Date of Birth: September 13, 1943
Place of Birth: Florence, Alabama
1995 Studio Musician Award
Jerry Carrigan played his first recording session at age 13, and helped develop Muscle Shoals into a thriving music community.
Carrigan traces his musical beginnings to the early days when producers such as Tom Stafford, Kelso Herston, James Joiner and Rick Hall would "still give newcomers a chance." "You might say I was raised in the studio," Carrigan explains. Sessions were his main source of income during high school and his time spent at Florence State College as an accounting major.
"We laid the groundwork for the whole Muscle Shoals R&B movement to begin," Carrigan says of himself and fellow musicians David Briggs and Norbert Putnam, who were part of the original "Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section" in the early sixties.
He played on hits by Arthur Alexander, Jimmy Hughes, The Tams, and Tommy Roe, and also backing Roe in a live performance in Washington, D.C. where they shared the bill with the Beatles during that group's U.S. debut.
In 1965, Carrigan, Briggs and Putnam moved to Nashville, and were soon the hottest studio musicians in that area as well. "The first year I was in Nashville, I did about ninety per cent of the sessions that were done at RCA," Carrigan said. He played on hits for Charlie Rich, Ray Stevens, Charlie Pride, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Paycheck, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
In addition to working with top country artists, Carrigan played on recordings by Al Hirt, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joan Baez, Kenny Rogers, Wayne Newton and toured the world with John Denver.
Working with Denver brought him together with Grammy-winning engineer and producer, Roger Nichols. Carrigan contributed to the development of the sound library of the Wendel Jr. Drum Replacement Unit, a Nichols invention.
Few people know right from the start what they want to do with their lives. Among those few are an even smaller number with the talent, timing, and tenacity to make that yearning a reality.
Nashville drummer and producer Jerry Carrigan is one of those few special people. Though not always in the public eye, you've certainly heard him on pop, R&B or country radio. Even if popular music isn't your taste, you've heard the "Carrigan Sound" on jingles for 7-Up, Coke, Chevrolet, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, or "Me and My RC", on television soundtracks for Maverick and Simon & Simon, or in the movies Nashville, Every Which Way But Loose, Six Pack, This Is Elvis, Urban Cowboy, or The Gambler.
A native of Florence, Alabama, Carrigan traces his musical beginnings to the early days of Muscle Shoals recording, when the music community was smaller, business was expanding, and producers such as Tom Stafford, Kelso Herston, James Joiner, and Rick Hall still gave newcomers a chance. "You might say I was raised in the studio," Carrigan explains, adding that he played on his first recording session at age thirteen. Sessions were his main source of income during high school and at Florence State College, where he was a reluctant accounting major.
"We laid the groundwork for the whole Muscle Shoals R&B movement to begin," Carrigan says of himself and fellow musicians David Briggs and Norbert Putnam, who were part of the original "Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section" in the early Sixties. They played on Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On" (the first R&B hit out of Muscle Shoals), followed that with Jimmy Hughes' chartbuster "Steal Away" and later, on numerous hits by Tommy Roe and by The Tams, including "What Kind of Fool". It was during this period that Carrigan backed Tommy Roe in Washington, D.C. on a concert sharing the billing with The Beatles. This was the first live performance of The Beatles in the United States.
Carrigan is especially proud of his work, spanning Muscle Shoals, Memphis, and Nashville with songwriter Dan Penn, who became famous for Aretha Franklin's biggest hits and writing for and producing The Boxtops.
But in 1965, Muscle Shoals had yet to break as a perpetual hitmaker, while the Nashville "legend" was well established. The talented young drummer and his two colleagues, Briggs and Putnam, moved there together that year and worked as a rhythm section, each intending to branch out alone.
And branch they did - very, very fast. Jerry remembers those first few years in Nashville quite fondly. Making the most of the Muscle Shoals contacts who preceded him in coming to Nashville, he soon acquired a following among producers and artists. "The first year I was in Nashville, I did about ninety percent of the sessions that were done at RCA," he recalls. "People just put me right to work." Top producers such as Felton Jarvis, Jerry Kennedy, Owen Bradley, Chet Atkins, and Billy Sherrill all hired Carrigan for record dates. He played on hits for some of the biggest country stars of the era - Charlie Rich, Ray Stevens, Charlie Pride, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Paycheck, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
The growth of Nashville into the nation's major recording center during the Seventies can be attributed largely to the city's fabulous musicians, including Jerry Carrigan. No one foresaw the boom in country music that came about during this period, but one thing is clear: as country music grew, so did Carrigan's list of credits. Artists such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Jerry Reed, and Kenny Rogers were suddenly superstars, and Carrigan was called in to help create the smash hits that made these artists such as success. As "the drummer most in demand" by Nashville producers, he was by 1977 playing approximately twelve three-hour sessions per week.
