… and Carl Carlton has had quite a few of them. The musician and songwriter is at home all over the world, a dynamic cosmopolitan just like his mascot, the one-eyed dog, symbol for the homeless adventurers, inspired by the movie, „The Flight of the Phoenix“, starring James Stewart. „Guitar-slinger“ songwriter Carlton, born in Frisia, North Germany, raised on a farm, on the road since his early youth, managed to make his name as an extraordinarily talented and internationally renowned musician.
At the age of 17, infected with Soul and Rhythm & Blues, he left home for good and moved to the Netherlands, where, he signed up with rock bands like Herman Brood, Long Tall Ernie & the Shakers and most successful with Vitesse who scored a pile of Top Ten hits in the early 80s. A little later he moved over to New York invited to play with Mink DeVille, who recruited him during a tour in Holland. From there he then stopped over in London working for Manfred Mann’s Earthband and returned to play in Germany in the late 80s, working with German stars like Udo Lindenberg, Trio’s Stephan Remmler, Nina Hagen, Peter Maffay, George Kranz and Wolfgang Niedecken.
With a circle of fellow Dutch musicians he formed a band named „New Legend“ in 1989. They recorded 2 critically acclaimed albums for RCA, but a clash of egos made this formation a shortlived one. From 1993 until 2009 Carl has lived in Dublin, Ireland together with his former wife Natasha, incidentally the artist responsible for the wonderful paintings on the Songdogs album covers, and their kids, Keanu, Jessica and Max. (Natasha and Carl seperated in 2005. Nevertheless she will continue to produce her popular artwork for the Songdogs).
Carl finally had his coming-out with his very first solo album in 2001, „Revolution Avenue“ and the successful follow-up „Love & Respect“ released in 2003. Perhaps „The Songdogs“ would have never seen the light of day, were it not for Robert Palmer, who adjured Carlton to eventually start his very own career and finally record his material. Carl had worked with Robert since 1994. (With Palmer’s death in October 2003, Carl has lost a true and faithful friend and collaborationist, but above all a teacher, brother and mentor.)
Truly a rocking and rolling globe-traveller, Carlton has an impressive list of international stars on this agenda. He produced, wrote and played with the likes of Robert Palmer, Joe Cocker, Jimmy Barnes, Keb Mo, Eric Burdon, Willy De Ville, Alannah Myles, Paul Young, The Fun Loving Criminals, Simple Minds, Amanda Marshall, Yothu Yindi to name but a few.
The first Songdogs recording session took place in Louisiana’s Dockside Studios, down in the heart of the swamps, during September 2000. If the southerly atmosphere of the album stirs you up to listen, wait till you’ve read the credits! A choice of great musicians who made American rock history: there’s slide-guitarist Sonny Landreth, known for his work with John Hiatt and the Goners, keyboarder Ian McLagan (Small Faces, Rolling Stones), Carl’s true heroes, Levon Helm (drums) and Garth Hudson (keyboards) of The Band, Jon Smith (sax) and Steve Howard (trumpet) known as Edgar Winter’s Legendary White Trash Horns and of course, inevitable Robert Palmer on background vocals and percussion. Then, with a bang, there is the core of the Songdogs, Wyzard (bass) and Moses Mo (guitar), both members of Atlanta’s funk rock sensation Mothers Finest, Dion Murdock (drums) and Pascal Kravetz (organ, piano, clavinet, Wurlitzer). Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, who happens to be a pal of Carl’s, living in the Dublin vicinity, helped out with 2 songs, „Breath on me“ and „I can feel the fya“. He also suggested and introduced Mac and Bobby Keys to Carl. Both have played with the Songdogs ever since. (Bobby joined the Songdogs on their first tour in 2001).
The atmosphere reflected in Carlton’s „Revolution Avenue“, is reminiscent of the spirit that made The Band a personification of American rock, their ability to express a whole generation’s hopes, dreams and fears, their feeling of homelessness and loss, of being disoriented and at the same time ready to go, The 13 tracks offer a bright collection of what makes the heart of American rock music, a truly traditional and wide-ranging masterpiece of Americana. An album that through to the smallest details breathes the odyssey of its author, who has managed to focus his musical passions.
