what they were doing—and a big band. And man, it was cookin’! We had a party! And that was for the troops. That was money to help the troops. “

Carroll put together “Old Dogs”—album and single—with help from a roster of musicians headed by saxophonist Charlie DeChant of Hall and Oates fame, who handled the horn arrangements. The project was produced by Howard and Ron Albert, best known for producing “Layla” with Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos.

With over 50 years in the music business, Carroll had a lot to say: so much that we are posting our interview with him in three parts. In the first part he talks about “Old Dogs,” American Bandstand and the early days of rock and roll—and that high seas recording he made with Don Cornelius:

BBP: Well first Carroll tell me a little bit about this song “Old Dogs.”   I’m kind of curious about it, and how it came about.

Carroll: Sure. Well, “Old Dogs “was written by a fellow named Dan Kyle and he played that for me, gosh I guess,  a good three, four years ago at a party at our home.  And I thought, “Oh my, that’s got a little something to it.” You have to realize I’m an old dog, so it kind of fit me perfect. So on my—don’t laugh now—on my 70th birthday, I recorded that puppy. And I was really lucky because I had Howard Albert produce it.  Can I speak about him a second?

BBP: Sure, go ahead.

Carroll: Well Howard Albert is from the Ron Albert/ Howard Albert team, from Criteria, which was the largest studio in the country. They also have audio vision now, and those guys have recorded everybody from the Allman Brothers to Barbra Streisand, the Bee Gees and on and on.

BBP: Was he involved with Eric Clapton? Derek and the Dominos?

Carroll: Yes, he was. Yep.  As a matter of fact, your guest on your last interview, Fred Wesley, I’m sure they must have worked with Fred because they worked with James Brown too.  Anyway, he’s an old buddy, and you know I recorded there quite a bit over the years, and he came up here and we recorded that in my backyard. (laughs)

BBP: Wow.

Carroll: And you know, we just hit the line and did our time. The musicians were wonderful; I mean we had Charlie DeChant on there, he’s with Hall and Oates and Orleans and all that. He was more or less the music director for that session. And I mean to tell you we had a party. And I forgot to tell you we invited the whole—I mean we had the mayor, we had the president of the chamber, and the city manager—I mean after all, they weren’t going to call the police to keep the sound down, man! We were covered!

BBP: Right, that’s a good strategy there! A very good strategy. Mickey, what town are we talking about?

Carroll: Ok, I should have said that. This is Mount Dora, Florida, which I guess is maybe 40 miles north of Orlando.  It’s a little diamond in the rough; it’s just the sweetest little town.  Sort of like a Norman Rockwell kind of painting, you know.

BBP: And what do you plan to do with the song?   What are your plans for getting it out?

Carroll: Well, I’ve got to finish this CD that we’re working on.  And I worked hard on trying to get these songs particularly picked out for this thing, so it would fit my age and also cover that New Orleans flavor. That’s where I learned how to play out there.  And the point that I’m trying to make is that you can do this live, you can do this live in the studio, or you can do it live in concert.  Something about live that puts all of the musicians on line, and they really have to dig into the impulsive nature of their vocabulary….I find that to be exciting, especially when you’re playing on the edge like that.

BBP: How did you get these other musicians involved in it?

Carroll: (laughs) Kirk, I’ve been around forever! A lot of these guys I’ve known and met at the studio, like I wrote for Don Cornelius for the Soul Train gang, for the Whispers. I wrote one of their hits called “Love is Where You Find it.”  If you keep on moving through the woods, man, sooner or later you’re going to find gold. But I’ve been lucky. I write sort of in-between jazz and blues and this brings on a challenge for a lot of cats who want to play. So I’ve been really lucky, you know, to have these guys (imitating them) “Hey I want to play this tune. Here, let me sit in. Let me do that.” 

BBP: Now tell me a little bit about how you got involved in music. I mean, when you were a kid, you used to listen to a lot of radio?

Carroll: (laughs) Man, I was there at the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll and big bands started to lose ground and combos came in. And I started listening to Louis Prima and Louis Jordan and Red Prysock and Doo Wop. Actually I wrote for some of these people. You remember Dion?

BBP: Yeah…from the fifties?

Carroll: I’ve written a couple of songs for him. And it was quite a thrill, you know.  And, yes, I’ve been at it since the fifties and just kept on going and I managed to raise a family doing it. I don’t know…I’ve just been blessed buddy, if you really want to know the truth.

BBP: And I understand that you were a dancer on American Bandstand?

Carroll: Oh my God, where did you find that out, Kirk? (laughs)

BBP: Well, I have my sources.

