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Leroy Carr

Born in Nashville, Leroy Carr moved to Indianapolis as a child. While he was still in his teens, he taught himself how to play piano. Carr quit school in his mid-teens, heading out for a life on the road. For the next few years, he would play piano at various parties and dances in the midwest and south. Carr wandered back toward Indianapolis, where he met guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in 1928. The duo began performing and shortly afterward they were recording for Vocalion, releasing "How Long How Long Blues" before the year was finished. The song was an instant, surprise hit. For the next seven years, Carr and Blackwell would record a number of classic songs for Vocalion, including "Midnight Hour Blues," "Blues Before Sunrise," "Hurry Down Sunshine," "Shady Lane Blues" and many others.

Lery Carr was the most influential male blues singer and songwriter of the first half of the 20th century, but he was nothing like the current stereotype of an early bluesman. An understated pianist with a gentle, expressive voice, he was known for his natty suits and lived most of his life in Indianapolis. His first record, "How Long, How Long Blues," in 1928, had a revolutionary effect. Previous blues stars, whether vaudevillians like Bessie Smith or street singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson, had needed huge voices to project their music, but with the help of new microphone and recording technologies, Carr sounded like a cool city dude carrying on a conversation with a few close friends.

Carr's lyrics were carefully written, blending soulful poetry with wry humor, and his music had a light, lilting swing that could shift in a moment to a driving boogie. Carr sang over the solid beat of his piano and the biting guitar of his constant partner Scrapper Blackwell. The outcome was a hip, urban club style that signaled a new era in popular music.

Given his importance, it was logical that when Columbia records had a surprise success in the early 1960's with Robert Johnson's "King of the Delta Blues Singers," the label followed up with a Carr compilation. It was titled "Blues Before Sunrise," after one of Carr's most popular songs, a haunting ballad that had been covered by John Lee Hooker, Elmore James and Ray Charles.

But the folk and rock fans who hailed Johnson as a genius showed no interest in the Carr album. Never mind that Carr's first records predated Johnson's first recordings by eight years, or that Johnson's work showed an immense debt to Carr's innovations. Carr's suave; laidback style was not what the new audience wanted in a bluesman.

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Best of Leroy Carr

Columbia Records
2005

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Sloppy Drunk

Catfish Records (UK)
2000

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