As Nashville began drawing talent from both coasts, Jerry added to his list many artists associated with other types of music. He played on records with Al Hirt, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Tom Jones, Henri Mancini, Joan Baez, and the Boston Pops. Through his association with Grammy-winning Nashville producer Larry Butler, he worked with Sammy Davis, Jr., Don McLean, Nana Mouskouri, Kenny Rogers, Paul Anka, Bobby Vinton, Steve & Eydie, Debby Boone, Wayne Newton, and John Denver. He acquired international attention while playing on a CBS show for Johnny Paycheck in London, and subsequently recorded several projects done in Nashville under the direction of famed Italian producer John Reverberi. Carrigan continued his international acclaim while touring the world with John Denver. The Denver association put him together with Grammy-winning engineer and producer, Roger Nichols, whom he's worked with on numerous recording projects; as well as contributing to the development of the sound library of the Wendel Jr. Drum Replacement Unit, a Nichols invention.
An innovator, Carrigan is largely responsible for establishing the "big fat drum sound" associated with Nashville recordings. "I started playing real loose, deep-sounding snare drums on country records. Billy Sherrill loved it. So I started experimenting with different things, different kinds of drums. I bought the first set of concert tom-toms that were in Nashville. I think that's one reason the producers liked my sound. I had a different approach."
With all his national and international success, Carrigan likes to emphasize that he's not a "distant drummer" - in fact, he's usually at home in Nashville and often available for record dates and production projects.
What lies ahead for the "drummer in demand" whose only problem is finding enough time for everything he wants to do? "I think production is my future. I'd like to put to use all the creative ideas and technical knowledge I've attained throughout my career of working with 'the best'."
Arthur Alexander, Susie Allanson, Rex Allen, Jr., Eric Anderson, John Anderson, Paul Anka, Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins & The Boston Pops, Hoyt Axton, Joan Baez, Judy Bailey, Razzy Bailey, Moe Bandy, Paul Barabani, Bobby Bare, Debby Boone, Roger Bowling, Boxcar Willie, Terry Bradshaw, Jim Ed Brown, George Burns, Larry Butler, Johnny Cash, Marshall Chapman, The Chipmunks, Roy Clark, David Allan Coe, Earl Thomas Conley, Cornelius Bros. & Sister Rose, Helen Cornelius, Lacy J. Dalton, Dave & Sugar, Mac Davis, Sammy Davis, Jr., John Denver, Johnny Duncan, Dale Evans, Barbara Fairchild, Donna Fargo, Florida Boys, Janie Fricke, Bill Gaither, Larry Gatlin, Steve Gibb, Terri Gibbs, Mickey Gilley, Bobby Goldsboro, Vern Gosdin, Amy Grant, Lee Greenwood, Merle Haggard, Tom T. Hall, Linda Hargrove, Freddie Hart, Al Hirt, Becky Hobbs, Honeytree, David Houston, Jimmy Hughes, Con Hunley, Sonny James, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Tom Jones, Wayne Kemp, The Kendalls, Kris Kristofferson, La Costa, Cristy Lane, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, Brenda Lee, Dickey Lee, Zella Lehr, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dave Loggins, Norman Luboff, Liz Lyndell, Loretta Lynn, Warner Mack, Henry Mancini, Barbara Mandrell, Grady Martin, Wayne Massey, O.B. McClinton, Ronnie McDowell, Reba McEntire, Don McLean, Wyley McPherson, Bill Medley, Mother Earth, Nana Mouskouri, Willie Nelson, Wayne Newton, Mickey Newbury, Oak Ridge Boys, Doug Oldham, Roy Orbison, Tommy Overstreet, Vernon Oxford, Patti Page, Dolly Parton, Johnny Paycheck, Dan Penn, Webb Pierce, Ray Pillow, Diane Pfeifer, Pozo Seco Singers, Elvis Presley, Ray Price, Charley Pride, Ronnie Prophet, Pupo, Boots Randolph, Eddy Raven, Jerry Reed, Charlie Rich, Johnny Rivers, Marty Robbins, Johnny Rodriguez, Tommy Roe, Kenny Rogers, Pam Rose, Earl Scruggs, Troy Seals, Jeanie Seeley, Jean Shepherd, Joe Simon, Cal Smith, Connie Smith, Margo Smith, Sammi Smith, Billie Jo Spears, The Speers, Joe Stampley, Statler Brothers, Red Steagall, Saundra Steele, Ray Stevens, Gary Stewart, Nat Stuckey, Billy Swan, The Tams, Carmol Taylor, B.J. Thomas, Hank Thompson, Thrasher Brothers, Tompall & The Glaser Brothers, Truth, Tanya Tucker, Twiggy, Conway Twitty, Bobby Vinton, Porter Wagoner, Billy Walker, Jerry Wallace, Jacky Ward, Joe Waters, Freddy Weller, Kitty Wells, Dottie West, Billy Edd Wheeler, Andy Williams, Hank Williams, Jr., Wright Brothers, Tammy Wynette, Faron Young
