by Kurt “Swingcat” Johnson
A big voice. A big show. A big vision. A big plan. That's Big Al Carter. He’s one of the freshest, most original and highest energy
showmen to emerge on the Portland music scene in many years.
Carter’s stage charisma and presence are not only taking Portland, but the international music scene by storm. With his raw
power and appeal, audiences and listeners are drawn to his sound and energy both live on stage and on his CD Soul Blue.
Rooted in the Portland blues scene, Carter has developed a unique sound that includes a soulful and hard rockin' flavor at the
Not limited by just the blues, Carter incorporates classic rock, swing, gospel and. most importantly, soul into his sound. A band of
some of the highest caliber hired-gun musicians in the Pacific Northwest musically support him. Add to that his natural
charismatic stage personality and energy, and you have a musical and show product that is irresistible!
Vocalist, frontman and rhythm guitarist, Carter also plays the blues harmonica and even a “Jew's harp.” A guitar player since the
age of eight, Carter cut his teeth in the entertainment industry, playing and fronting for numerous rock bands around the San
Francisco area in the ‘80s. He performed everything from songs by Neil Young to ‘80s big-hair bands hits. In the ‘90s he
developed a style with a cross of Rod Stewart and Bob Seger with a blues feel. He fronted several more rock bands, always
playing rhythm guitar, harmonica and singing.
Formerly a dot.com Silicon Valley business executive, Carter decided he had to get out of that industry. He consequently left the
hustle of the Silicon Valley and moved to the Portland area with its powerful music scene and attractive quality of life. He since
has dived head first into the Portland music scene, particularly paying his dues and showing high respect for the exceptional
level of Portland's blues scene. As a result, he's garnered considerable help and made many contacts who have guided and
helped him along with his plan and musical vision.
Like any successful business executive, Carter approaches the music business with a solid business plan and vision for
success. He firmly believes that if you haven't got a winning plan, your company (in this case the band) and product (the show
and his music) can never hope to succeed. Carter is all about success. Whether as a business consultant helping struggling
companies to turn it around, gaining solid results, or with his band, Carter aims for nothing less than top-level success. The key
to his plan and success is the people around him. He makes it clear that any successful executive will always surround himself
with the very best people he can find. It's a simple equation. Get the very best people on board and let them perform to their
very best with a winning team attitude.
Carter has recruited the very best musicians for his backing band. The line-up is a who's who of top talent. Band leader and
music director is guitar legend Robbie Laws. Winner of numerous Cascade Blues Association Best Guitarist Muddy Awards,
Laws is the moving force of the band and guides the others while on stage and in the studio. He's also the primary songwriter for
Carter's original material.
On drums is the powerful Drawback Slim. With a commanding stage presence, Slim anchors the band in the pocket and also
adds some backing and lead vocals. His personality on stage is unmistakable.
On bass is long-time player Sonny Boyardee, who's been on the Portland music scene for over 30 years. He brings the groove
and locks it in solid so that the guitar, piano and Carter are in that comfortable place where they can really project their soul.
Filling in the corners and bringing that big, fat Hammond B3 sound to the mix is former Paul deLay Band pianist Louis Pain. Kind
of quiet and off to the side on stage, he simply wails on the B3 and puts that unmistakable sound into the mix that really draws
the crowd in and gets the party jumpin'.
Carter explains how he got into singing and fronting bands and his approach to both the musical and business side of the band,
"I was managing a band and was on the frontman's case at a high school senior ball for not putting on enough of a show. So he
put me on the spot and said our manager is gonna sing a song. And I got up there and did it and the crowd went wild. I was
frontman from that gig on."
Carter continues about coming to Portland, "Portland appeared to have such a concentration of talented musicians I'd never
seen. My intention was to make a simple blues-focused album and then an all-original album. So I hunted down who I considered
one of the best-ever guitar players, Robbie Laws. So I found Robbie Laws, Paul deLay, Dave Meylen and Jeff Barnes and they
all agreed to help me on my first project, Soul Blue. The intention was to introduce Carter and see if it got any response. To my
surprise, the reviews started rolling in world wide! What I'm getting back is the vocals, with comments such as "quite the voice",
"throaty and raw", "masculinity defined," just to mention a few. If you were to look at the reviews as a whole, the writing is about
the vocals and how unique and powerful the vocals are. That is the dominant theme of the reviews.”
Carter talks about the radio airplay the CD has received; "Airplay all around the world. In the U.S., mostly in New York, along with
blues shows of featured Indie artists, college stations like Arizona State University, Santa Cruz and internationally in Belgium,
Poland and France." Along with airplay are CD sales on internet outlets such as CD Baby, I-tunes and Napster. Also, there’s the
usual on-site sales at the shows themselves.
