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Strokin' by Clarence Carter

Album: Dr. C.C.Released: 1986
  • Clarence Carter grew up in Alabama listening to Blues singers like John Lee Hooker and Washboard Sam - guys who found many different ways to sing about sex. Carter is best known for his 1970 hit "Patches," where his bold voice and spoken word interludes told the story of a young who inherited the burden of caring for his family after his father died. Carter took these same vocal elements and turned them into "Strokin'," a ribald song that finds him asking the kind of questions Howard Stern uses to query his guests. The song is blatantly sexual, and Carter never made a clean radio edit (we're not sure what that would sound like), so it never got any significant radio airplay, and although it did have a video, MTV wouldn't touch it.

    Since the song was not fit for broad public consumption, Carter and his record label, a small Atlanta based outfit called Ichiban (run by Blues and Soul magazine editor John Abbey), came up with an unorthodox plan. They produced singles, but instead of marketing them to stores or radio, they placed them in jukeboxes, where bar patrons discovered the song and wore out the grooves. DJs started playing the song at weddings. Strip clubs put it in hot rotation. "Strokin'" became a minor sensation and helped Carter's Dr. C.C. album sell about 150,000 copies. Carter also became a popular live draw, with this song serving as his showstopper.
  • Carter went blind when he was just one year old. At the Alabama School for the Blind, he learned piano and guitar, and in the late '60s, he became one of the hitmakers at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where he recorded "Patches," "Slip Away" and "Too Weak To Fight." The Disco era was not kind to Clarence, but he adapted to the '80s sound by learning to program keyboards, which wasn't easy because they didn't come with Braille. Once he figured it out (like Stevie Wonder many years before), Clarence could work out a song in his home and then crank it out in the studio in a matter of hours. He estimates that the entire Dr. C.C. album cost about $4,000 to make.
  • Carter recorded this at Broadway Sound Studios in Sheffield, Alabama, which is where Percy Sledge recorded "When A Man Loves A Woman." Carter played all the instruments on the track.
  • "Strokin'" was based on a 1981 song that Carter recorded called "Love Building," where over a similar groove, he sings about "workin'." "Love Building," got a great response when he played it live, and Carter started improvising the "I'm strokin'" line, which went over well with audience members who recognized it as a term for sex. When he was working on his Dr. C.C. album, Carter decided to rework "Love Building" as "Strokin'."
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