No surprise that the album features a Robert Johnson song „From Four To Late“, and a never before released „God’s Gift To Man“ by Tom Petty. But, most importantly, Carlton himself proves to be a versatile and interesting songwriter. If you like saddle-proof shuffles, funky „Little Featish“ grooves or down-to-earth Rolling-Stones-style rock, this is your record. But there’s also room for that Mississippi-Delta Blues and the „second-line“ New Orleans-sound. „Revolution Avenue“ leads straight to your heart and soul – no detours, no prisoners.
No wonder, considering the all-star line-up, but it does seem like a miracle that a European musician should be able to spiritualize this cultural heritage so immaculately. It’s been a long way for Carl to walk his „Revolution Avenue“, but every step of it has been worthwhile when he sings „Coming Home“, you can feel his sensitivity, determination and at the same time his vulnerable soul creep through the speakers into your heart. In 2001/2, after launching their first album, the band toured intensively in Europe building up a steady growing following, revelling in their first chart success and rave reviews. The economic factor was of course supplanted by their fierce enthusiasm as if they still were reeling in their teens, far from being sensible family men. (manager’s statement)
Carl knew this would be a hardroad and endurance was the word of the hour in times of push-button-drums, artificial sounds and a music business in rapid decline and turmoil. In 2003 Carl teamed up again with Robert Palmer, whom he persuaded to contribute a song to a Robert Johnson tribute album (Grammy nominated), featuring Taj Mahal, Hubert Sumlin, B.B. King amongst others, after being asked by producer John Snyder who outed himself as a big Songdogs and Palmer fan. Robert and Carl delivered a breathtaking „Milk Cow Calf’s Blues“, stripped to just a groove, Robert’s vocal and Carl’s slide guitar Robert craved for more .. a year later „Drive“ was released, a musical masterpiece entering the Billboard Blues Top Ten, attended by overwhelming reviews worldwide and was also nominated for a Grammy.
(Besides his own albums, Carl rates this album „Drive“ his personal guitar masterpiece.) Carl Carlton and the Songdogs regrouped in November 2002 back at Dockside Studios in Lafayette Louisiana, pockets full of songs, ready to record their second blast. Again the Songdogs deliver relentlessly that musical Mississippi Delta Music-GumboRock’n Roll, a sprinkling of Rhythm & Blues with a touch of Country and Reggae. Trademark Songdogs at its finest! The same line-up as the first session except Bobby Keys, just coming off the Stones Licks Tour, joined them for the first time in the studio after already sharing the stage on their first tour.
Carl, besides his love for Reggae and everything that grooves, also being an „alternative“ country music and pedal steel fanatic, found a fundamental contribution in Richard Comeaux (pedal steel). Levon and Sonny teamed up again, so did Jon Smith and Steve Howard. The wonderful voice of Charlene Howard which decorated Revolution Avenue so marvellously, got a partner in rising star, EMI singer Shannon McNally from New Orleans. Robert Palmer again arranged and delivered stunning ethnic choruseson the title track „Love, Understanding and Respect“. And famous German soul/rap vocalist Xavier Naidoo guested on vocals released in May 2003 the album stood the test of expectations fuelled by its predecessor. Carl and the Songdogs hit the the road again in Summer 2003. In order to reproduce the sounds of Love and Respect he recruited pedal-steel, mandoline and steel-player Martin Huch, who fit like a glove in the new Songdogs line-up. When Carl’s old buddy Bertram Engel lent his drumming skills to a Udo Lindenberg production and tour, Wayne P. Sheehy another of Carl’s Irish mates and known as drummer for Ron Wood and Hothouse Flowers jumped in and took over as timekeeper and fun-raiser.
A warm welcome to Martin and Wayne, true Songdogs! Unfortunately due to his extreme and exhausting work-schedule Carl suffered a breakdown at the end of this tour in front of an audience and running TV cameras.
A few weeks later in the thick of promoting the „Drive“ album together with Carl, Robert Palmer passed away. Carl now was devistated losing a dear friend, stopped in his tracks, more than ready for a break, but not before he fulfilled his obligation as musical director to the successful Musical Event „Tabaluga“ in November/December. The Songdogs completed the „Cahoots & Roots Tour“ with ripping performances in February, closing this episode with the legendary „Rockpalace“ TV Show in Germany and in September 2005 a rambunctious „Beat Club“ performance. A complex double album consisting of one disc live and a second filled with special performances, featuring Robert Palmer with his very last live-appearance, the Songdogs backing him on a couple of smoking tunes.
