The idea of what can be labeled as “underrated” is usually dependent on many factors, but if you’re a singer who has had four top-five hits (including a No. 1 smash) as a part of three different bands and yet still few people know your name, then you've probably earned the term. Paul Carrack is most definitely underrated, by any definition.
Carrack is the voice behind classics such as “Tempted” by Squeeze, “How Long” by Ace, “The Living Years” and “Silent Running” by Mike + The Mechanics and his own solo hit “Don’t Shed a Tear.” The musician will be making a rare North Texas appearance playing keyboards for Eric Clapton at a Fort Worth stop on Monday, Sept. 13, at the Dickies Arena.
We spoke with Carrack from his home in London about his long and storied career, his love for Sheffield Wednesday F.C., and how it feels to be a musician with a beloved body of work for which he's often unrecognized.
“I was once getting my hair cut, and the barber asked me ‘What do you do?’ I said ‘I’m in a band, I sing,’ and as we’re doing this — believe it or not — ‘Tempted’ comes on the radio and I said ‘Wow, that’s me there singing that!’ Carrack says, with a chuckle. "He said ‘I don’t think so, that’s Paul Weller.
"It was the same when I was in Mike + The Mechanics. Every morning when I’d get my newspaper, the guy behind the counter would go ‘Morning, Mike!’”
In recent years, Carrack has focused primarily on making solo records on his own label Carrack-UK and touring his native U.K. His latest record One on One, is out Sept.17.
“I reached a point about 20 years ago, I played in big bands, I had big hits, but I didn’t have my own body of work," he says." I didn’t even have rights to songs I sang and had hits with — “The Living Years” being one of them — so I started my own little label and it built into a decent situation.”
That “decent situation” has blossomed into a substantial body of work for Carrack, who has released 12 albums in the last 21 years, along with a series of live archival releases compiled by his manager/co-producer, former Mike + The Mechanics and Van Morrison drummer Peter Van Hooke.
Furthering the irony of the public’s unfamiliarity with Carrack’s work is the fact that he co-wrote one of the biggest hits of 1995: “Love Will Keep Us Alive” by the Eagles. Co-written with Peter Vale and former Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi, the song was originally written for a project that was to feature Carrack, Capaldi, then-former Eagles members Don Felder and Timothy B. Schmidt (who went on to sing the final hit version), and .38 Special singer Max Carl. The project never materialized, and the song was held over for the Eagles’ eventual reunion album Hell Freezes Over. Furthermore, the Eagles later recorded another Paul Carrack composition, “I Don’t Want to Hear Any More,” on their most recent album Long Road Out of Eden, also sung by Schmidt.
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, really, because people will say, ‘15 albums? I’ve never heard of him,’” Carrack says with a laugh.
As a result, a Paul Carrack sighting in America is a rare thing; his only appearances on American shores in the last two decades have been as a part of Eric Clapton’s touring band since 2013, and a brief stint with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band in 2003.
“The problem I’ve always had is explaining the name ‘Paul Carrack,’ and I’ve had the same problem in the U.K.," he says of his non-household name, "but the difference is that the U.K. is a small country and it’s much more possible to establish yourself in a small way as an independent artist because there’s only one major mainstream radio station, BBC Radio 2. So, to do it in the United States is much harder because it’s so big. It is a regret that I can’t really come over and work in the States under my own name because I love being in America. It’s a shame, really.”
That infrequency makes Clapton’s recent American gigs even more special with Carrack as part of the band. On several recent tours, Clapton has handed the mic over to Carrack for one or two songs per show, allowing him to showcase his voice on songs such as “Tempted,” “How Long,” or sometimes covers, such as Joe Cocker’s “High Time We Went” and “You Are So Beautiful” (the connection to Cocker is not that unexpected, as Clapton’s other keyboardist is Chris Stainton, who played with Cocker during his creative peak in the late '60s and early '70s).
“I’m there to support Eric,” Carrack says. “I’m quite happy to play keys; he has a great band. I don’t mind playing a supportive role, because I get to sing all night with my own band.”
Carrack first tasted success in 1974 as the frontman and chief songwriter for the U.K. soul outfit Ace, when he wrote and sang “How Long,” which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and cracked the Top 20 in England. After Ace’s dissolution in 1977, Carrack found himself in the studio playing keyboards with the newly-re-made/re-modeled Roxy Music, contributing to their final three albums: Manifesto, Flesh + Blood, and Avalon.