Carroll: I used to live in South Jersey and those days you could just jump on the bus, go over the bridge—which is the Delaware River Bridge—and then then you’re right there. 46th and Market was where Bandstand was; you got on the subway and you’d go there. In the summer I’d dance just about every day—and of course I had to go to school—but sometimes I’d be a bad boy and go over there and dance.

BBP: Did you meet Dick Clark or get a chance to talk to him?

Carroll: Kirk, this was before Dick Clark. A fella had Bandstand originally. His name was Bob Horn, and Bob Horn started Bandstand and it wasn’t quite all over the country, but it was really the roots of rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t think he’s with us anymore (Horn died in 1966). That’s the story. When I went there, it was Bob Horn’s Bandstand.  And I did a little bit of Dick Clark, but by that time I was doing record hops with a guy named Billy Harner, and the name of our do-wop group was Billy and Carroll.

BBP:  Tell me a little about that. Did you guys tour?

Carroll: Yeah, we did record hops with Fabian, Frankie Avalon, you know?  Running all around; no money, honey.  But boy did we have fun! The girls loved us! And we’d sign autographs, and I’d go back to school. Most of the people who played our stuff were on black radio stations.  We did a lot of their dances, and, man you talk about musicians! I just jumped into the rainbow (laughs) in those days and Billy was right there with me. We’ve since then, of course…we’ve seen each other, but we’re not—he’s still up there in South Jersey, I’m down here in Florida, and—he can  have South Jersey (laughs)!  There’s two things you have to do there: box and sing. And maybe dance.

BBP: Well now you get to be on that show “Jersey Shore.” Well, that’s a different part of Jersey, I guess.

Carroll: Oh yeah…oh jeez! Please!

BBP: I’m curious, you said you were on “Bandstand,” you must have met a lot of the pioneers of rock back in those days..

Carroll: Oh man, I’ve got some beautiful stories about that. You know, when you’re a kid, especially when rock and roll first started… the jazz…. you had to wait until late to hear it on the radio. But they started playing rock and roll—especially “Bandstand—“early, so you could catch it when you got home from school or whatever.  And watching that grow and doing record hops and meeting the people that you’re asking me about—like Bill Haley and the Comets (sighs) God—you know those cats knew how to play!  But most of all, they knew how to record. They knew how to record, which they would get separation in those days with just two tracks on that band.  If you listen to a Bill Haley recording, or some of the early rock ‘n’ roll stuff, you’re listening to two tracks, man, sometimes four—nothing like today—and those guys would cook.

BBP: Explain that in a little more detail though, because I’m not sure I understand the technology.  When you say “separation,” what exactly do you mean by that?

Carroll: Well, you know, engineers in those days had the mike fixed in such a way, because they only got one pass. Let’s say Count Basie and Frank Sinatra, they went into the studio and did that.  They didn’t do like double-up tracks, and, you know, in the early days that big band was recorded, and those engineers had to mike that properly.  They had to know how, by nature, those instruments sounded. And that spilled over into early rock ‘n’ roll with some of those recordings, because you couldn’t just pile tracks on top of one another forever or even tune them up! If a singer was out of tune they had to do a whole new take. And I mean everybody, you know.

BBP: You know Bobby Parker, he’s a blues guitarist who lives in this area, but I guess he must have run across some of the same people you did.  But he said they were recording a group playing, and that they actually put the drum set on an elevator so they could get the right sound or the right reverberations. ..

Carroll: Sure, they would have singers sing in bathrooms, there was all kinds of experimentation  on. They didn’t want the drums to leak into all of the other instruments sometimes.  I could see maybe why they would put them in an elevator shaft, you know. Whatever.  I mean they had all kinds of experimentations they were making, especially out when Sun Records started, they had been known for their echo, you know.  And man, if you wanted that sound, you had to go there and record. In Philly there was a place called Reco Art. Actually John Coltrane of all people was early rock ‘n’ roll. He was running around Philly playing early rock ‘n’ roll.  I don’t want to ruin anybody’s dreams (laughing), but this guy was walking on bars. In those days the horn player would come out in front of the band and start walking on the bar and the people would go nuts. Your horn players, they were kings, man, and there wasn’t as much guitar as there was sax back then.

BBP: That’s very interesting. Did you ever run across John Coltrane?

Carroll: Oh, no! Jeez, are you kidding? You asked me about it, I’ll tell you. I went to Birdland before it closed, you know, in New York. That was a magnificent experience. Got downstairs, you know, they had a real short fellow that used to MC the show….And what a night, man. I’m sitting there watching ‘Trane, I’m watching Elvin Jones, I mean...McCoy Tyner,  I mean these cats were playing in front of me and it was just too good (laughs).  There were no recordings and tracks there, baby, they hit it. I mean it was just…rippin,’ you know. And then on top of that, Bill Cosby got up, and set up a few jokes, you know?

