AUK Chain Gang: Clarence Carter “Slip Away”

Photo: John Matthew Smith

Alastair Fotheringham’s choice for the AUK Chain Gang last week, Paul Kelly’s ‘Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air’, deals with meeting God in “the air” after death. However, Christians also have faith that they will meet loved ones who have passed away. This leads to thinking of songs about meeting, but in a more concrete way than discussed in Kelly’s song.

This week’s chosen track, ‘Slip Away’ by Clarence Carter, is a pleading by the singer for his illicit lover to slip away from her man to meet him. The video chosen is shaky and not high quality, but is powerful and mesmerising. Shot at a live concert in 2009, over 40 years after the song’s release in 1968, Carter is roared on by the crowd.

Carter, blind from birth, over seventy by this time and in a trademark shiny suit, sings beautifully, his voice cracking with emotion, conveying his desperation to see his lover. He also manages to superbly convey anguish and guilt over this relationship. Throughout there is the wonderful guitar riff on a loop which drives the song along. It is soul music at its finest.

There is a charming introduction to the song, with Carter mentioning Satellite Papa and Big George. Satellite was an African-American DJ who was very important in the development of soul music and sounds as if he played the song when it first came out; Big George must have been a DJ, too.

The song is credited to three of Carter’s backing musicians with bassist Marcus Daniel reporting that he was praying to God for help with his music career and within 20 minutes he had the lyrics and melody in his head. A womaniser at the time, he wrote about what he knew but ended by leaving the music industry and becoming a pastor. Carter has a different recollection; that Daniel wrote the lyrics and then worked with him to finish the song.

It was recorded at the producer Rick Hall’s famous FAME studios in the small Alabama town of Muscle Shoals where so much fantastic music was produced and which was the subject of the superb ‘Muscle Shoals’ film which is really worth watching. Two of the renowned FAME session musicians, Spooner Oldham (keyboards) and Roger Hawkins (drums) played on it as did Duane Allman in one of his first sessions there. Rick Hall can’t have thought much of it as he only released it initially as a B-side. The A-side ‘Funky Fever’ was not a hit, but then ‘Slip Away’ got enough publicity to become a hit itself.

It has been covered many times, for example by Greg Allman, Dobie Grey and Eddie Floyd, and has been used in many films and TV shows. Both are a testament to the greatness of the song.

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