Uptown Crucial 45 – Carl Carlton

Diego Artea

Carl Carlton “Don’t Walk Away b/w Hold on a Little Longer”

In the last post, I mentioned how Rufus Thomas’s answer to “Hound Dog” almost bankrupted Sun Records thanks to a big ol’ lawsuit from Don Robey, the track’s original “credited” songwriter. I’ll explain why I caveated that in just a bit. I mention this here because Robey ran one of my absolute favorite Texas labels: Back Beat

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A subsidiary of Robey’s Duke/Peacock labels, Back Beat was headquartered in the heart of Houston’s Fifth Ward neighborhood, and it’s probably most famous for being the engine behind Roy Head’s absolutely swingin’ “Treat Her Right.” The label also recorded folks like O.V. Wright and Carl Carlton, performer of today’s crucial track “Hold on a Little Longer.”

As I hinted at before, “Diamond” Don Robey was a rather dichotomous character. On the one hand, he was one of the first black record moguls in the country—founding Peacock around ten years before Berry Gordy kicked off Motown. He was also, however, a literal gangster.

“Robey didn’t know a record from a hubcap,” said Evelyn Johnson, who music writer Michael Corcoran described as the actual “brains and the backbone behind the Duke/Peacock music business empire of the ’50s and ’60s.”  

But thanks to his connections with the Houston mob, what Robey did have was money and guns, and he was not afraid to use the latter to get the former. For example, let’s revisit “Hound Dog.” A very young Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote and produced the track for Big Mama Thornton, who provided plenty of improvised bits to really make it hers. 

Recorded in Los Angeles with Johnny Otis and his band, Robey likely added zero creative contributions to the track. I’ll give you one guess as to what name was listed as primary songwriter when the “Hound Dog” single dropped and became a massive hit. Robey wasn’t a total dirtbag. Thornton also got a songwriting credit. Leiber and Stoller did get the last laugh when they were credited on Elvis’s even more successful version of the song. 

Sticking his name in the credits where it didn’t belong was basically Diamond Don’s primary business model—well, that and the aforementioned tendency towards firearms as a negotiating tactic.

It didn’t always work. “When he pulled [a gun] on me, he got the shit whupped out of him,” said legendary blues man Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. “I tore his ass up.”


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