Earl Carter The talented multi-instrumentalist from D.C Skip to main content

Earl Carter The talented multi-instrumentalist from D.C


Earl Carter, we understand youre based in Washington D.C... We're actually located in Virginia, so how has the DMV influenced your music thus far? Well first things first, thank you for taking the time to interview me. That’s actually a great question. I grew up in Washington, DC. As a child during the 70’s, there were several bands and talented musicians in almost every neighborhood. It was a very competitive but fun place to live. We had “Summer in the Park” events, The Show Mobile, many “Battle of the Bands” concerts, etc… 

As a musician you had to always be at the top of your game.Four of the top bands in DC were Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers, Trouble Funk, Experience Unlimited (E.U.) and Rare Essence (R.E.). My goal was to get into one of these groups. R.E. was a teenage band and the members were in my age group. When Andre “White Boy” Johnson’s dad pulled him out of the group, I auditioned and was offered the guitar spot. However, my dad was a police lieutenant at the 7th DistrictMetropolitan Police Department and was very strict. As a result of this, I wasn’t allowed to join the band.

So, in the eighties, I joined Trouble Funk and performed my first major concert at the Baltimore Civics Center. At the time, the group was signed to Sugar Hill Records. I was nineteen years old and green. Johnny Gill was on the show as well and it was his first big concert too. Needless to say, we both had butterflies!Curtis Blow featuring E.U., New Edition and Zapp featuring Roger Troutman were also on the bill. When we played “Drop The Bomb”, I remember a Flash Pyropot going off right beside me and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Big Tony, Slick Dyke and the guys thought it was soooo funny. Ha ha!

I’d later join the group E.U. which would end up having a multi-platinum hit song “Da Butt”. I missed most of the tour because I’d relocated to Charlotte, NC to work a middle management corporate gigAt that time my friend and former E.U. guitarist “Valentino (Tino) Jackson” returned to the group. When the company relocated me back to the DMV, I joined E.U. again…

So what did the four top bands have in common? A music genre that was created and nurtured in the nation’s capital “Go-Go”!!!To this day I occasionally work it into my Contemporary Jazz sets. I’m proud to say that I was a part of the evolution of Go-Goand it will always be a part of me!    

So Being a talented multi-instrumentalist, are there any instruments you favor the most?

Since I’m known as a lead guitarist by my peers, my answer to this question will probably come as a surprise to some. As a child, I’d seen a Return to Forever concert where Stanley Clarke was killing it on the bass. I remember thinking “That’s what I want to do when I grow up!” I had no interest in playing lead or rhythm guitar. The only reason that I ended up playing guitar is that my older brother, who was also a guitarist at one time, said to me “If you learn to play the guitar first, the transition to basswill be easier than learning to play bass and switching to guitar”.Then I saw a Jimi Hendrix concert and said “Man!!! I’m glad that I listened to my brother. Now I can play both!” The kicker is… my formal training is on woodwind and brass instruments. My reading was so fluent on alto sax that, at one school, they put me in a room by myself because I was too far ahead of the other students. Most of my peers don’t know that I play the saxophone because for many years I’ve been called to play my 3rd instrument which is the guitar. So in short, I play several instruments in the studio but will only play three in concertwhich are 1-Saxophone, 2-Bass and 3-Guitar.

Out of all the instruments, which one was the easiest to learn & who taught you to have such a great talent?

Well I’m self-taught on many instruments and formally trained on others. They all seem to have pros and cons. For example, I love the way that the piano is laid out with the natural keys white and sharps & flats black. When you press a key, you get a sound which is more than I can say for many other instruments. The layout and ability to create a sound are pretty much strait forward on the piano however reading the bass and treble clefs simultaneously can be somewhat challenging. 

It’s usually difficult for a beginner to play a clean chord on the guitar or get sound out of a trumpet, trombone, flute, etc… Even playing a reed instrument can be a little frustrating starting out.I’d have to say that the hardest instruments for me to grasp were the trumpet and trombone as you could play several notes with the same valve or slide position. My music teachers Darryl White, Mr. Vaughn and Mr. Carren were great at motivating students to excel and perform above average. I am indeed grateful for their mentoring.  

What was your experience with E.U. and working with Spike Lee?

In 1987 I was the lead guitarist for E.U. and we played several shows every week. Ranging from Cherry’s to Celebrity Hall (A.K.A. The Black Hole)to The Classics, to Cross Creek… we were always busy performing songs from our album “Go JuJuGo”. Sometimes we’d play three or four venues in one day. However my favorite concert that year was Go-Go Live at The Capital Centre. It is considered one of the best Go-Go concerts of all time and is similar to what Woodstock is to Rock music. In 1988 I was living in Charlotte, NC but was back in town on a business trip. My friend William “JuJu” House called me in to record guitar on the song “Party Hearty” for Spike Lee’s sound track to the movie “Do The Right Thing”. I never actually met Spike but am honored to have played on one of his soundtracks. I moved back to the DMV in 1990, rejoined the band and toured the east coast and mid-west until 1993. During that time I recorded and or produced projects with the band including “Take It to the Top” distributed locally and “Nasty” distributed nationally. Those were definitely fun times!