In 2005 he also completed a much acclaimed album with Eric Burdon (Soul of a man, SPV)produced by Tony Braunagel in Johnny Lee Schell’s studio in LA. (Hutch Hutchinson-bass, Ivan Neville-clavinet/organ, Mike Finnigan-organ/piano, Johnny Lee Schell and Carl Carlton-guitars) Carl toured as a member of Eric Burdon & The Animals behind Eric’s new album in Europe and North America.
Carl’s love for writing movie soundtracks continues with the German blockbuster „Der Wixxer“in 2006 . Besides the score he produces two songs with English Ska legends Madness (remake: It must be love …) and the single Ghost Face Killer with The Dead60s from Liverpool. 2006/07 he finishes the score for TV Documentaries „Damals in der DDR“ and „Napoleon and the Germans“ rewarded with the highest German TV Award the „Grimme Preis“
He joins Damien Dempsey’s (six times winner of the Irish „Meteor Awards“ , „Best Folk Act“ und „Best Irish Male“) tour of Ireland and performs with Paul Young.
His son talented singer/songwriter Max Buskohl’s band „Empty Trash“ is signed by EMI . Carl together with swedish producer-team Pelle Gunnarfeldt (The Hives) and Patrik Berger produce his first chart breaking album „Confessions“. In 2008 Carl travels to Atlanta, LA and Yoshua Tree CA, to finish writing for a new Songdogs coup, long overdue. In Eric Burdon’s desert retreat he finds the peace of mind after a four year mental and physical „roller coaster ride“ to round off his deepest and most precious tunes so far. Levon Helm who appeared on all Songdogs albums, grew a true friend through the years and more than once invited Carl to work at and visit his house and studio in Woodstock NY.
There, Carl and the Songdogs find a new treasured home and record „Songs For The Lost And Brave“. They not only refined but found their true Songdogs sound-identity with this outstanding album. The line up is again the Songdogs-core Wyzard on bass, Moses Mo on guitars, Pascal Kravetz working the keyboards and sensational new member, Woodstock homeboy Zack Alford (David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, B52s a. o.) on drums and the amazing engineer/producer Justin Guip, who is Levon’s right hand on all occasions. They are joined by Klaus Voormann who plays bass on two tunes and stays for the duration of their Woodstock visit. Of course their generous host Levon Helm adds his drumskills, Larry Campbell plays the mandoline and Tracy Chapmann hooks up with her fiddle. No wonder this record is showered with raving reviews after it’s release in october 2008.
The Songdogs tour Europe behind their new album. Carl „invents“ The Funk ‚n’ Roll Tour. Wyzard’s and Mo’s band, the legendary funk crew Mothers Finest, joins the Songdogs for some mindblowing, intensively rocking shows . Carl and his son Max are invited to participate in the recording and filming of the documentary „Journey of a sideman“ presenting Klaus Voormann’s incredible career. Carl on guitar and Max on lead vocal re-record „You’re sixteen“ with Klaus, Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner and Vandyke Parks (a. o.). His new friendship with Vandyke Parks leads Carl to join him on one of his rare concerts. In Berlin, Carl can’t hide a tear when he elegantly decorates „Sailin’ Shoes“ with his slide guitar.
Carl reunites with Udo Lindenberg and Peter Maffay for tour and record. He also starts to work on a Paul Young comeback album in London and Munich in 2010.
During the last 25 years Carl was a regular face on world wide music television, wether it was the Jools Holland and David Letterman Show with Robert Palmer, Rockpalast in Germany with his very own band The Songdogs, Taratata in Paris with Eric Burdon, the opening of the Olympic games with Udo Lindenberg, touring and producing with Jimmy Barnes in New Zealand and Australia, Top of the Pops, Old Grey Whistle Test, The White Room in England, legendary Beat Club, Later With Jools Holland, Jay Leno Show and, and……………..
PART 2 …and the Beat goes on:
Carl Carlton’s road to “Lights Out in Wonderland” was a long, rocky, adventurous journey filled with highlights, glorious achievements, countless encounters and certainly many a detour and circumstances of hardship. Long-standing and inspiring friendships with two of the greatest figures in history of rock, inspired Carl to create this album – Levon Helm, singer and drummer of the legendary The Band and Robert Palmer.
