Gary James' Interview With
Mel Carter

He was discovered by Quincy Jones and signed to Mercury Records. But it wasn't Quincy Jones that provided him with his first hit record. It was Sam Cooke who signed him to Derby Records and "When A Boy Falls In Love" followed, which charted in England and hit number one on the West Coast of the U.S. Another chart-topper followed, a song called "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me". And it wasn't long before Dick Clark came calling and offered him a spot on his Caravan Of Stars tour with other stars of the day, including Tom Jones and Sonny and Cher.

We are talking of course about Mel Carter.

Q - You write in your bio that timeless classic "Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me" is played on the radio a least once a day somewhere around the world." How do you know that?

A - Because I got the charts from the B.M.I. listings. They list form all the countries around the world. Not only that, I get e-mails from I know places that are possibly playing, like Iraq or Iran, Egypt. From all over the world. It amazes me. That's how I know that.

Q - What is that, a monthly report?

A - No. It's a quarterly thing that they send you, B.M.I. for a listing of that. And then Soundscan does an accounting for downloading. There are various different agencies that keep account on that. And also looking at the royalty statements. (laughs)

Q - Did you write the song "Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me"?

A - No. Harry Nobel wrote that.

Q - How is it that it was offered to you to record?

A - The Schaff brothers, Bob Schaff was at Liberty (Records). We had some minor... I had come from Sam Cooke's (label). I had just come off of "When A Boy Falls In Love", which was huge, huge hit. It went like Top 20. And then I transformed from Derby Records (Sam Cooke's label) to Liberty / Imperial. We had chart records and then they decided to bring in that record, Bob Schaff.

Q - Sam Cooke then signed you to Derby Records?

A - Yes. Derby Records was the Pop division of SAR Records. I had the distinct pleasure of having the first hit recording, launching that label, launching his Pop label. Sam was the first Black artist, even before Motown, to have his own label.

Q - Not only his own label, but also his own publishing company and his own management company.

A - Right. The artists that were there on the label were a family of artists that Sam took pride in knowing us all.

Q - An artists having that much control over their business like Sam Cooke, was unheard of in those days.

A - Right.

Q - Which might've been the reason he checked out so early.

A - Well, there's a lot of stories connected to his death. Someday it'll all come out. Those of us that were involved in it kind of like, know what's happening. It's been one of those hush, hush things for so long. But, it's gotta come out.

Q - I take it that you know something about the death of Sam Cooke?

A - Yes.

Q - Whatever happened to this group you put together, The Corvettes? That was your Gospel group?

A - Yes. It was my mom's group, out of Cincinnati, Ohio called The Corvette Singers, which featured myself, my mother Claudia, my two cousins Donald and Ronald Fairbanks, F.E. Jennings and Delores. I can't think of Delores' last name and I can't think of the other lady that was in it.

Q - How long did that group last?

A - A pretty good while during my childhood, maybe three or four year.

Q - And then your mother dis-banded the group?

A - I don't think it was dis-banded, I think we all went our separate ways.

Q - At sixteen, you were performing with Lionel Hampton. Where was that?

A - In those days they had the theatres...showed movies and then they had stage shows on weekends. It was either the Regal Theatre or the State Theatre. But I think I was with him at the Regal Theatre.

Q - That was in what city?

A - In Cincinnati, Ohio.

Q - And then at one point, you were recording for Romar Records and managed by Bob Marcucci?

A - Yes.

Q - What happened with Bob Marcucci?

A - Well, he had a hand in managing. He didn't really manage me. I was managed by Zelda Sands. She originally ran Sam Cooke's record label. Romar Records was part of MGM, the Scotti brothers, not Ben but the younger guy. He produced the record.

Q - Tony?

A - Tony Scotti.

Q - And then you were doing those Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars tours?

A - Yes.

Q - How'd you like doing those tours? I've heard they could be very grueling.

A - Well, you know what? For me it was a ball. Not only did we get to work with each other for all those many weeks at a time, every other night we'd spend in a hotel and the other night we're on the bus riding to the hotel, to the next city. So, when you're working in that close quarters, you get to know people real well. (laughs) And we became friends and are still friends today.

Q - Who did you tour with?

