Joe Carter

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One of the truly great unsung heroes of the Chicago club scene of the 1950s, Joe Carter was a slide-playing twin disciple of Elmore James and Muddy Waters. Born in Georgia, Carter came under the early…
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One of the truly great unsung heroes of the Chicago club scene of the 1950s, Joe Carter was a slide-playing twin disciple of Elmore James and Muddy Waters. Born in Georgia, Carter came under the early tutelage of local player Lee Willis, who showed the youngster various tunings and how to use a thumb pick. Arriving in Chicago by 1952, Joe made a beeline to the area's club scene to see his idols Muddy Waters and Elmore James. It was Muddy who lent Carter the money to purchase his first electric guitar. Shortly thereafter, Joe started up his first group with guitarist Smokey Smothers and Lester Davenport on harmonica, quickly establishing himself as a club favorite throughout Chicago.

Sadly, Carter never recorded with this group -- or any other configuration -- during his heyday. A contract with Cobra Records was offered (with a young Freddie King being added in the studio to his regular group), but Joe declined, as he felt the money would in no way equal what he was pulling down in club work. This was a true shame and a moment of blues history forever lost, as Carter didn't end up being documented until he returned to active playing in the '70s, recording his lone solo album, Mean & Evil Blues, for the Barrelhouse label in 1976. The intervening years hadn't changed his approach one bit, still full of biting guitar and hoarse, shouted vocals over a bedrock simple foundation.

The hoarseness of the vocals, unfortunately, was a portent of the future, as Carter retired from playing in the late '80s after a bout with throat cancer. The bluesman died in Chicago in 2001. Joe Carter clearly worked in the mode of Elmore and Muddy -- seldom contributing much in the way of original material -- but it was all delivered with a passion that was 100 percent genuine, easily making him an emblematic figure of '50s-style Chicago blues in its heyday.