Joe Carr passes

joe_carrJoe Carr, Texas bluegrass musician and educator, passed away yesterday (12/14) following a stroke. He was 63 years old.

Joe had been dealing with the symptoms of multiple sclerosis for several years, which had limited his mobility but not his spirit and love of the music.

During his time, Carr performed as a member of Country Gazette, with Joe Carr & Alan Munde, and served on the faculty of South Plains College in their bluegrass and country music program. He filed regular columns for both Flatpicking Guitar and Mandolin magazines and was the focus of more than 30 instructional projects for Mel Bay.

Carr was the recipient of a Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association with Alan Munde in 2008.

His dear friend, Alan Munde, shared these poignant memories of Joe.

Joe Carr and Alan Munde“I met Joe Carr at the home of Doc Hamilton when Country Gazette was traveling through Texas in the mid-1970s. His infectious personality was captivating, and his musical talents obvious. When an opening came up in the group, Roland White and I latched onto Joe, and we traveled the bluegrass highways together for 5 years or so having a wonderful time and laughing all the way, for Joe was a wonderful lightening and delightful spirit. He saw humor in all of our follies. We traveled many a mile and recorded a bunch of good, fun music.

He left and ultimately joined the faculty at South Plains College in 1984, where he spent his next 30 years enlightening and delighting the students and faculty in much the same way he had done with us in the band. The students and faculty all, without reservation, loved Joe Carr. I followed him to the school a couple of years later and we spent my 20 years at the school playing and teaching as hard as we could. Again we traveled many a mile and recorded a bunch of fun, good music, and also co-wrote, along with Mary Sue Price and Anne Solomon, a musical titled Joe and Al: Two Swell Guys From Texas; researched and co-wrote an award winning book, Prairie Nights To Neon Lights: The Story ofCountry Music In West Texas; and made lots of good and fast friends.

Country Gazette, mid-1980s: Alan Munde, Joe Carr, Roland White, Bill SmithDuring Joe’s tenure at the school he and his fellow faculty nurtured many, many talented students through the program, a number of whom went on to have careers in music as performers or in the business end. A few of the names more recognizable to the bluegrass world are Mike Bubb, Ron Block, Stuart Duncan, Jeremy Garrett, Ashley Kohrs, Kym Warner, Nate Lee, Ben, Katy, and Penny Clark, and last year’s co-host of the IBMA Awards Show, Lee Ann Womack.

For the past number of years, Joe suffered from MS, which manifested itself as a weakness on his right side, prohibiting him  from playing or traveling. Confined to a motorized scooter to get around (dubbed the ‘Joe Car’ by his students), Joe continued to teach his private lessons and ensembles and directed a good bit of his energy in creating instructional material for the Mel Bay Publishing Company. I would not doubt that he is among the leading authors of musical instruction in sheer numbers of books. He did books on banjo, mandolin, guitar, ukulele, and fiddle all in various styles and grade levels.  Active to the end, Joe died of a stroke on December 14, 2014,  but not until he had turned in his end of semester grades.

Joe CarrBecause of his condition, Joe wasn’t a presence in the bluegrass community these last many years and remembered by only those who got to see him during his touring days. I regret that more people didn’t have a chance to know Joe Carr. He had the very special gift of making  everyone around him feel better. Those that did know him are the lucky ones. His contribution to my life on a personal level and as a musician has been enormous. I always thought Joe, despite his condition, would live forever like the rest of us. He will be greatly missed.

Let me close with a story Joe would tell on himself. At South Plains College we had a fiddle student of great talent, 18-year-old Ricky Turpin. Ricky went on to have a career as a fiddler, most notably with Asleep At The Wheel and a frequent fiddle contest winner. He came from a fiddling family in Lubbock, Texas and was very confident in his playing, and rightfully so. At the time, Joe was trying to learn to play the fiddle and asked Ricky some bowing questions. Joe would demonstrate as he asked, should I bow this phrase like this, or should I do it like this, or maybe like this? Ricky in his 18-year-old world fiddle view answered, ‘Joe, you know, you don’t play well enough to ask those questions.’ Joe loved humor and found it anywhere, even if the joke was on him.”

I can second Alan’s testimony. Joe’s musicianship, good humor, and desire to help others learn this music we love was of the highest caliber.

R.I.P., Joe Carr.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.