Born 24 August 1942, near Huntingdon, Carroll County, Tennessee
Carl Mann had a bizarre career. He was playing local radio stations when he was ten, had his first hit at sixteen, but at the age of nineteen he was a has-been who had taken the bottle for a friend. Since then he has been in and out of the music business, but he still has a loyal following and we haven't seen the last of him yet.
Carl grew up in a strongly rural area in Tennessee where his father had a timber business. He fell in love with country music as a child and learned to play guitar at age eight. By 1952 he was playing his first regular local radio show on WDXI in Jackson. Carl formed his first country band in '54 with Tony Moore, Robert Oatsvall, Footsie Robinson and Jerry Wooters. They called themselves the Kool Kats and began a regular radio show in 1955 in Milan, Tennessee, where local DJ Bill Haney took a liking to them and arranged an audition with Jimmy Martin, who owned the small Jaxon label. This resulted in Carl's first record, "Gonna Rock And Roll Tonight"/ "Rockin'Love", of which only 350 copies were pressed (Jaxon 502, 1957). Both sides were his own compositions. He was only 14.
In 1958 Mann reformed his band with guitarist Eddie Bush (fresh from the Louisiana Hayride) and drummer W.S. Holland, who also became Carl's manager. Carl himself switched from guitar to piano. Holland, who had played with Carl Perkins, tried to get the group on Sun Records. He talked Sun's new promotion man, Cecil Scaife, into giving Carl and the band an audition in late 1958. Carl sang his up-tempo arrangement of "Mona Lisa" (a giant hit for Nat King Cole in 1950), his own song "Foolish One" and "Look At That Moon", which he co-wrote with Carl Perkins. Scaife couldn't wait to play "Mona Lisa" for Sam Phillips, but Sam was not impressed and refused to release the record until he heard that MGM was about to release a Conway Twitty version, using Carl's arrangement. Thus "Mona Lisa"/ "Foolish One" became Carl's first Sun single, released in March 1959 on Phillips International 3539. Just when all the original rock n roll sounds of Sun Records were fading, Carl Mann came along to provide a new approach. He had a clear, distinctive voice and an exceptional guitarist in Eddie Bush, whose Mexican-influenced style gave Carl's records an instantly recognisable sound. Carl's version outsold the one by Conway Twitty, though only just, peaking at # 25, and only in the US, not in Europe. Still, this was a great start. Carl received many lucrative offers for performances and hit the road. The follow-up was another rocked-up Nat Cole number, "Pretend", which made a respectable showing on the Billboard charts at # 57. Carl and the Sun production team thought they had stumbled upon a formula that could be applied indefinitely : a revamped oldie on one side and an original on the flip. But this trick already failed with the next single, "Some Enchanted Evening", which did not chart. Nevertheless, the formula was applied to all seven of Carl's Phillips International singles, taking into account that the 'oldies' were only a few years old in some cases ("The Wayward Wind", "Ain't Got No Home"). The last P.I. single, "When I Grow Too Old To Dream"/"Mountain Dew" (1962) sold only 580 copies during its first year of release.
These disappointing sales say nothing about the merits of the music, though. In 1960 Carl had an LP released, "Like Mann", which I first heard in 1968. I remember well how deeply impressed I was at the time. Usually there was at least one track on an LP that I didn't like, but here were twelve tracks of consistently high quality. The partnership between Carl's pleasant vocals and Eddie Bush's eccentric guitar playing (plus the melodic content) makes these Sun recordings very special.
Carl's masterpiece was "I'm Coming Home" (1960), but it wasn't even the A-side of the record. The fact that Charlie Rich (who wrote the song) played piano, so that Carl could concentrate on singing, was a definite plus, as Mann's own piano playing was barely adequate in those days. Elvis Presley liked "I'm Coming Home" well enough to record it himself the next year, on his "Something For Everybody" LP.
For some reason, Charles Underwood and Scotty Moore found it necessary to overdub several of Carl's Sun recordings with obtrusive choruses (the dreaded Gene Lowery Singers) and extra instruments. Fortunately, some of the undubbed versions can be heard on the Bear Family box-set. "I Can't Forget You" and "Born To Be Bad" sound so much better in their original form.
After Carl was dropped by Phillips in 1962, he teamed up with Carl Perkins. They played Vegas, Carson City, and the usual circuit of bars. Mann played piano behind Perkins and did a few solo numbers. It was a bleak period for both men, unable to find another hit and both seeking relief in alcohol. In 1964 Carl was drafted and transferred to Germany. Upon his return in 1966, he signed with Fred Foster's Monument label and had one good 45 released on the label, "Serenade Of the Bells"/"Down To My Last I Forgive You", produced by Ray Stevens. But the music business had changed almost beyond recognition and Carl had to face the fact that his style had gone out of fashion. He more or less quit music in 1967 and went to back to his native Huntingdon to work in the family logging business, meanwhile trying to kick his drinking habit.
>From 1974 until 1976 Mann recorded for ABC-Dot, singing contemporary country and scoring a minor country hit with a remake of "Twilight Time". Then came the European rockabilly revival, offering new chances for "old" rockers. Still only 35, Carl paid his first visit to Europe in March 1978 and performed with great success at the 10th International Rock 'n' Roll Meeting in Tilburg, Holland, backed by ace British musicians (Dave Travis, Eddie Jones, Stuart Colman, Howard Tibble). Part of the concert was released as one side of the Rockhouse LP "Gonna Rock and Roll Tonight" (1978), which was followed in 1981 by another good (studio) album, "In Rockabilly Country", again recorded in Holland, with a mix of English and Dutch session people.
Carl toured on and off for about ten years. Then he went back to the family business and found religion. He made a comeback in 2005, the year in which he finally received a Gold Disc for "Mona Lisa". Since then he has recorded four CD's (one gospel, one country, one Christmas, one rockabilly) and has toured overseas. He had a two-bypass heart operation in January 2011, was hospitalised with breathing problems in April and is now slowly regaining his strength. A return to the stage is planned for September.
More info :
Biography : Paul MacPhail, Carl Mann : The Last Son Of Sun. Self-published, December 2010. I haven't seen the book, but it seems to be quite voluminous.
Discography : http://countrydiscography.blogspot.com/search/label/Mann%20Carl
Acknowledgements : Colin Escott, Martin Hawkins, Hank Davis, Phil Davies.
Dik, August 2011
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