Valley Rhythms by Lola Rossi-Meza
There is a new singer in town and his name is Rob Carter. He sings with his old band mate, pianist and vocalist Denise Motto, saxophonist Doug Ledesma and me, Lola Rossi, every Thursday, from 5 until 9 p.m. in the Escena Lounge and Grill at the Escena Golf Club, 1100 Clubhouse View Drive in Palm Springs. (760) 992-0002.
Born in Detroit, Michigan and the eldest of five siblings, Rob Carter, remembers one of his favorite songs as a child. “I think I was about three years old when I started singing,” said Carter. “One of my favorite songs at the time was ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window’ by Patti Page. I would always hum songs that I heard.” His mother was a nurse and enjoyed playing the piano and singing. The family attended Church and would sing with the choir. His father was a city worker by day and trained professional boxers at night.
“I think I was about seven years old when my father took me to the boxing ring. I saw a great local fighter around nineteen years old named Sonny Boy. I didn’t realize who he was until I saw him singing on National TV. His name was really Jackie Wilson, an incredible talent.” Carter attended Wingert Elementary School and at eight years old purchased his first record album of the Broadway Musical, “Porgy and Bess” with his favorite song, “I Loves You, Porgy”. While in elementary school, his father along with the Board of Education, hired a tutor, Miss Sharp, who worked with Carter and used music and singing to help him overcome a speech impediment he was born with. This is just one more reason why music is so important to the overall well being of children.
He attended Northwestern High School located on West Grand Boulevard, only two blocks away from the Original Motown Studios, where the music never stopped. Continuing to sing in high school, Carter, along with five other students, from other areas of Michigan, shared the spot of being the number one rated tenors in the All City and All State Choirs. He studied classical music under the direction of Brazeal Dennard. While still in high school, he made the switch to R & B when he was seventeen, and was later hired for his first professional performance by the late Carolyn Franklin, Aretha Franklin’s younger sister.
After high school, Carter enlisted into the Marine Corp in 1968 where he fought in the Vietnam War for about eight months. He was sent to Guam and later Hawaii after sustaining multiple gun shot wounds leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. By the Grace of God, he started recovering after 7 months. During those years in the service, he listened to the music of the times; the Fifth Dimension, Isaac Hayes and Jose Felicino. He also loved jazz and was into Lee Morgan, Wes Montgomery and Thelonious Monk. While still in Hawaii, he started singing in bands and returned home in 1971, where he worked at various jobs, still singing, and was fortunate to work for the Board of Education for several years.
In 1975, he and several of his friends formed a well known band called Nature’s Divine. It was with this group, he performed at various colleges and clubs singing a blend of jazz, pop and R & B fusion. After leaving his full time desk job in 1978, he and the band were signed with Infinity/MCA Records. Their first album released in 1979, “In The Beginning” was sold worldwide with one of the songs, “I Just Can’t Control Myself” topping the charts and went Gold. You can hear the song on YouTube.
In 1980, he caught the attention of David Brown, the original producer and bass player for Santana. He was working on a project for Capital Records and hired Carter to sing back-up. “While the lead singer left to eat lunch, they asked me to sing. It turns out, I sang lead on the rest of the project, and made more money that day.” The album was never released, that happens sometimes in the music business, but he was very happy with the opportunities ahead.
“In my lifetime I have graced the stage with such artists as David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, the original lead singers for the Temptations. They were the voices on mostly all of their hits.” He sang back up for Marvin Gaye and after Gaye died, Carter did a world tour with Damon Harris, Richard Street and the Temptation Revue. He also worked with Ray Parker, Jr. and appeared on Natalie Cole’s Big Break TV Show. You can view that on YouTube. This program was short lived and aired after Star Search and years before American Idol. Most recently, he received the 2012 Detroit Black Entertainment Award for the Best R & B/Top 40 Singer.
He has performed with musicians from Indonesian, Canada, Thailand and London, to name a few, and in Japan, where he worked at Gary’s Motown Sound – Nagoya and met Denise Motto, a keyboardist and singer from Chicago. They shared a common bond: a love of that soul sound. Now many years later, they found a way to finally bring it here to the Coachella Valley, where a dream of a group of vocalists would blend, compliment each other and produce a sound of pure enjoyment. Plan to stop by the Escena Lounge and Grill to hear all of us perform a wide variety of music and transform your dining experience into a walk down memory lane with “Hitsville.”