BBP: Wow, Bill Cosby? That early? In the fifties?

Carroll: No, that wasn’t in the fifties. I’m sorry buddy, that was during the 1964 World’s Fair.

BBP: Oh, yeah, right, in New York City.

Carroll: Right. That was kind of like when those jazz clubs were—I don’ t know—they were sort of struggling.

BBP: Right. I guess they were sort of on the wane at that time. You play guitar, right? You’re a guitarist?

Carroll: Yeah.

BBP: You mentioned that, during that time—when you started out—horns were kind of a big thing, as opposed to guitars…

Carroll: ...Yeah…

BBP: What made you go into guitars?

Carroll: I was purely thinking below the belt (laughs). The girls all liked it.  And Elvis came along, and I went nuts. I thought “Oh, I’m going to do that.” And picked up the guitar, and—oh my God, we didn’t have any teachers, nobody knew about rock ‘n’ roll, they didn’t know what to do about blues—I’d tell them what I’m listening to on the radio and they’d look at me like I was from another planet.  And Chuck Berry, forget it, he was just starting out. All that stuff.  Bo Diddley. These were the cats that just started coming along in rock ‘n’ roll, put it out front for you, you know. So that’s what inspired me to play.

BBP: Hmm. And also I know you kind of lived through the changes that rock went through, what was going on in the 50’s to the late 60’s. I guess, Jimi Hendrix, the Stones...

Carroll: Oh yeah, well that’s way up there.  I had left Philly and went to Florida, played there, and then put a little band together, a little trio: Hammond organ, drums and myself on guitar. We decided we’re heading for New Orleans. And I got out there and I realized I’d better woodshed, man, these cats play! They’re not just playing blues progressions they’re playing some really creative stuff!  You know things that kind of like spill into gospel as well as jazz and blues, you know.  And I loved the concept of how they played in different time, like funk marches, and things that I hadn’t heard.  And they were very exciting. What really knocked me out is they were joyful and levitating. They made you feel real good. Even a funeral, man. You know, you would feel that levitation and that way about that. There’s something special out there, that’s all I can tell you.

BBP: Now you’re talking about the New Orleans musicians?

Carroll: That’s where I wound up after leaving Philly. Spending a little time in Florida, I headed out to there, and I think maybe that’s where I had to sit down with my axe and figure out “Man, this does more than what I’m doing, you know, I’d better (practice) if I want to learn to play”—and it’s 24 hour kind of thing. You can go out after you play in those days, and hear somebody else play at one o’clock, two and three in the morning. (laughs)

BBP: In New Orleans.

Carroll: in New Orleans. In those days, yes.

BBP: Wow. So you were kind of intimidated by what you were hearing around you?

Carroll: Oh, are you kidding me? I didn’t make the first round! I was knocked out of the ring! I just was looking at these guys and saying “How do you do that?” I was playing rock ‘n’ roll as I knew it—50’s rock—but that wasn’t what was happening in New Orleans.  They had a whole new way of dealing with things, and they wanted to tell you about blues and jazz, you know.  And they were kind. They’d share what they knew with you. And just—you’d find cats like sitting in a diner in a restaurant, having something to eat or coffee “Hey  come on over here and sit down, man. Don’t you play at so-and-so’s?” Gunga Din is where I was playing, you wanna believe that name? (laughs)

BBP: Sounds like a place I’m sorry I never got to see…

Carroll: Oh, man, I tell you what: I wouldn’t change a note of any of this. All the way back to Fabian and Frankie Avalon.  It was just one wonderful roller-coaster ride, and all of the things that went with it. And of course my father, he was going to have a heart attack, you know. He didn’t think I was going to make a living.  I don’t know how I did, to tell you the honest truth.  I’ve just been lucky and kept on going.

BBP: You mentioned your father. What did he do for a living?

Carroll: He was a painting contractor.  He’d just hand me a brush and tell me “off we go.” And he’d laugh and I’d say “Man, I’m not doing this.” (laughs) And he’d tell me to “keep painting and shut up.”

BBP: Did he want you to follow in the business?

