Clarence Carter – Patches

31st October 1970 · 1970, 1970s, Music
Clarence Carter’s only UK hit Patches is a hearbreaking story of poverty and parental advice in the Deep South in the classic country-soul style of Muscle Shoals.

I have a confession. For no reason I can possibly explain – I blame those “Me ears are alight” Maxell tape ads back in the day – I have thought for 50 years that Patches’ father was “a green-horn man” (whatever that may be).

It’s only much later (OK, today), when looking up the lyrics, that I learned he was actually “a great old man.” Which makes more sense but is, frankly, a disappointment to my childhood self.

Pain and heartbreak ooze from the voice of Clarence Carter, whose country-soul crossover with a dash of country music sentiment exemplifies the Southern Soul style of Muscle Shoals.
As a child I had no idea what any of those genres were, of course – it was all pop music – but I loved this sentimental slice of paternal advice from a father instructing his son about how to look after his family on their dirt-poor farm in Alabama after he dies.
Carter initially thought “that it would be degrading for a black man to sing a song so redolent of subjugation” – but was persuaded to change his mind by record producer Rick Hall because it related to his own life.
He was born blind and taught himself to play guitar by listening to the blues greats, before studying for a music degree at Alabama State University, learning how to score and transcribe music in braille, and forming a duo with his blind classmate Calvin Scott in 1960.
Written by General Johnson of Chairmen of the Board (who did it first), it was recorded at the legendary FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with musicians including Junior Lowe (guitar), Jesse Boyce (bass), and Freeman Brown (drums), it reached No.2 in the UK in October 1970.
It was Clarence Carter’s only UK hit, though he had much success in the US, beginning with the magnificent Slip Away in 1968, and he’s still going strong at the age of 84.