Posted: Dec 28, 2002 8:32 am
Memphis bluesman Carter earned fame in Europe
By Bill Ellis
December 27, 2002
Memphis blues veteran Levester 'Big Lucky' Carter died Tuesday. He was 82. An autopsy was planned.
Appreciated for his guitar playing, singing and his songwriting, Mr. Carter, whose scant recording history includes music on both the Sun and Hi labels, was a celebrated figure overseas for his blues authenticity.
Born in Weir, Miss., Mr. Carter made his way to Memphis after serving in the Army during World War II. He earned his "Big Lucky" sobriquet during that time for his gambling skills.
In the late '50s and early '60s, Mr. Carter performed behind his cousin, Ed 'Prince Gabe' Kirby, as a member of the Rhythmaires/Millionaires, a group that recorded a handful of songs for Sun, Savoy and other labels. Mr. Carter was hired even though he had never played in a band before, according to pianist member Lindbergh Nelson.
"He was a little shy about playing, but he finally gained confidence and he got better and better," says Nelson, who ended up playing with Mr. Carter for nearly 50 years.
Mr. Carter made six sides for the Hi label in 1969 including two singles for label subsidiary M.O.C.
It wasn't until 1998, however, that Mr. Carter, then in his late 70s, made his first album, "Lucky 13," which won a year-end readers poll for best blues CD in the French magazine Soul Bag and was honored with the prestigious Big Bill Broonzy prize for best blues CD from the French Academy of Jazz. Released on the British label Blueside, that album bolstered Mr. Carter's reputation in Europe.
Even though "Lucky 13" was never released in America, it received accolades here, including a critics' choice award in Living Blues magazine for Artist Most Deserving of Wider Recognition.
University of Memphis professor and blues scholar David Evans, who co-produced the album, says it was a special record for many reasons including the point of view that Mr. Carter brought.
"He wrote from the perspective of a senior citizen, somebody who had seen a lot, been through a lot and had good advice, good wisdom," says Evans. "He was not an old person trying to still be a young dude, as a lot of blues artists do. Lucky's songs were always reflective, and that was a very attractive quality about him."
A few years ago, French filmmaker Marc Oriol made a documentary, Big Lucky Carter, which won the Music Film Special Prize award at the 2001 Mediawave Festival in Hungary, an event that also bestowed a "Parallel Culture" Lifetime Achievement Award on him. The bluesman toured Hungary twice as a result.
Locally, Mr. Carter could be found playing at Wild Bill's, and he was a mainstay at the Center for Southern Folklore and its Memphis Music & Heritage Festival.
In 1999, Mr. Carter commented in The Commercial Appeal on making his first album so late in life by reciting a self-penned poem: "There may be sometime you'll look for me and I'll be gone/I'll be down at the river with my guitar somewhere singing a song/Maybe I won't get a note on Beale Street/Nor my name in the Hall of Fame/But you can tell from my European record/I was in the game."
Funeral arrangements and surviving family information are incomplete.