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  • Born

    13 August 1952

  • Born In

    Oxnard, Ventura County, California, United States

  • Died

    19 July 2002 (aged 49)

Dave Carter (August 13, 1952-July 19, 2002) was an American folk singer and songwriter who self-described his style as "post-modern mythic American folk music." He was one half of the duo Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer. The duo were being heralded as the new "voice of modern folk music" in the months before Carter's unexpected death in July 2002. They were ranked as number one on the year-end list for "Top Artists" on the Folk Music Radio Airplay Chart for 2001 and 2002, and their popularity has endured in the years following Carter's death. Joan Baez who went on tour with the duo in 2001 spoke of Carter's songs in the same terms that she once used to promote a young Bob Dylan:

"There is a special gift for writing songs that are available to other people, and Dave's songs are very available to me. It's a kind of genius, you know, and Dylan has the biggest case of it. But I hear it in Dave's songs, too.

Carter's songs were often noted for their poetic imagery, spirituality and storytelling while retaining connection to the country music of his southern American upbringing. Carter's memory has been kept alive by his many admirers, most notably his former partner. Tracy Grammer has continued to introduce previously unrecorded songs and recordings that the duo were working on prior to Carter's death.

Early life and education

Dave Carter was born in Oxnard, California. His father was a mathematician and a petroleum engineer and his mother was a science teacher and a charismatic Christian. Carter was raised in Oklahoma and Texas and would draw on his rural upbringing in many of his songs. He studied classical piano from age 4 to about age 12, when he took up guitar. At 17, he left home to hitchhike around the country, especially the Midwestern United States (Great Plains area). After graduating with degrees in music (cello) and fine arts from the University of Oklahoma, he moved to Portland, Oregon, where he continued his education at Portland State University, earning a degree in mathematics. He began an advanced degree in mathematics, but a personal epiphany led him to realize that this was not to be his field. He went on to study what he called "the psychology of mystical experience" at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto and the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, and worked as an embedded systems programmer for several years before taking up music full-time in the mid-1990s. Carter was greatly influenced by mythologist Joseph Campbell, who visited his college, and American mystic Carlos Castaneda. He was also influenced by the American landscape, Arthurian mythology, the environment, and transcendental psychology.

Partnership with Tracy Grammer

Prior to his death, Carter released three albums with Grammer: When I Go (1998); Tanglewood Tree (2000); and Drum Hat Buddha (2001). The duo also re-recorded many of the songs from Snake Handlin' Man, plus two previously unrecorded songs in early 2002. The CD, called Seven is the Number, was released in 2006.

Death and tributes

Carter died of a massive heart attack Friday July 19, 2002 in a hotel room in Hadley, Massachusetts after returning from an early morning run. He and Grammer were slated to play that weekend at the Green River Festival in Greenfield and were booked that summer to play many of the nation's top folk festivals and folk clubs. He was 49. Carter's death came as a great shock to the folk music community. Tracy Grammer gave her account of Carter's final moments in a letter to fans:

"Yesterday, shortly after he went unconscious, he came back for a lucid minute to two to tell me, 'I just died… Baby, I just died…' There was a look of wonder in his eyes, and though I cried and tried to deny it to him, I knew he was right and he was on his way. He stayed with me a minute more but despite my attempts to keep him with me, I could see he was already riding that thin chiffon wave between here and gone. He loved beauty, he was hopelessly drawn to the magic and the light in all things. I figure he saw something he could not resist out of the corner of his eye and flew into it. Despite the fact that every rescue attempt was made by paramedics and hospital staff and the death pronouncement officially came at 12:08 pm Eastern Time, I believe he died in my arms in our favorite hotel, leaving me with those final words. That's the true story I am going to tell."

Many had predicted that the duo was destined for success beyond the typical folk music circles. Jim Olson, president of Carter's record label, Signature Sounds, said, "I always believed it would only take one cover by a major star to unveil his work to the rest of the world; and I was convinced that was going to happen. Somebody was going to open the door for them; and the thing about Dave's music is that once people heard it, they became lifelong fans." Fellow folksinger and journalist Matt Watroba wrote, "It would make sense at this point, to say that Dave Carter was on the verge of something big. The truth, however, is that Dave was something big already. He moved the people lucky enough to know him or his music in a way that has launched an outpouring of tributes, memories and love."

Grammer decided to keep the duo's appointment to play the 2002 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival the following week and a tribute concert was arranged. The tribute included performances by a number of Carter's admirers singing his songs. Highlights included Chris Smither's cover of "Crocodile Man", Mark Erelli singing "Cowboy Singer", a rendition of "Happytown" by The Kennedys, and "Farewell to Saint Dolores" by Eddie From Ohio. Grammer herself opened the show with "The Mountain" and closed with "Gentle Soldier of My Soul". Several artist have since written tributes in Carter's honor (see below) and in 2005 Grammer released Flower of Avalon, including nine previously unrecorded songs by Carter.

Dave Carter's songs have been covered by many others, perhaps most notably by Joan Baez ("The Mountain") and by Lucy Kaplansky ("Cowboy Singer") and Chris Smither ("Crocodile Man"). Tributes to him following his death were written by Tracy Grammer ("The Verdant Mile") and Richard Shindell ("So Says the Whippoorwill"), among others.

One song, "Gentle Arms of Eden", was added to the hymnal in at least one Unitarian Universalist congregation, and also serves as the theme to a documentary on the rebuilding of New York City after 9/11. More of his songs were recorded by Tracy Grammer on her 2005 album Flower of Avalon.


