22
Aug
09

John E. Carter, Original Flamingo 1934-2009

flamingos59

R&B singer John E. Carter passed away yesterday at the age of 75.  Carter was the last remaining original member of the Chicago doo-wop group The Flamingos, whose chart-topping “I Only Have Eyes For You” is a work of such unrestrained beauty as to leave behind  the surrounding genre.  The hallmarks of doo-wop are there, the streetcorner harmonies, the nonsense syllables, the romantic sentiment, but “Eyes” was given a soul-shaking dose of innovation in the form of an otherworldly arrangement by Terry “Buzzy” Johnson.  From the excellent Sound On Sound article on “Eyes” Johnson mentions how a a Russian folk tune, exhaustion and a dream came together to give the world this timeless song:

Johnson and his colleagues ran through all 33 songs, a dozen of which ended up on their first LP, Flamingo Serenade, and included covers of compositions by George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart and Cole Porter. However, the number that gave the co-producer the hardest time was ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’.
“I had the sheet

John E. Carter

music, and I thought the chord changes made it too plain,” he says. “I also heard Dick Haymes’ recording, and it was just so vanilla, as were the versions by Al Jolson and Peggy Lee. They all used those chord changes, and nobody did the refrain: ‘My love must be a kind of blind love. I can’t see anyone but you.’ So I decided to do something different, and when Nate saw me struggling with it, he said, ‘Why don’t you do something really different with it, Buzzy? Go way out on it! Make it Russian, like ‘Song Of The Volga Boatman’.’

Carter, a native of Harvey, IL who had been drafted by the US Army and didn’t appear on “Eyes” went on to join the Dells, whose “Oh What A Night” brought him to the stage for decades and sold more than a million copies with its 1969 reissue with Carter on falsetto lead vocal.
“Eyes” is a song so powerful, it knows when it wants to be played.  One Sunday morning when I worked at the Chicago Cultural Center, I was assembling a sound system and working with the Center’s setup crew, who had WVON radio on a boom box.  On the air was Herb Kent that Stylish Gent, spinning the dusties.  I announced to the guys that I was going to call up Herb and request “Eyes”, at which point the song began – with no phone call.
The guys looked at me funny after that.
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2 Responses to “John E. Carter, Original Flamingo 1934-2009”


  1. 1 JT
    February 14, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Thnnks for the story about my Uncle Johnny, nice story…..Just to let you know, he is NOT in the picture above. Thank you.

  2. February 14, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    JT:

    My pleasure. Thanks for the heads-up re: John E.’s photo. It’s fixed now.

    -r


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