Carr grew up in Memphis where he sang gospel in the Sunset Travellers and the Harmony Echoes and was discovered by Memphis gospel-group mentor Roosevelt Jamison. This budding manager and songwriter brought Carr to the Goldwax Records label, run by Quinton Claunch. It took four singles to define the singer's style, but the deep, magnificent 'You've Got My Mind Messed Up' burned with an intensity few contemporaries could match. A US Top 10 R&B hit in 1966, 'Love Attack' and 'Pouring Water On A Drowning Man' also followed that year. In 1967 Carr released 'The Dark End Of The Street', southern soul's definitive guilt-laced 'cheating' song, which inspired several cover versions. His later work included 'Let It Happen' and 'A Man Needs A Woman', but his fragile personality was increasingly disturbed by drug abuse. 'To Love Somebody' (1969) was Carr's final hit. Goldwax Records collapsed the following year and Carr moved to Atlantic Records for 'Hold On' (1971), which was recorded at Malaco Studios in Jackson, Mississippi.
His problems worsened until 1977, when a now-impoverished Carr was reunited with Jamison. One single, the rather average 'Let Me Be Right', appeared on the River City label and the singer temporarily disappeared from the scene. Carr resurfaced in 1979 on a tour of Japan, the first concert of which was a disaster when he 'froze' on stage, having taken too much medication before his performance. In 1991 he had an album of new material entitled Take Me To The Limit released by Goldwax Records in the USA (Ace Records in the UK), with Quinton Claunch and Roosevelt Jamison back among the production credits. The following year, Carr appeared at the Sweet Soul Music annual festival in northern Italy, and three of his songs were included on a 'live' album of the festival on the Italian '103' label. By 1993, Claunch had left Goldwax and set up his own Soultrax Records, for which Carr recorded his Soul Survivor album (again also on UK Ace), the title track of which had a single release in the USA. Meanwhile, having lost Carr to Claunch, Goldwax's new President, E.W. Clark, exhumed some prime late 60s Carr material for inclusion on Volume 1 of the projected (and perhaps optimistically titled) Complete James Carr (a US-only release).
The singer's troubled life was eventually brought to an end by cancer in January 2001. A truly exceptional singer, Carr's work is deserving of wider appreciation. The original You Got My Mind Messed Up remains a forgotten gem although the recent Kent compilation of all his Goldwax singles is essential. He was definitely one of soul music's greatest and most underrated voices.
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