Throughout your career, I am sure you have met so many influential people; is there anyone you would like to meet today?

Well, you are absolutely right. I have met so many role models, hung out with millionaires, one billionaire, traveled and stayedin foreign countries for extended periods, etc… If I were to die today, I’d have to say that I lived a full and wonderful life. I’ve seen and experienced things that many people will never see. I’ve also learned that some of what we’ve been taught all our lives is not true at all. In short, the only one that I’d like to meet when it’s my time is God.

What was the National Smooth Jazz Awards in San Diego like?

Oh wow!!! It was one of my favorite events. I’d heard a few of the artists on the radio and went to a Gerald Albright concert while living in Charlotte but hadn’t really been working much in that genre. I’d actually taken a break from live performance. I was doing production work in my home studio during the week and session work at Sean “Diddy” Combs’ NYC studio “Daddy’s House” on the weekends. However Orlando Mullins and Marcus Johnson called me out of retirement. Marcus had signed an agreement with Bob Johnson who at the time was founder and owner of BET. One of my band mates “Jaared” had been nominated Best New Smooth Jazz Artist. We had the opportunity to perform at the event, the after party and Humphreys by the Bay. I performed with Jaared, Bobby Lyle, Jackiem Joyner, Marcus Johnson, David Dyson and a few other musicians. I also had the pleasure of meeting and/or hanging out with Al Jarreau, Sheila E., Kirk Whalum, Wayman Tisdale, Peter White, Dave Koz, Euge Groove, Carl Evans Jr. of Fattburger, Alex Al, Kat Dyson and a host of other artists. Everyone was friendly, down to earth and fun to hang with…While at Humphreys, I recall Marcus saying “While we continue to chase our dreams we should also remember to enjoy the momment as we’re actually living our dreams right now”. That really resonated…

So tell us about your latest project and where we can find it?

My latest single is titled “Fresh”. I recorded it during the pandemic and played all of the instruments including: guitars, bass, saxophones, keyboards and drum programming. 

My latest full album project is titled “Silky” and it features several guest artists and musicians including: Michael LingtonJackiem Joyner, Marion Meadows, David Dyson, Marcus Johnson, Phillip “Doc” Martin, Patrick Cooper, Eric Marner, Glenn Douglas, Arrington “V12” Price, Les Cleveland, Dwayne “Kiggo” Wellman, Elliot Jefferson, Elyscia Jefferson, Shawn Dove and Charles Foster.

These projects are available at most digital retailers including: Apple Music, Amazon, Spotify, etc… 

Downloads and streams are greatly appreciated!

As an artist, do you feel that you have set a bar of achievement to conquer; if so what are your motivations to make you strive?

Well I’d have to say YES, YES, YES however my motivations have definitely changed. Initially, my primary motivation was to leave corporate and become my own boss. Having studied Business Management in college and worked as a middle manager for a couple of decades, that goal was accomplished over time. I remember wanting to sign a major record deal, distribution deal, go on tour and work with top industry artists. There’s an old saying “Be careful what you wish for”… I never signed a major record deal however did tour with a couple of signed artists. I had the opportunity to play several arenas throughout the United States. We’d enter the rear entrance of the venue, play the gig, go back to our hotel and leave the next morning. I could honestly say that I performed in that city however never had a chance to really see the city, hang out with the people, etc…  As an Indie artist, I played other countries, stayed for up to six months per year and had a chance to experience the culture. Those were actually life changing events.

I’ve had two major distribution deals, one as a Contemporary Jazz artist and another as a Gospel Jazz artist. Those were the only times that I didn’t make any real money off of units soldHowever as an Indie artist I did very well. I also had a 300 gigs per year goal of which I achieved several times however many of the performances weren’t really worth the headache. I learned that, just like at a Nine to Five, some people are extremely difficult to work with and some good paying gigs aren’t worth the stress and negative energy that they bring to the table. I say all of this to share that I made some good decisions and some not so good decisions over the years but definitely learned from my mistakes. 

How has Covid-19 affected your career lately?

In all honesty, I was a little concerned when over 150 shows were suddenly cancelled due to quarantine. I also lost a few family members so it definitely impacted me mentally. However, as much as it sucks, it also forced me to stay focused on my current goals which are to perform fewer live concerts, teach more online music lessons, record and produce client projects from home, grow my music publishing company and release new songs. I’ve been truly blessed and can’t really complain.

If its anything else you could do, what would it be?

I’m sure that I’ll be able to answer this at a later date however at the moment, I’m doing exactly what I want to do. However, if I ever get bored, I do plan to go back to school and take a few classes.


Any last remarks?

Just that I encourage those reading this to follow your passionsand have faith in God. Even if you work your magic as a side hobby, you never know where it will take you. I have several skillsets and am usually one of the best at whatever I set out to do but am not truly happy unless I’m playing music.

Oh and I still have a few slots available for online music lessons so please feel free to visit my website and/or send me an email if interested.

Much love and respect!

Earl Carter




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