In his own 2006 autobiography, Get Carter, the lawyer wrote: “If there was a place in Arkansas where a Limey rock musician could be arrested for just driving through, it was Fordyce, the birthplace of Alabama football god Bear Bryant and a town that had adopted the chigger as its high school mascot.”
The Rolling Stones’ guitarist’s appearance in that Fordyce courtroom 36 years ago plunged into a comedy of errors that involved an angry police chief and an inebriated judge. The results, thanks to Carter, were that Richards and his fellow travelers were allowed to leave quickly.
“I didn’t know what the first chapter was going to be,” Carter said last week, “but when Keith submitted the manuscript to the publisher, this lawyer in New York with the publishing company called me. He said, ‘We’re gonna be sued over this. This can’t be true.’ He went on and on. I finally just stopped him and told him, ‘There are two judges still living who were witnesses and myself, and I can assure you that what Keith is saying is his account of what took place. As for the judge being drunk and all, that is absolutely true. You will not be sued for that.’ He just couldn’t understand anything like that could happen anywhere.”
Carter is strongly of the opinion that the Stones caught a ton of flack more for what they looked like than what they did.
“It was more than just that case. Having been a conservative law enforcement office, I was appalled by the conduct of the police throughout the United States. I was coming from a generation where we didn’t dare let our hair grow long or your dad would whack you, and then comes Elvis with a ducktail. Then in the ’60s, when young people were mad and rebelling against authority and went a little farther than my generation had, and when the Stones came to the United States in 1972, they got blamed for all the riots and the drug use,” Carter said.
“The Stones didn’t do anything. They came over here and performed. It was the children of America that rebelled. The Stones rode that wave of American rebellion to success. Maybe we should have looked at our own generation of youth that were challenging authority and the right to be different.
“When I reflect back on Fordyce and all the things that took place, it was the authorities who were fed up with American youth with long hair and the hippie generation. And they went after the Stones more for what they looked like or for what they chose to look like more than for violating the law.
“I’m not saying they were pure and saints. They joined in that youthful generation. What I wanted the police to do was arrest them for violating the law; not for having long hair and the image they had. I guess I took the position that they have the right to look like what they want to. I understood the narrow-mindedness of the authorities of that generation, because I grew up with them.
“My problem with the police force in Memphis and Louisville and 20 other cities is that they set out to bust the Stones no matter what they had had done, and I protested that and was proud to stand up and fight for the guys and their right to be different; and I really think that was it. They got busted, and when they didn’t get busted, police were trying to bust them just because of their right to rebel and be different.”
Carter’s association with the Rolling Stones began when he received a phone call from Arkansas Congressman Wilbur Mills, a powerhouse on Capitol Hill at the time, who asked Carter to help the Stones with an immigration matter. The group had been banned from the U.S. due to riots which surrounded their 1972 concert tour. The State Department alleged the boys in the band advocated civil disobedience, open drug use and were a menace to the youth of America.
“This powerful law firm from New York and Washington had tried to get the government to reverse its position and had failed. They turned to a little hick in Little Rock, Ark., to do it, and I enjoyed the challenge of showing up those blue suits in the big city,” Carter recalled.
“I knew how the State Department thought: Instead of demanding all their legal rights, I went in there and just talked to them like one of them and was eventually able to get them to reverse their decision and allow the Stones to come back in. But they did require that I personally guarantee the safety of the young people of America who attended their concerts.
“Ironically, I designed the security system of their touring based on presidential security from the Secret Service. I copied our own advance work with the White House and converted it over to the Rolling Stones, and that became the model for rock ’n’ roll touring for big tours. It was a lot of fun over those years. I look back and laugh, but it was rather stressful, some of those confrontations. That was a period of change, a transition from my generation to this younger generation who dared to be different.”
Carter was so adept at his work that he also handled tours for the Stones in 1978 and 1981. He was involved in another Rolling Stones’ benchmark-Keith Richards’ arrest for heroin trafficking in Canada, which was covered entertainingly in Chet Flippo’s book, On the Road With The Rolling Stones. Carter continued to represent the Stones, particularly Richards, until 1990.
As for the title of his autobiography, he says the phrase Get Carter! was coined by Rolling Stone Magazine writer Flippo.
“He (Flippo) said every time something went wrong, Jagger screamed ‘Get Carter!’ I had a lot to do, but after 1981 the culture of youth changed. They didn’t really require my presence, and the guys were getting older, and by 1995 those guys were having grandchildren coming out to their tours. They grew older and the audiences grew up.”
Carter describes Richards, saying, “Keith may be the most misunderstood person in entertainment. He has an image that really works for him. It represents his true personality. He is what he is. He never pretends to be anything else. He is the most honest guy I may have ever met. ‘I am what I am.’ He should have his teeth fixed but that wouldn’t be him. He will die exactly the way he is.