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Jerry Carrigan is an American drummer and record producer born 13 September 1943 in Florence, Alabama. He first achieved widespread recognition by being part of the first wave of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and later as a session musician in Nashville, Tennessee for over 3 decades. He has played with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Tony Joe White, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dolly Parton and many others (see list below).
Jerry Carrigan was born in Florence, Alabama, in 1943. According to his mother, Carrigan would abandon new toys as an infant and crawl to the kitchen cabinets to beat on the family’s pots and pans. Later, his father purchased Carrigan a set of drums after the young child had created his own makeshift set, which included an old banjo and brush for a snare; boxes as tom-toms; and old Edison records on sticks as cymbals.
He grew up listening to 1950's R&B, including artists such as Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, Little Richard and Larry Williams, and Country artists such as Hank Garland. Carrigan made his first recording session at age 13, as a member of Little Joe Allen and the Offbeats. In addition to drumming in local bands, Carrigan also played in marching bands throughout high school and college.
As a drummer his influences were Buddy Harman and Earl Palmer.
Carrigan began College, and while there in February 1964 he backed Tommy Roe for a live concert in Washington, D.C. as the opening act for The Beatles who were playing their first ever American Concert.Carrigan left college after two years to concentrate on his work as a session musician at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
"We laid the gorundworkfor the whole Muscle Sholas Rhythm and Blues Movement to begin" Carrigan says of himself and fellow musicians David Briggs [disambiguation needed] and Norbert Putnam, who were part of the original "Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section" in the early sixties.
Although eclipsed by a later version of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section known as "The Swampers" consisting of Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Carrigan played on a number of hits including: Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On" (the first R&B hit out of Muscle Shoals), followed by Jimmy Hughes' chart hit "Steal Away" and later, on numerous hits by Tommy Roe and The Tams, including "What Kind of Fool".
Muscle Shoals had yet to become a world renowned Recording Studio, while Nashville's home to top session musicians was already well established. So in 1965 Carrigan, together with Briggs and Putnam, moved there together that year and worked as a rhythm section, each intending to branch out alone.
Making the most of the Muscle Shoals contacts who preceded him in going to Nashville, Carrigan soon acquired a following among producers and artists. "The first year I was in Nashville, I did about ninety percent of the sessions that were done at RCA," he recalls. "People just put me right to work."  Top producers such as Felton Jarvis, Jerry Kennedy, Owen Bradley, Chet Atkins, and Billy Sherrill all hired Carrigan for record dates. He played on hits for some of the biggest country stars of the era - Charlie Rich, Ray Stevens, Charley Pride, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Paycheck, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
The growth of Nashville into a major recording center during the Seventies and the boom in Country Music can largely be attributed to the city's session musicians, including Jerry Carrigan. Non-Country artists began recording in Nashville and Carrigan was soon recording with artists such as Elvis Presley, Tony Joe White, Al Hirt, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Tom Jones, Henry Mancini, Joan Baez, and the Boston Pops. Through his association with Grammy-winning Nashville producer Larry Butler, he worked with Sammy Davis, Jr., Don McLean, Nana Mouskouri, Kenny Rogers, Paul Anka, Bobby Vinton, Steve and Eydie, Debby Boone, Wayne Newton, and John Denver, with whom he also toured between 1981 and 1990.
