Born: March 27, 1905 in Nashville TN
Died: April 29, 1935 in Indianapolis IN
Bluesman Leroy Carr wasn’t known as a great vocalist, or even as an overly talented pianist, and although he developed an intelligent songwriting style, it's unlikely that he would have been as influential as he has been without the contributions of his musical partner, guitarist Scrapper Blackwell. The two men's talents meshed together almost perfectly, and brought the blues out of the farms and juke-joints of the Mississippi Delta into the big cities of the Midwest.
The urbane style of blues created by Carr and Blackwell pointed the way to the future, appealing to a more sophisticated audience, and can definitely be considered an important precursor to the Chicago blues sound of the late-1940s and 1950s.
How Long, How Long Blues
Born in Nashville, Carr moved with his family first to Louisville, Kentucky and then to Indianapolis, Indiana as a child. Carr began playing piano as a teen, and he was in his mid-teens when the self-taught musician hit the road, playing parties and dances while working odd jobs like the circus, even working as a bootlegger for a while.
Carr's fortunes improved when he met guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in 1928. The two men found an instant musical chemistry and began performing together, eventually signing with Vocalion Records. Their first record together was Carr's original "How Long, How Long Blues," which became a massive hit and kicked off a successful seven-year relationship that resulted in several hit songs that would become blues standards.
Blues Before Sunrise
The bluesy piano style of Carr, matched with Blackwell's jazz-inflected, complex fretwork, would result in dozens of collaborations, songs like "Mean Train Blues," "Blues Before Sunrise," "Prison Bound Blues," and "Mean Mistreater Mama" leading the way towards a more urban-oriented style of blues. The pair's popular records would influence an entire generation of bluesmen, and figure directly in the playing style of artists like Otis Spann, T-Bone Walker, and Pinetop Perkins.
Leroy Carr experienced a degree of success that other blues artists would never achieve. His high-flying lifestyle and heavy drinking would kill the pianist in 1935 at the age of 30, however, at the commercial heights of his career. His skills as a songwriter and influence as a recording artist is immeasurable, and Carr would be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1982.
Recommended Albums: Carr's discography is a confused one, with many variations featuring the same songs, and in varying quality. Wolf Records How Long, How Long Blues is a fine compilation album with 23 tracks, including many of the hits. If you like piano blues and can find a copy of Whiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave, the two-CD collection includes all 40 songs recorded by Carr and Blackwell.