“He heard I had started a foundation to help disadvantaged kids in my hometown, and he went back to New York, and he sent me a pearl inlaid, handmade guitar. He autographed it and had a picture made of him autographing it and sent it to me as a donation to help the kids in my hometown. That guitar brought $100,000. . . . I always found him to be a very kind and generous person. He may be accused of seeing things differently from the eyes of a rock ’n’ roll superstar, but it’s all relative, and I think he’s a nice guy and probably like him better than any other Stone,” Carter said.
And as for Mick Jagger, the undisputed leader of the band, he said, “He is the business brains behind the organization, very professional. I never asked Mick to do anything he didn’t need to do to help the band, and he always responded. I couldn’t nudge the State Department to reverse their decision. So I took Mick to the State Department to meet them and show them the real, live person that he was.
“And when he went there, it totally disrupted the State Department. Women ran out into the corridor. This guy turned their building upside down, and these gray-haired ladies were coming out wanting autographs. I asked him, ‘I need you go there and let them see you’re a person and not the evil villain they make you out to be.’ He wowed them there.
“They came away saying, ‘Your Mick Jagger is quite an intellectual.’ I told them, ‘I’m glad you recognize he is not a rock ’n’ roll bum.’ But Mick is not the personable guy that Keith is, and Charlie and the other guys. Keith has described Mick as being multiple personalities, and I have seen that, but with me he was always very cordial and respectful.”
Carter keeps in touch with Keith and considers all of the Rolling Stones as very good friends, however, his connections with big name stars doesn’t stop there.
Among one of the most bizarre challenges he faced was negotiating with Mexican authorities to have the body of Steve McQueen returned to the States after the actor died there in 1980. Within six hours of Carter’s intervention, the remains were returned to the U.S. for burial.
During the past 30 years, Carter worked with or managed the careers of such musicians as David Bowie, Reba McEntire, Tanya Tucker, Lonestar, Waylon Jennings, Lari White, Rodney Crowell, Carlene Carter, Shenandoah and TV/radio personality Ralph Emery. In 1995, he was approached by gospel music legend Bill Gaither about selling his “Homecoming” series to The Nashville Network.
Today, he spends most of his time producing the Gaither “Homecoming” videos and albums.“Bill Gaither always says when he is introducing me, ‘This is Bill Carter. He used to work for the Rolling Stones, but now he works for us. At least he’s headed in the right direction,’” joked Carter, who has produced more than 150 videos for the Southern gospel music guru.
“This last one we went to the Billy Graham Library because Billy and Cliff Barrows (program and music director of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) and Bev Shea (a beloved gospel singer who performed solos at Billy Graham Crusades) wanted to get there one last time, and Franklin Graham said his dad wanted us to come over and do something at his library. Billy was not able to come down, but we had a great time with 140 gospel artists for that taping. It was a huge event.” (That video will be released in September.)
Carter’s next task is organizing the first Johnny Cash Musical Festival, set for Aug. 4 at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro, Ark. The event will serve as a fundraiser to restore the Man in Black’s boyhood home in Dyess, Ark., which belongs to ASU.
Of the event he says, “Johnny’s daughter, Rosanne, asked me, ‘What will we open with?’ I told her, ‘You coming out and singing ‘Five Feet High and Rising.’ They will identify with that.’”(Among the performers scheduled for the concert are Rosanne Cash, John Carter Cash, Laura Cash, Tommy Cash, George Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Dailey and Vincent, Gary Morris, Rodney Crowell and Chelsea Crowell.)
The problem solver, who worked as a Secret Service agent during the Kennedy Administration in the early 1960s, relocated to a 40-acre farm in Wilson County in 1994.
“I had a place in the mountains of North Carolina, and I had a condo in downtown Nashville in the music area. I was looking for property, and since I was commuting to North Carolina, I wanted to be on the eastside of Nashville. I just found this place and loved it and have been here ever since. I just enjoy living out here,” said Carter, who plans to die working.
“I only have one hobby—work. My father was not real well educated, but he taught me to work, and I love working. I never had a job I didn’t like, and I’m grateful that my dad was who he was and gave me such a solid foundation. . . . People ask me, ‘When are you going to retire?’ Why retire? I love working and doing what I do.
“I’ll die happy if I’m working. . . . I was an undertaker at one time. People have asked me, ‘Did you enjoy that?’ A job is an attitude. Yes, I did enjoy that,” said Carter, who, like a rolling stone, gathers no moss.
Read Carter -- For more information about Bill Carter, who has worked as attorney, Secret Service agent, politician, lobbyist, security consultant for rock ’n’ roll acts, artist manager and TV producer, go to his Web site: www.billcarteronline.com. His autobiography, “Get Carter: Backstage in History From JFK’s Assassination to The Rolling Stones,” is for sale at most bookstore Web sites and at Amazon.com.
Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at email@example.com.