Both of them inspired Carl to aim his talent and amazing energy not only towards playing guitar side by side with international stars such as Willy De Ville, Paul Young, Nina Hagen, Eric Burdon, Joe Cocker, Jimmy Barnes, Garland Jeffreys among others, but also to realize his own musical vision. As a consequence and encouraged by his brotherly friend Robert Palmer, Carl created his own band: Carl Carlton and the Songdogs. Together they played music influenced by his passion for the British blues innovation of the 60s, bands such as the Rolling Stones, Kinks, Small Faces and of course U.S. legends such as The Meters, Little Feat and The Band.
The founding members of the band along with Carl were Wyzard and Moses Mo (Mother’s Finest), as well as idols such as Ian McLagan (Small Faces), Bobby Keys (Rolling Stones), Sonny Landreth, Steve Howard (The Wings), Jon Smith (Edgar Winter) and of course Levon Helm. Together with the Songdogs, Carl acquired a reputation of a very exciting, charming and passionate life performer.
It was in Levon Helm’s studio, an old barn in the mythical Woodstock, NY, that Carlton also produced „Toast To Freedom“, a song he co-wrote with Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris) for the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International. Side by side Bono Vox and Bob Geldof among others, Carlton was and is actively engaged in the human rights organization performing the role of its Musical Director.
For the production of ‘Toast to Freedom” Carlton invited over 50 well-known musicians from around the world, including Levon Helm and his The Band mate Garth Hudson, Kris Kristofferson, Carly Simon, Angelique Kidjo, Ewan McGregor, Donald Fagen, Marianne Faithfull, Warren Haynes, Keb Mo, Eric Burdon, Taj Mahal, Florent Pagny, Jane Birkin, Jimmy Barnes, Rosanne Cash, Shawn Mullins, The Blind Boys Of Alabama and many others. A few days before Amnesty International released the song in early May of 2012, Levon Helm passed away from cancer.
Again a death of a longtime companion, mentor and close friend left Carlton in the middle of an existential personal and creative crisis. Wondering how to keep on keeping on contributing to a digital world of unsubstantially music mass productions, he lost his way for – a …“lunch – time”. As a sensitive and creative soul, a human rights activist, Carlton is and was of course always engaged in the woes and joys of a world tending to go wrong.
Carl: “There is a quote in a Woody Guthrie song, “Lights Out in Wonderland”. Hearing it for the first time it stuck in my head ringing like tinnitus. The human stain, delirious obsession for money – followed by relentless pursuit of total power, religious madness, corruption hand in hand with staged wars, controlled by “Wonderland”, joint leverage of the so called civilized world! What happened to the righteous values, human rights, love and respect? But hold on, there are still faint glimmers of humanity in this barbaric slaughterhouse. All the modest, humble, honest and insignificant mavericks, sly outsiders, romantic philosophers, rascals and rebels with a human cause who live in these songs reflect my unyielding faith. Can you hear the most powerful dreadful sound ever- it hurts doesn’t it? That is the terrible silence of the masses. So here comes an unconditional calling for civil obedience before the lights go out forever not just in Wonderland. A modest warning, that is. – I wish I could be louder!”
Fortunately however, Carlton is not so easily intimidated. His curious and questioning soul learned to channel this unstoppable energy towards creativity and self-discovery. Besides his rock and blues soul, it turns out Carlton also has a lyrical heart. Even though it took him longer to realize and accept his own lyrical talent, his friends Robert, Levon and Van Dyke Parks continuously encouraged his song writing, giving him fair feedback, advise and praise. Thus, his confidence grew, bringing his own lyrics, along with the music, to form the basis for a new, deep, melodic album.
Along his own tunes and lyrics, Carl lined up a number of other songs which marked him since his youth and which fit perfectly in the ensemble. A great example is Warren Zevon’s ‘Mutineer”, which according to Carlton, never got the recognition it deserved. Ultimately, this album is dedicated to all those places, people, experiences and events, which have inspired and influenced Carlton. It is a journey through- and a reflection of Carl’s own past and present.
“Lights Out in Wonderland” takes its title from DBC Pierre’s novel with the same name, as well as from one line from a song from Woody Guthrie.