* Snake Handlin' Man, Dave Carter (self-release, 1995)
* When I Go, Dave Carter with Tracy Grammer (self-release 1998, Signature Sounds 2002)
* Tanglewood Tree, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer (Signature Sounds, 2000)
* Drum Hat Buddha, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer (Signature Sounds, 2001)
* Seven is the Number Dave Carter and Tracy Gammer (Tracy Grammer Music, 2006)


Songs written by Dave Carter performed by other artists:

* Flower of Avalon (Signature Sounds, 2005), Tracy Grammer, includes nine previously unrecorded Dave Carter songs.
* "The Mountain", in 2001 concerts, Joan Baez
* "The River Where She Sleeps", from A Crooked Line (2001), Darryl Purpose
* "Tanglewood Tree", from Clearwater (2002), Chris and Meredith Thompson
* "Crocodile Man", from Train Home (Hightone Records, 2003), Chris Smither
* "Farewell to St. Dolores", Gambling Eden (2003), Rani Arbo
* "Gentle Arms of Eden", from Temporary Stay (2003), Pat Wictor
* "Gentle Arms of Eden", from Side of the Road (2003), Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert
* "Walking Away from Caroline, from God's Poet Now, (2003, EP to benefit the Dave Carter Memorial Fund), Erik Balkey
* "Cat Eye Willie Claims His Lover", from Sweet Mystery of Life (2004), Full Frontal Folk
* "Cowboy Singer", from The Red Thread (Red House Records, 2004), Lucy Kaplansky
* "Gentle Soldier of My Soul", from Paintbrush (2004), Diane Zeigler
* "The Mountain", LIVE (2004), Chris and Meredith Thompson
* "Quickdraw Southpaw's Last Hurrah", from One Horse Town (2005), Jim Henry
* "When I Go", from Bristlecone Pine (2006), Bryan Bowers
* "Happytown (It's Alright with Me)" and "Gypsy Rose", from Songs of the Open Road (Appleseed Recordings, 2006), The Kennedys
* "When I Go", from Heaven is So High and I'm So Far Down (RiskyDisk, 2006), Pat Wictor
* "Gun Metal Eyes", from Liberty Tree (Songs from the Kitchen Table) (2007?), Mission Street Project
* "Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love", from Open The Gate (2007) Sense of Wonder
* "When I Go" from Live (2003), Ronny Cox


Songs written by other artists as tributes to Dave Carter:

* "The Verdant Mile", from The Verdant Mile (Tracy Grammer Music, 2004), Tracy Grammer
* "Between Here and Gone," from Between Here and Gone (2004) Mary Chapin Carpenter
* "Friend of the Coyote", from Kickin' This Stone (2004), Johnsmith
* "So Says the Whippoorwill", from Vuelta (Signature Sounds, 2004), Richard Shindell
* "God's Poet Now", from God's Poet Now (2003), Erik Balkey
* "Wheel Inside the Wheel", from Mercy Now (2004), Mary Gauthier
* "Tribute", from From the Hazel Tree (written 2002, recorded 2004), written by Catherine Faber, recorded by Echo's Children
* "I Shall Not Look Away", from Tiger Tatoo (Waterbug Records, 2002), Andrew Calhoun
* "Willow", from Open The Gate (2007) Sense of Wonder
* "Dave's Song", from White Bird (2003), Emily Kurn
* "Oklahoma Spirit Guide", from Spirit Guide (2006, Redbud Hill), Randy Auxier

External links

* Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer's Official web site
* Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer Chords & Lyrics

Sources and notes

1. ^ a b Alarik, Scott, "New songs from old places: Dave Carter, Tracy Grammer, and Joan Baez," Boston Globe September 9, 2001 and reprinted in Deep Community, pgs 196-7, Black Wolf Press, 2003.

"If the voice of modern folk music is changing–and many in the folk biz believe it is–it is going to sound a lot like Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer.

2. ^ Annual Folk Airplay Summaries, Compiled by Richard Gillmann of KBCS from FolkDJ-L playlists.
3. ^ a b Bulla, David, Music Matters Review: "A 'Tanglewood' Music Feast–Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer", 2000.
4. ^ Watroba, Matt, "Sing Out! Spotlight: Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer," Sing Out! Vol 45 # 1, Spring 2001
5. ^ New York Times, (obituary), July 25, 2002
6. ^ Marcel, Joyce, "BABY, I JUST DIED: THE PASSING OF ALAN LOMAX," (obituary for Carter and Alan Lomax who died the same day) The American Reporter Dummerston, Vermont
7. ^ McDonald, Fern, "Green River Festival", at July 20, 2002
8. ^ Grammer, Tracy, "Love From Tracy", post at, Sunday, July 21, 2002
9. ^ Alarik, Scott, "Dave Carter, 49, folk artist touted as 'major lyrical talent'," Boston Globe, page B7, July 23, 2002
10. ^ Watroba, Matt, "Last Chorus: Dave Carter (1952-2002)," (obituary), Sing Out! Vol. 46 # 3, p. 27, Fall 2002. reprint here
11. ^ Hanson, Jennifer 2002 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Rambles a cultural arts magazine at, August 31, 2002
12. ^ a b Chris and Meredith Thompson official web site
13. ^ Watroba, Matt, "Review: Jim Henry, One Horse Town Six Pack", Sing Out! Vol 50 #2, Summer 2006. reprint here
14. ^ The Kennedys official web site
15. ^ CD reviews at
16. ^ Review of The Verdant Mile, Rambles Cultural Arts Magazine at
17. ^ Echo's Children Home Page
18. ^ "Linen Shorts: Andrew Calhoun - Tiger Tatoo, [, August/September 2003, p.95
19. ^ Jamie Anderson, "Off the Beaten Track: Randy Auxier - Spirit Guide", Sing Out!, 50:1, Spring 2006, p.143

Further reading

* Music Matters Review on Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer
* WJFF Public Radio Interview with Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, Aired November 20, 1999

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