Christmas ukuleles, Americana or soul covers, Will Carter knows his stuff

J. MILES CARY/NEWS SENTINEL
Local musician Will Carter is gaining a solid audience on the Knoxville music scene. His show at Barley's on Sunday will feature Christmas music on ukulele.

Photo by J. Miles Cary // Buy this photo

J. MILES CARY/NEWS SENTINEL Local musician Will Carter is gaining a solid audience on the Knoxville music scene. His show at Barley's on Sunday will feature Christmas music on ukulele.

Overall, it's been a pretty good year for Will Carter.

He put out a CD that has gotten airplay on local radio. He performed at the Ryman Auditorium twice, once with legendary singer-songwriter Jackson Browne and dobro whiz Jerry Douglas and once backing up country songwriter Shirley Wood. He's performed twice at the Bijou, opening for contemporary Christian star Mac Powell and, just last week, performing with Christian artist Roger Williams and the All Mixed Up Quartet, with whom he plays guitar. He released a video cover of the Temptations' hit "Ball of Confusion," which caught a buzz on Facebook and YouTube. He also headlined the Blaine Fall Festival.

"And, I learned how to play pedal steel guitar," Carter says while sitting at Kitts' Cafe near Knoxville Center mall over breakfast.

Carter grew up on his family's farm in Mascot and he always loved music.

He says he was 5 when his family took a vacation to Florida that helped point the direction his life would take. His mom had forgotten to bring the case full of cassettes, so they were reduced to the few that were already in the car; one of those was Steve Earle's debut album, "Guitar Town."

"We listened to it all the way to Daytona Beach and back," says Carter. "Nothing has been so influential on me since then."

He began playing his mother's guitar when he was in middle school. He started playing out when he was 15.

"My dad snuck me into bars and I begged to sit in with the people I do sit in with now," says Carter.

Carter spent most of his high school years performing in alternative rock bands, including Solar and Beyond Our Years. He later studied music at the University of Tennessee with teachers Mark Boling and Larry Vincent.

In 2008, Carter was playing a guitar at Music Room Guitars and a man who was in the store spent some time listening. He told Carter he needed to meet his boss.

"I said, 'Who's your boss?' and he said, 'Jackson Browne,'" says Carter.

The man was Browne's guitar technician and Browne was scheduled to perform at the Tennessee Theatre the next night. Carter ended up sitting in with Browne at the show. It also resulted in Browne visiting the Joy of Music School where Carter was teaching at the time.

Carter says he's managed to make his living playing or teaching music since 2005, playing sessions as a sideman, as well as playing his own gigs.

His cover of "Ball of Confusion" had to have confused his audiences a little.

"I wanted to do it for the last election, but I didn't get around to it," says Carter. "I wanted to make sure it happened this time."

He recorded the instrumental track with Dave Peeples on bass and Jordan Merritt on drums, with Carter playing all the other instruments on the track. The key, though, was getting his guest vocalists. He enlisted local R&B great Jaystorm, Jarius Bush of local hip-hop act The Theorizt and Valerie Buckner, who performs in the cover band the Pop Rox.

"It's so different from what we all do normally — outside of everybody's little circle," says Carter. "I think people were shocked to see Jarius and shocked to see me doing something that wasn't a more country/Americana thing."

Another surprise might be Carter's ukulele Christmas album. The disc came out at a time that Carter was too broke to buy a lot of Christmas gifts.

"I'd just been goofing off with some Christmas songs on ukulele," says Carter. "The guy who was engineering with me at the studio had a couple of days free and we went in the studio ..."

Carter gave the result away as Christmas gifts, but then decided to sell it as well.

"It's sold better than anything I've ever released."

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Will Carter's Ukulele Christmas

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria, 200 E. Jackson Ave.

Admission: free

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