She certainly had a gorgeous memorable voice. That’s why she sang on hundreds of albums since the early 70’s. Just to name a few – Little Feat’s “The Last Record Album” from 1975, Nicolette Larson debut from 1978 which featured the hits “Lotta Love” written by Neil Young, The next year she sang on Christopher Cross’ debut album which had three hits “Ride Like the Wind,””Sailing” and “Never Be the Same.” That was her singing the duet with Cross on “Spinning.” Carter was also on Randy Newman’s “Born Again” from the same year. In 1980 she sang backup on Eddie Money’s third LP “Playing For Keeps.” There was also Jimmy Webb’s “Angel Heart” in 1982 and Don Henley’s 1989 “The End of the Innocence.” Carter was very busy in the 90’s with Aaron Neville, Diana Ross, Neil Diamond, Ringo Starr, Glenn Frey, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne among many others. She was the go-to girl when you needed to get it done.
I first noticed her on “Gorilla” the first James Taylor album I ever bought in 1975. It would be the start of long relationship with Taylor but she didn’t start touring with him until 1990. Carter would be a huge part of that heavenly wall of sound of background singers to back the legendary singer along David Lasley, Kate Markowitz and Arnold McCuller. Carter would record over half a dozen albums with him. If you have never heard “Shed a Little Light” from Taylor’s “New Moon Shine” from 1991. I saw that whole band live outside in Vancouver in 1992 with Valerie. That was one of the best concert experiences of my life.
In 1999 in an interview with Laura Stegman on James-Taylor.com Carter talked about Lowell George introducing her to James Taylor at Amigo Studios in L.A. The place had a basketball net and he was just shooting hoops within a very short time she and Lowell were singing background on “Angry Blues” from the “Gorilla’ album.
On her transition to concentrating more on being a background singer than a solo one Carter explained, “I was too delicate. But what I could do was sing, and that’s what I’ve always been happy doing. And I knew I could stand behind someone and let the spotlight shine somewhere else. I could at least express myself through the power of singing.”
She was born on February 5, 1953. In the early 70’s Carter formed the group Howdy Moon. Their first album was produced by her mentor Lowell George of Little Feat. He would go on to co-produce her debut album which featured some heavy players including Linda Ronstadt, Earth, Wind and Fire’s Maurice White, Jackson Browne on piano and guitar. Also on the album there were 4 Toto members Jeff Porcaro on drums, bassist David Hungate, Steve Lukather on guitar and Synthesizer’s from Steve Porcaro. Lukather said on his Facebook today, “RIP Valerie Carter.. She was an amazing talent and very sweet girl. One of a kind voice.”
She recorded 4 solo albums 1977’s “Just a Stone’s Throw Away” which featured her take on the soul classic “”O-o-h Child,” then came “Wild Child” from 1978, “The Way it Is” from 1996 and “Find a River” – a 5-track-EP released in 1998.
She co-wrote “Love Needs a Heart” with Jackson Browne and Lowell George which appeared on his classic live album, “Running on Empty. In that same Laura Stegman interview Valerie opened up about how her tune “Cook with Honey” ended up being recorded by Judy Collins. They were at a BBQ at the singers house, they got along well very quickly, both moved to Judy’s music room where she sang making Valerie cry then she sings “Cook with Honey” for the legendary singer nervously only to look up at the end to see Judy Collins cry. It became a hit.
Shawn Colvin said on Facebook, “The first time I heard her all I wanted was to sing like THAT, and I tried, but no one ever will. Love you, Val.”
In August and October 2009, Carter was arrested in St. Petersburg, Florida for possession of drugs. She later completed a drug program in May of 2011. Taylor was at her “drug court” graduation ceremonies to support her. – by John Beaudin
Full Interview with Valerie https://www.james-taylor.com/articles/jto-feature-valerie-carter/
John Beaudin has been in major market radio (Edmonton, Vancouver & Calgary) for 33 years and a music journalist since 1989. He graduated from Broadcasting school as a news man so he would have the skills to write about the artists that inspired him since he bought his first album, “Madman Across The Water” by Elton John as a teen. In the 80’s Beaudin was the host of the syndicated radio show “The Cross Canada Report” which had two version (Rock and A/C). Beaudin was also asked to be a judge at the Juno Awards (Canada’s answer to the Grammys) Twice. He has anchored every position in radio including morning and afternoon drive and was a Program and Music Director for The Breeze and California 103 in Calgary. He currently hosts the popular Lovesongs at QM-FM in Vancouver and on iHeartRadio.