James Carr, the 1960s soul singer who recorded the definitive version of the much-covered "The Dark End of the Street" (RealAudio excerpt), died of cancer Sunday in a Memphis nursing home. He was 58.
"That's the only version of 'Dark End of the Street' I listen to," said Dan Penn, who wrote the song with Chips Moman. "I know everybody's going to miss old James. He had something nobody else had, kind of a haunting sound."
Born in Memphis on June 13, 1942, Carr also sang "You've Got My Mind Messed Up" (RealAudio excerpt), whose title seemed to sum up his emotionally troubled life and career. Although animated on record, Carr would freeze up onstage. And when his Memphis label, Goldwax, disappeared in 1969, so did Carr.
"I just liked that soulful voice, man," said Quinton Claunch, the former Goldwax head who also produced Carr's 1994 album, Soul Survivor, for his current label, Soultrax.
"He had a heart as big as a mountain, and I never heard him say anything bad about anyone. He had some problems. We all do, but he had some really serious health problems that held him back mental problems. And he wouldn't take his medication like he was supposed to."
Carr, who also played tenor saxophone, could move from the elegant despair of the 1967 hit "The Dark End of the Street" (also recorded by Percy Sledge, Linda Ronstadt and Penn himself) to the gospel fire of "Pouring Water on a Drowning Man" (revived by Elvis Costello), to the impassioned, Otis Redding-styled R&B of "You've Got My Mind Messed Up."
Carr made a surprise reappearance, along with the Goldwax label, in 1990. The singer recorded Take It to the Limit with Claunch, who has packaged some of that album along with Soul Survivor, plus five bonus tracks recorded in 1994, as 24 Karat Soul. That album, on Select-o-Hits, is due January 23.