A - Sonny and Cher, The Shirelles, Tom Jones, Mike Clifford, Paul Peterson. God, there were so many of them...Herman's Hermits, The Drifters, Jules Aiken, Jackie De Shannon. When I started with Dick, the record was bubbling under and it went all the way up to the Top 10. So, I had several records during the times we traveled.

Q - How many songs did you get to sing every night?

A - You had to sing three songs.

Q - What did you follow "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" up with?

A - The next record was "My Heart Sings".

Q - How far up the charts did that go?

A - I think that went Top 20. I always thought they should have released "Love Is All We Need" because in those days, when you had a hit record, you followed up by something similar to it. My next single was so dramatically different to "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me", as opposed to "Love Is All We Need", (which) was likened to "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me". There were like six or seven in a row. There was "All Of A Sudden My Heart Sings", "Love Is All We Need", You, You, You", "Band Of Gold", "Take Good Care Of Her" and that's as far as my mind will go right now.

Q - When you finished with the Dick Clark tours, did you have to work on putting a show together for a place like the Copacabana?

A - When we finished, one of the things in those days for certain artists is that when you had an album, a single, they immediately put out an album. When you became an album artist, then you moved out of that single, retro stuff and got to play the nightclubs. I played Atlantic City, Chicago, New York, L.A. at The Grove.

Q - Did you ever play a club just outside of Syracuse, N.Y. called Three Rivers Inn?

A - No. I did open for Bill Cosby in one of the theatres in the round there...near there.

Q - Did Quincy Jones, for the lack of a better word, "discover" you?

A - In 1957, I recorded with Quincy. We did an Ivory Joe Hunter song called "I Need You So". We did a whole album with Quincy that was never released. I still have the acetates here. Let's say that he signed me to Mercury Records then.

Q - Do you have the rights to release that acetate? Hearing that would be of interest to your fans.

A - Well, it would be a great thing to the fans, except on an acetate you'd probably have to pay this and go through a whole lot of other things. I was trying to get through to where Mercury Records was. I talked to Billy Eckstein's son, Mark Green, to get the tapes. That was 1957. Who knows where that stuff is?

Q - In some vault I would say.

A - Hopefully it's in the vault. But, I don't really know. I just know that I do have the acetates from that session.

Q - Wouldn't Quincy Jones know where those tapes are?

A - I don't know. Quincy has probably recorded so many people and has done so much...

Q - Were you happy with the job Mercury Records did for you?

A - At that point, I was too young to be disappointed or not disappointed. At that point in time, to be on Mercury Records, which was a big label, and to be under Quincy Jones, I was really ecstatic about it.

Q - You not only sing, but you act?

A - Yes, I've done some acting.

Q - Which of the two do you prefer?

A - Singing. It's close to theatre. You get immediate reaction from what you are doing onstage, as opposed to when you do a record or film. You have to wait until it's all done and then somebody sees it and then their response comes in. The singing, at the end of the song or sometimes during the middle of the song, onstage when your doing a theatre, you get immediate reaction. You can feel the response. You can feel the energy of the audience.

Q - Have you written songs of your own?

A - Yes.

Q - Have you recorded them?

A - Some of the songs on the B sides of the hits.

Q - What instrument do you play?

A - Nothing. In my mind I play everything. (laughs)

Q - How then do you write a song? Hum it into a tape recorder?

A - I just sing the melody. I can sing the parts that I want to it and put it all vocally and then go to a pianist and give them this and they put the chords and I can tell them whether they're right or wrong or exactly what I mean. You can write a song. You don't have to be a musician to write. I've written a Broadway show. I've been working on that for awhile. Everybody likes the idea, but the process of getting the money to mount it, that's another story. (laughs)

Q - You're still performing, I take it?

A - Yes, I'm working. I'm pretty lucky to be one of those people who are working. I'm just finishing up a new CD, or have just. Now I'm designing the cover. It's called "The Heart And Soul Of Mel Carter" I don't want to give away too much of the idea. Ideas are not copyrighted, you know what I mean?

Q - Is performing as much fun for you today as it was when you first started?

A - Yes. As much, maybe even more because it's a different time than it was then. I've learned a lot more. There's a whole lot more freedom that I can do in terms of making that lyric true and drawing you in to what I'm doing.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.