Carroll: He watched me, uh—God bless, him, he’s passed on—but he did watch me hit a few bells.  I started working with people who are disabled and I fell in love with it, in Miami, and next thing you know I’m doing veteran’s hospitals and things for Down’s Syndrome and things like that. And all of a sudden I’ve got a pretty good following. I play somewhere and they’d all show up in wheelchairs or be shuttled in by buses, or what have you.  The Today Show got a load of this and they came down to—Coconut Grove is where I was living at that point in time—followed me around to all of these facilities and I was on The Today Show doing that. So I kind of tied that in with my thinking in music. There is a way to express your art other than just dance floor. Dance floor’s fun, but there’s other exploits that you want to take yourself on, an adventure, and creativity is wide open. It’s freedom. You know, you can express many different things, and when I started doing that, I realized “well this audience here, is pretty darn cool, man! I’m going to lay it out right here.” I did. I moved to Mount Dora, which is where I’m at, started a company called Mother J Productions, and heck, we raised all kinds of money for folks: in Haiti, when they had that problem; Katrina, we raised money there; got money for the uninsured here in Lake County; there’s no end.  Actually I got some award; I won three arts and humanities awards for all this stuff. Not bad for an old dog, right?

BBP: Now I understand at one point you recorded a song with Don Cornelius on a boat? Is that true?

Carroll: (laughs) Yeah, man! You know, I’ve had such a unique career. I did the first album at sea, on a 110-foot ship. You ready for that?  All the people that have managed me or had anything to do with promoting my music have all been African-Americans.  That’s where I fit best. I’m probably the only white artist that Cornelius managed. When we did that ship, it was not just him, it was Don Cornelius and Dick Griffey. Dick Griffey was huge in the concert business as well as owning Solar records. He was pretty much over the top, man. He had made it big time.  And those two cats, man, they just put me right where I needed to be out there, and let me give you an idea of who was on that session. This is what’s cool. Leon Pendarvis was one of the keyboard players and he’s the musical director for Saturday Night Live nowadays. Chuck Leavell, who is a piano player for the Rolling Stones. Willie Hall, who is one of the Blues Brothers in the movie. Willie played drums. And Tim Drummond, who was Bob Dylan’s bass player. So you could tell by this staff of people, it was all top of the line. And Cornelius and Griffey did not spare a dime. They laid it all out there; I don’t know what they paid for that, but can you imagine staffing a ship? And moving an entire recording studio onto the bow of the ship for a week?

BBP: Wow, that’s incredible. What was the song that you recorded?

Carroll: I did a whole album out there. Bob Johnston really was the producer. The executive producers were Don Cornelius and Dick Griffey, but the producer was Bob Johnston and Johnston produced Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. And there’s no end to it—Johnny Cash—so he was pretty much the top dog as far as that goes, and off we went. And we did a whole album...maybe ten tunes, maybe eleven tunes, and most of that stuff was kind of bluesy…you know, what they call “Americana” now? It’s kind of a mixture of stuff? Americana music. Well that’s probably the category it would fall into now. Back then, I had a little trouble; they didn’t know what it was.  That was a problem (laughs).

BBP: Whose idea was it to do it on a boat?  I mean, how did that come about and—tell me how the whole thing happened.
Carroll: Okay. I’m playing a place called the Hideaway—what a metaphor for this story—and here comes Cornelius and Griffey and they come in and they go “Oh my God, Man are you recording any of that stuff? Let’s do it!” Now it’s started: “Okay now, who do you want to produce you?”  I said “Well, I sure would like Quincy Jones. He’s out there in LA with you guys, you know.” And they said that they could, but there’s another producer that’s hot, you know, and had a couple of hits out, and Quincy was doing what he did with Michael Jackson at that point in time. He was kind of in-between.

BBP: Where were you when they met you?

Carroll: When they saw me play, Griffey and Cornelius, I was in Florida, in Hollywood, Florida at the Hideaway Lounge.  They asked me about producers as it went on.  Not that night, but later on we decided to record. And they asked me about producers, and of course Quincy Jones was my favorite, but—Jeez I still kick myself over not going that direction—but they had said Bob Johnston was hot and that he might understand what I’m doing. Because he was doing some, oh, you know, he did a variety of things from Johnny Cash to Paul Simon, you know.  So you could tell that they were thinking about those routes. Anyway, Bob Johnston got the gig, and he was quite—he had all the gold records. He was quite a big deal at that point in time.  And that’s how that happened. And Johnston came up with the idea of doing it on a ship. And he wanted to do it off the coast of Catalina.  Man, the kind of money they must have spent in those days! Can you imagine, these guys are landing in the water…seaplanes! Coming from gigs, man! Get out of here! Yeah, it was Hollywood, you know. It was like being in a movie or something.

BBP: You mean Catalina off the coast of California?

Carroll: Yeah. Catalina Island.  Off the coast of Catalina Island.

BBP: Wow. That’s incredible.
Be sure to catch the next installment, when Carroll talks about the song he wrote for the Whispers.