Clarence Carter taught himself to play guitar while attending the Alabama School for the Blind in Talladega. This Alabama music maker, a rhythm and blues singer from Montgomery, still performs at age 83.
Carter is best known for his 1970 hit “Patches,” about a boy who was forced to care for his family after his father died, which the child does by working the fields and continuing his education. Carter didn’t grow up on a farm and never worked the fields, but he was so convincing many listeners thought he was telling the story of his life. His 1980s hit “Strokin'” is also a fan favorite.
His earliest releases were with Clarence Thomas: They were known as “C and C Boys.” The blind duo made seven singles. When Thomas suffered serious injuries in a car accident in 1966, Carter became a solo act.
In the late ’60s, he became a hitmaker at FAME Studios, where in addition to “Patches” he recorded the popular “Slip Away” and “Too Weak To Fight.” He received a degree in music at Alabama State University.
Carter said he used to have a lot of fun recording in Muscle Shoals, where Percy Sledge also recorded. “Sledge woke up a lot of eyes to black artists with ‘When a Man Loves a Woman,’” Carter said. “Back in the day, when he would sing it to an audience, they would stand up like it was the national anthem.”
Music was not his first love. “I wanted to teach school,” Carter said. “I admire teachers because they have to have so much patience.” He views his job as a musician as much easier than teaching.
Singer-songwriter Ray Charles was one of Carter’s first musical idols. He also was influenced by Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gay, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and Robert Clifford Brown, known professionally as Washboard Sam.
Carter continues singing regularly to his base in the South as well as internationally. He enjoys performing but says, “If I ever gets to the point where I don’t enjoy it, I won’t get on stage anymore.”