Carter continues about the band; "There's no real name for the band but it really is the best hired guns in the area. I'm honored
and stunned to have a band of this caliber. Sonny Boyardee is the ultimate cool bassman. Drawback Slim has a presence on the
drums and a shuffle with timing like no other. Louis Pain is a commanding presence on the Hammond B3, a master in his own
right. I can't say enough about Robbie Laws. He's an animal on the guitar. He's likable on stage and the band leader commands
all respect. And for the new songs coming out, Robbie is the ultimate songwriter for Carter."
Carter talks about the new CD; "The new CD is all originals written primarily by Robbie Laws. My contribution to the songs is
minimal. LaRhonda Steele has agreed to appear on tambourine and backing vocals. The direction of the new CD is more rock &
roll and roots focus. The flavor of the album and songs so far is very sexy. The titles of these songs speak to that. Titles like
Won't Be Satisfied, An Itch That I Can't Scratch attest to that."
Carter mentions the business side of the Big Al company; "Carter has a musical and business plan for this company. In his day
job, Carter fixes big companies. I'm going to apply that knowledge and experience to this company “Big Al”. Carter also makes
specific mention of his booking agent Ginger Caviness from GC Productions and the key role she has played in opening doors
and creating opportunities for Big Al and the band. (See GC Productions ad this issue.)
Heading up the band and providing the musical leadership is Robbie Laws. He talks about his role in the Big Al band; 'He and I
get together once a week to review and amend his business plan of what he sees of the Big Al Carter Corporation. How we're
making the steps of where we want to go, through the changes, sound and presentation. Al has other people who he works with
that are putting out feelers and doing market research on what's musically current and hot and we're basing that information on
the creative component to create the persona of Big Al Carter musically and the Big Al Carter sound. Women want him and men
want to be him. He has a natural honest stage presence that comes through. It's a charisma that goes out. It's not an act. It's a
real reaction to what's going on onstage. It's his reaction to what's on the stage, as well as going on in the audience. Those two
energies combine and it's just raw and honest charisma. In a word it's Big Al Carter."
Laws continues about the new songs and CD, "The new originals are written and built around his vocals and really project the
Big Al Carter image. Right now, we've been writing a lot of blues based material but are moving into more mainstream rock blues,
which seems to be where it feels more natural for Al's musical personality."
Laws talks about the band; "The band is made up of some of the best blues players in the Pacific Northwest. Each one of these
guys has built a solid reputation in and around the blues genre. But the fact is, they are very good musicians and good
musicians worth their weight can change genres so it's not a stretch for them to change genres." He sums it up this way; "If
anyone who's reading this article has not experienced the Big Al Carter Band, they really need to see and hear for themselves
the raw and honest charisma of the music and the man himself."
Each member of the band brings a unique flavor to the band. Drummer Drawback Slim explains his role; "My role is the drummer
and background vocalist. I do some leads. The primary guy is Carter. We're supposed to lay down an unshakable bottom. Sonny
and I worked together before with other bands and my own at one time. When someone calls a shuffle, Sonny and I just know
how to blend together. I like to press the borders. I do honor the traditional. In the context of this band, I like to go press those
borders a little and this band gives me the freedom to explore those options. We're all similar ages and we have similar
backgrounds because we're all of the same generation and understand what we are doing. With Al's charisma and his strong
vocals, the possibilities are that we might be able to embark on something that hasn't been touched yet. When Sonny and I lock
in, you can feel the pulse and all the other instruments seem to relax and become themselves and don't have to worry about
where is the time. They'll be able to dance through our rhythm zone."
Bassist Sonny Boyardee had this to say; "Slim and I have worked together off and on for over 20 years. It's just a matter of time
that you get to know each other's sensitivities. This time is the first time we've played together in over five years. Then you go
back and it just makes it that much more comfortable. I've played in a lot of different things. I've played in blues for almost 30
years. I think we look for all kinds of things. I'm pretty much comfortable with many things. I want to create a comfortable place for
Al and Robbie and be authentic to the style we're playing whether it's gospel or blues."
Keyboardist Louis Pain says: “I’m really ensemble oriented. My goal is always to play something that will make the whole sound
better. I listen for something that will fit with what everyone else is doing and will help the singer tell his story. It’s like in baseball:
Hit ‘em where they ain’t. If the guitar player is playing something, then it’s probably not necessary for me to play the same thing.
In particular, I never want to compete with the lead voice or instrumental. In the case of Big Al’s band, the group sounds great
when I don’t play a note, so that makes my job easy. I just listen for wherever I can embellish. I think the sidemen starting with
Robbie are all excellent and Big Al’s enthusiasm is infectious. I think the audience can sense that Al is a genuinely a nice guy
who loves performing and making music.”
Big Al Carter has a vision and a plan. Carter is getting big time recognition with his big time band of hired guns and his big time
show! With Big Al, there are only big things to come. Make a point of getting out there and catching one of his shows and
experiencing what a big time entertainer and showman Carter really is. You'll be convinced!!
You can see more of Carter at his website www.bigalcarter.com, his ad and Bandstand this issue.