Carl Carlton is an American artist who sings R&B, soul and funk. Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1953, he started his career during the 1960s when he was still a kid. In 1968, he signed a contract with Back Beat Records, after which he moved to Texas. His single for Back Beat, “Competition Ain’t Nothin'” became his first charting single. In the early 70s music era, he achieved his biggest hit with “Everlasting Love,” which became a Top 10 pop hit single and oldies music classic. But after that, he was only having mostly minor hits during the 1980s and 1990s. He released his first gospel outing entitled “God Is Good” in 2010.
Early life and career
R&B/soul/funk singer-songwriter Carl Carlton was born in Detroit, Michicgan on May 21, 1953.
A neighbor, who heard the young Carlton singing, was impressed with kid’s soulful voice so the neighbor took him to Lando Records. The label later bestowed him as Little Carl Carlton, a marketing ruse to take advantage on Carlton’s vocal likeness to Stevie Wonder. His very first recordings for the label were “I Love True Love,” “So What” and “Don’t You Need a Boy Like Me.”
Stint with Back Beat Records, and biggest hit with “Everlasting Love”
In 1968, Carlton was signed to Back Beat Records, a move which prompted him to move to Houston, Texas, to be nearer to his new label. Back Beat released his single titled “Competition Ain’t Nothin'” which gave him his first charting hit at #75 on the Billboard Hot 100. It became far more popular with the Northern soul scene in the UK.
Carlton went on to have minor hits for Back Beat such as “46 Drums – 1 Guitar,” “Look at Mary Wonder,” “Don’t Walk Away,” “Drop by My Place,” “I Can Feel It”/”You’ve Got So Much (To Learn About Love),” “I Won’t Let that Chump Break Your Heart,” and “You Can’t Stop a Man in Love.”
Finally in 1974, Carlton achieved his biggest his disco-fied cover of Robert Knight’s “Everlasting Love,” written by Buzz Cayson and Mac Gayden, “Everlasting Love” reached its peak position at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also went to #4 on the Billboard dance singles chart, #15 on the adult contemporary chart, and just a shy away from making it to the R&B singles chart. Carlton’s version was produced by Nashville’s Papa Don Schroeder (who also produced “I’m Your Puppet” by Bobby and James Purify).
“Everlasting Love” was also the title track of Carlton’s album, which reached #22 on the Billboard R&B albums chart and #132 on the Billboard 200. It was produced by Bob Monaco, who also handled the works of Rufus and Three Dog Night.
Carlton moved to Mercury Records in 1977 but managed to release only one single there. For many years Carlton was without a recording contract until Leon Haywood came to his rescue by getting him a contract to 20th Century label.
Haywood wrote a song “She’s a Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked)” for Carlton. It became a major hit, peaking at #2 on the R&B singles chart and #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981. His performance in his song garnered him a nomination from the Grammy Awards in the category of Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male. The single’s album Carl Carlton went to #3 on the R&B albums chart and #34 on the Billboard 200, as well as became certified gold.
However, after that Carlton was unable to follow it up with another big hit and only score several minor chart-placers. After he released his 1985 LP Private Property, it took him almost a decade before he returned with a new album Main Event, which went unnoticed.
In 2002 Carlton appeared on the PBS series American Soundtrack, whose accompanying album (released in 2004) included his biggest hit “Everlasting Love.” In 2010 Carlton issued his very first gospel song “God Is Good.” Reports circulated that Carlton is currently recording for his latest album.
Did you know?
- Carl Carlton was discovered as a promising singer while playing baseball. Carlton’s neighbor had it one day for kids in the neighborhood playing too much baseball while playing loud music from the radio. The neighbor shouted to the kids to stop playing with the ball and turn off the radio. Kids called that the voice was not from the radio but Carl himself. Astonished, the neighbor ran down to confirm what was heard and took Carlton to Lando Records.
- Carl’s voice was also heard in clubs. Carlton had some previous experience singing in church and started singing in choirs. Also, his voice was familiar in club halls where his brothers sneaked him into singing for tips. When he rose to popularity, aside from touring or recording in the US, he sometimes sang at Robey’s golf club, the Duke Peacock. It was also the name of Robey’s additional label.
- “Little Carl” became Carlton’s famous name and was a marketing ploy about Stevie Wonder, establishing a vocal similarity between the two. Plus, they both came from Detroit. Eventually, Carl carved his fame with his popular song “I Love True Love,” which characteristically conveyed the concept of romantic love and was popular with lovers worldwide. This was followed by another hit single titled “Competition Ain’t Nothing,” This single started to happen for the young Carlton. Thanks to this album, Back Beat Records included him as part of their label.
- Carl Carlton decided not to record any songs between 1975 and 1977. He had to make this decision due to licensing issues with the Backbeat Record Label and ABC. Backbeat was sold to ABS in 1973; thus, some royalties-related problems still needed to be solved. Carlton released a few more albums throughout the ’80s but had only minor R&B hits, eventually falling out of record labels and the public eye. Also, while Carl Carlton was an outstanding artist but has never won an award. However, his excellent performance in `She’s A Bad Mama Jama’ (She’s Built, She’s Stacked) in 1982 earned a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male Nomination 1982.