Goodbye To My First Tutor, Red Carter

The following article about the death of Liverpool drummer Red Carter, is one I was asked to write for the website of Liverpool drum shop, ADC Drums.

Legendary Liverpool Jazz Drummer Red Carter Dies, Age 92

Any drummer in the Liverpool/Wirral area who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s will be familiar with the name Red Carter, as being the numero uno drum teacher in the locality. If you were a self-taught drummer who had reached a brick wall in your playing and wanted to gain knowledge, a quick visit to Brian at the ACME Drum Company in Cheapside would secure Red’s telephone number and open the gateway to new drumming possibilities.

Red Carter in action on his drumkitErnest ‘Red’ Carter resided on the Wirral side of the Mersey, but taught drums from a rickety old building in the strangely named road, Tempest Hey in the Moorfields area of Liverpool city centre. Climbing the stairs to Red’s teaching studio, each Saturday morning student would wait briefly for their predecessor to emerge, listening to the muffled tones of hickory striking rubber, infused with the aroma of cigarette smoke seeping from the gap under the door.

Armed only with a folder of manuscript paper and a pair of sticks, drummers would enter Red’s teaching emporium, taken aback at first with the tired interior décor, but soon forgetting the crude surroundings as Red imparted decades of knowledge and experience upon fresh, willing minds. Teaching was done on a wood-constructed practice pad kit, coated with hard rubber, unforgiving to sloppy stick technique. Red always started his students with the basics of musical notation, without which he said, it would be impossible for anyone to remember what was being taught. Many drummers resist learning musical theory, but Red had a method of conveying what needed to be known in a way even the most hardened dunce could understand. Once you had grasped basic note values, he moved onto basic notation and rudiments, then onto the world of rhythms – Rock, Blues, Swing, Funk, Latin, Waltz, Marching, Jazz – Red covered it all.

Eventually, bigger challenges would be offered as full drum manuscripts were presented for playing along with. Swing era classics, such as ‘Big Swing Face’ and ‘Sing, Sing Sing’ would pipe out of a cassette player that was also used during lessons to record student’s progress. If it was a drum-duet, Red would accompany the student at the side of the practice kit, using just the Floor tom pad of the kit to return phrasing.

This was truly old-school teaching, different from today’s You-Tube overload of drum lessons. Possibly 99% of the music Red had his students playing along to would be a million miles away from what they were listening to; but the idea wasn’t to keep a player in their comfort zone, more to expose them to what they didn’t know and turn weaknesses into strengths.

So what of the man’s credentials necessary for passing on knowledge to impressionable novices?

Unlike the institutionalised, regulated business music teaching has evolved into in the 21st century, there were no Drumtech’s, LIPA’s or ‘official’ paths of learning in order to become qualified to teach drums. Red gained his wings from the school of real-world experience, drawing on a lifetime’s work backing a variety of name entertainers from an era when Theatre’s and clubs could offer an alternative to a ‘real’ job.

What’s a real job?” Red would often exclaim, “a mender of roads – is that a real job?

The fact was, Red could earn more money playing drums than his contemporary day-job friends in less hours! During his heyday when Variety ruled, Red backed artists such as Vera Lynn, Lonnie Donegan, Matt Monro, Morecambe & Wise, Tommy Cooper, Cleo Laine and of course, his long-time local compatriot, Ken Dodd.

By the start of the 1980’s the British Variety club scene was all but dead – bar Saturday night TV – leaving Red securing work in Social Club residencies and private teaching. Literally hundreds of Liverpool drummers passed through his hands, including Chris Sharrock, possibly the only drummer to emerge from the 1980’s Liverpool music scene who still has a successful playing career on a national level today. Red used to comment on Chris’ “great single-stroke roll technique!” and was genuinely pleased to see his ex students gaining success in a modern music industry that had effectively killed the one he thrived in.

Red was still teaching students at home into the first decade of the new century and will be remembered fondly by different generations of Liverpool drummers. Red was a teacher who unlocked the doors to a world of rhythmic possibilities from an era now superseded by ‘Olympian’ drum athletes who far exceed the technical expectations required to play in entertainment environments. But as Red used to say, “if anyone asks you what sort of drummer you are, don’t tell them you’re the best in the world, just say you’re a ‘competent’ drummer; because competent drummers always work!