“In the period after Ace when I thought the game was up, all the guys I respected were doing sessions,” Carrack says. “I hung around those guys because I just wanted to improve as a musician. They had done Bryan Ferry’s solo records, so when Roxy got back together, they used a lot of these guys that I knew, and they introduced me to Roxy.” Carrack’s keyboard touch colored tracks like “Angel Eyes,” “Trash,” “Oh Yeah (There’s a Band Playing On the Radio)” and “To Turn You On.”
One of Carrack’s greatest contributions to Roxy Music, however, may be his introduction of drummer Andy Newmark to the band in 1979. “Andy played on my first solo record, Nightbird,” Carrack says. “I had done Manifesto, and I was going on tour with Roxy and their drummer Paul Thompson fell off his motorcycle and broke his wrist. I said ‘How about Andy Newmark?’ So, he came in and played the tour I did.” After Thompson’s departure from Roxy Music, Newmark continued to record with the band on subsequent albums, with his driving, motorik style of drumming later becoming a defining feature on one of their signature songs: the grand, bittersweet “More Than This.”
Whenever not tied to a particular band, Carrack continued acting as a session musician, contributing keyboard parts to various recordings by The Pretenders, Elton John, The Smiths, Carlene Carter, Nick Lowe and others. He also spent a large part of the '80s as a part of Roger Waters’ solo backing band, and when Waters opted to play songs by his former band Pink Floyd, Carrack was entrusted with handling both David Gilmour’s vocal parts and Richard Wright’s keyboard parts on tour.
Amidst the various sessions he participated in throughout the early '80s, Carrack inadvertently found himself the keyboardist for burgeoning U.K. new wave outfit Squeeze after the departure of their founding keyboardist (and future television host) Jools Holland.
At some point in 1980, during the sessions for what would end up being the band’s fourth album, East Side Story, Carrack was introduced to what would end up becoming a signature song of his, “Tempted.”
“They’d actually recorded a version of that song before I was on board. Dave Edmunds produced it, and it was completely different,” Carrack says. “Glenn (Tilbrook, usual singer/lead guitarist) wrote the music, Chris (Difford, rhythm guitarist) wrote the words — fabulous song. The song was in the can, and we were recording the other songs from East Side Story when we had some downtime and played ‘Tempted’ but in that slow, soulful, Motown groove. Elvis Costello, who was producing, ran in and said, ‘Let’s put this down on tape!’ So, we did, and Elvis said ‘Paul, you should sing it.’”
The song, of course, ended up being one of Squeeze’s and Carrack’s most enduring songs and, according to Carrack, may have inadvertently caused some friction within the band given that their breakthrough hit was sung by the band’s rookie member. “It was a little bit weird,” Carrack says, laughing. “If I were in Glenn’s shoes, I would have been pissed off. There was nothing nasty, but there was probably something underlying. … It was sort of the reason why I left, to be honest. Squeeze didn’t need another singer.”
Many of Carrack’s recent solo records feature his interpretations of many of the late 20th century’s most enduring songs. One particular highlight (found on his compilation Paul Carrack Live: The Independent Years Vol. 2) is a gorgeous rendition of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” live at the Royal Albert Hall accompanied solely by his own guitar and The Zombies’ Rod Argent playing piano. “I’m a big Van fan,” Carrack says. “When I was a very poor young hippie, I only owned three albums, and one of them was Moondance. I love that album; I know everything about it.”
Somewhat surprisingly, throughout the years, Carrack has had the itch to record an album of traditional country music, stemming from a love for the genre he’s had since childhood. “My brother would home bring things like Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and Ingredients in a Recipe for Soul,” Carrack says. “Great records.” In fact, he’s begun to scratch this itch on his latest record, which closes with a cover of Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors.”
Despite Carrack’s extraordinary life and success, he’s still in the process of making a name for himself. “I’ve had these big hits like ‘The Living Years’ and ‘Silent Running’ and still people don’t know that it’s me,” Carrack says. “I want to have that body of work. I’ve had No. 1 records but nobody knows it was me, and in some ways, it wasn’t me anyway — I was just contributing to somebody else. I want to leave a body of work.”
Well, depending on who you ask, it certainly looks like he already has.
Here are five songs Paul Carrack sings that you probably have known and loved for years (or will know and love for years to come):
1. “Tempted” by Squeeze – from East Side Story
2. “How Long” by Ace – from Five-a-Side
3. “The Living Years” by Mike + The Mechanics – from Living Years
4. “Don’t Shed a Tear” by Paul Carrack – from One Good Reason
5. “Into the Mystic” by Paul Carrack (Van Morrison cover) – from Paul Carrack Live: The Independent Years Vol. 2