The music on the album draws from moments that go back to Carl’s earliest youth, when he regularly accompanied his father to the cattle market, taking the chance to play a game of cards at the local pub. It is there, in the lowlands of East Friesland, where he first saw a jukebox and heard hit singles by Ray Charles, Lee Dorsey and Big Mama Thornton. Further elements followed to what will later be known as Carl’s ‘Road to Freedom”: the encounter with Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and the black and white TV in his parent’s house would open his eyes over the vastness of the Mississippi. Carl was “infested” with enthusiasm for a land and its music: Louisiana, New Orleans and the sound of the American South, this melting pot in which Delta blues, country, Cajun and Soul meet through its African roots. No wonder that Carlton’s first SongDogs albums were all recorded at Dockside Studios in Maurice, a small delta town close to Lafayette, Louisiana. Speaking of roots – Carl Carlton is a true Roots-Man and an obsessive music connoisseur.
He became enthusiastic about the Appalachian Mountains wild folk when he was still playing with his first band: The Emsland Hillbillies, who would perform covers by Bill Monroe, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker and Johnny Cash. Further, in the role of the leading guitarist of the Dutch Enfant Terrible Herman Brood and with the successful band Vitesse, Carlton saw the raw, dirty rock and roll. It got even rougher after Carlton moved to New York and played in Willy de Ville’s band, getting influenced by N.Y.’s New Wave and Tex Mex elements.
The connection to the blues of the American South constantly accompanied him and eventually led him to his African roots, with gratitude to his “lecturer” Robert Palmer, whom he dubs a „music professor“. All of these elements, together with his untamed curiosity and firing passion led to the creation of “Lights Out in Wonderland”, leaving their mark on the album whether in the choice of the very special cover versions or in Carl’s own creations. „Rock’n’Roll Gypsies“ for instance, comes from the unjustly forgotten singer-songwriter Roger Tillison, which Carl Carlton discovered on the solo album of the revered Taj Mahal guitarist Jesse „Ed“ Davies; „Sailin ‚Shoes“ formerly recorded by Little Feat and is part of the repertoire of his friend Van Dyke Parks; or ” Mutineer“ – which is the title track of his favorite album by Warren Zevon. Carl’s own compositions retell his story through songs such as „Lucky Bet“ (composed jointly with Robert Palmer), “Sailin ‚Shoes“ – where the African elements are most present or “Invincible,“ a song written by his son Max Buskohl, about the juvenile rebelliousness of Kerouac’s „On The Road“ and which recalls a little the British folk-rock pioneers Stealers Wheel.
“Little Men in the Radio” is essentially a tale from his childhood, when his grandmother and father would tell him “…there sits a little man in the radio, or if you lie, your tongue will turn black, or all clergy and politicians go to heaven after they die. The song is more all less about this bullshit I was indoctrinated throughout my life. If you grow up deep in the countryside like me, you are somehow almost bound to believe all that they tell you. In the end however, we learn the truth by our own experiences, curiosity and watchful vigilant disobedience. You have to learn to let go of this prejudices and dangerous pseudo sciences in order to be open to unselfish love and sincere friendships.”
The album reflects this experience. Each song – be it written by him or not – has its own characters to tell a story. And they certainly don’t surrender but instead rebel against the imposed so called “rules of life”. The title “Lights Out in Wonderland” might suggest a pessimist vibe, however it is as far from this as possible. It is more about getting up and not giving up. It involves the critical civil disobedience without which no democracy or coexistence is possible.
The whole album is like a mosaic of interesting characters that fight for their dreams and existences.
Some of the songs were recorded in Levon Helm’s studio, however the biggest part of the recording was done at Temple Studios, on Malta’s smaller island sister Gozo, which is Carl’s new adopted home besides Woodstock NY. Side by side with Carl, an eclectic group of musicians with different backgrounds collaborated together to create the album: percussionist and drummer Wayne P. Sheehy (Damien Dempsey, Ronnie Wood, Peter Gabriel), Pascal Kravetz (Udo Lindenberg, Robert Palmer, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Barnes) and Yoyo Roehm (Gunter Hampel Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Jackie Liebezeit).The recording was led by the illustrious producer David Vella. Other renown and talented artists contributed to the album: Larry Campbell, Levon Helm (✝), Zachary Alford, Klaus Voormann and Karen Coleman among others.
Carl Carlton is a worldwide respected guitarist and producer. He celebrated numerous national and international awards and successes. Carl’s personality shines and continues to radiate across the numerous roles he has engaged in: be it on stage, in studio, or in collaboration with artists worldwide.
All 4 albums so far are a „must-have“, made by an extremely likeable Artist who has both his feet firmly on the ground and whose love of music is so inspiring that both musicians and audience are „committed“ to him.