Viewed as an in-demand drummer by Nashville producers, he was by 1977 playing approximately twelve three-hour sessions per week.
He gained international attention while playing on a CBS show for Johnny Paycheck in London, and subsequently recorded several projects done in Nashville under the direction of Italian producer John Reverberi.
Carrigan is largely responsible for establishing the "big fat drum sound" associated with Nashville recordings during the 1970s. He said: "I started playing real loose, deep-sounding snare drums on country records. Billy Sherrill loved it. So I started experimenting with different things, different kinds of drums. I bought the first set of concert tom-toms that were in Nashville. I think that's one reason the producers liked my sound. I had a different approach." 
In February 2009 Carrigan was honored in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s ongoing Nashville Cats series, which pays tribute to veteran musicians who have proven integral to the city’s role as the home of country music and one of the world’s leading recording centers.
Bama-Lam! Alabama's Drumming Legend
by Allen Smith, July 2000
What do Leon Russell, Delbert McClinton, Ronnie Hawkins, and Willie Nelson have in common? How about Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and John Denver? Other than being great musicians, they've all utilized the drumming sounds of Jerry Carrigan on their recordings.
Jerry Carrigan, who hails from Florence, Alabama, was one of the busiest and most in-demand session drummers in Nashville for over twenty-five years. He played on literally hundreds of country, pop, rock, and R&B classics. Read on to learn more about the life and times of this legendary drummer.
Gritz: I wanted to start out asking you about some of the first songs you can remember being interested in? What songs fascinated you when you were a teenager or when you started getting interested in music?
Carrigan: Oh man, the Smiley Lewis things. "I Hear You Knockin' But You Can't Come In." Little Richard records. I loved Little Richard records. Jerry Lee Lewis records. I was fascinated by the thumping drum sound.Russell Smith played drums live with Jerry Lee. He didn't play on the records. He was nice to us kids and he even gave me a couple of drum heads one time and showed me how he played that old thumping sound. I loved Earl Palmer. He played drums on all the Little Richard records. I liked Fats Domino. Chuck Berry of course.
That was the first stuff I was really crazy about. I was already playing drums, but I knew that was the way I wanted to play, you know, that kind of feel. I was into it, man. I tried every way I knew to make it work and finally I figured out how to do it - a little bit! I also loved the early stuff that came from New York. Garnett Mims. And all that Atlantic stuff back then. Big Joe Turner. Solomon Burke. I liked Gary Chester [New York session drummer]. I listened to him a lot. Stole a lot from him. Moved it around some and "Carrigan-ized" it!
Gritz: Did you play in high school?
Carrigan: I played in the junior high school band, and the high school band, and the college band, and the ROTC band.
Gritz: You were playing whatever the band had?
Carrigan: Yeah. Snare drum, bass drum, tympani, cymbals. You had to play it all.
Gritz: Then you got the rock and roll bug, I guess.
Carrigan: Oh man, I got it so bad it was unbelievable. It bit me hard, boy. It bit us all hard. In that high school band our cadence was actually made up of a fill that Earl Palmer did on a Fats Domino record. Mike Shephard and myself and Donnie Fritts and Randy Allen -- we made this cadence up. To learn to play it man we had to record the Fats Domino thing on a tape recorder that I had and then slow it down to half speed to figure out what he was playing. I always loved that cadence. I loved the New Orleans records. Ernie K-Doe. Allan Toussaint. I was into all that stuff.
Gritz: So did you buy 45s?
Carrigan: Yeah, I did and wore them out playing to them.
Gritz: Were there very many record stores there in Florence?
Carrigan: Yeah, there were quite a few record shops around. We'd look through the 45s and get the latest Elvis, Jerry and Little Richard. All those things.
And I liked Burt Bacharach. Norbert (Putnam) and David (Briggs) and myself loved that stuff. We liked to play that kind of stuff.
Gritz: I remember that all the Muscle Shoals guys liked Burt Bacharach.
Carrigan: We were crazy about him. We went to New York at an early age with Tommy Roe. And we went up there and stayed two weeks with him, played the Brooklyn Fox Theatre for Murray the K's Christmas show. We would go to the record shops up there and buy all these cool Bacharach things. So we were on to that rhythm and on to that kind of sound long before it became popular or hits you know. Which we thought was cool, you know, nobody was doing that down here. We tried to incorporate a little bit of that into our playing, which I think we did rather successfully. I can't really throw any names of records out but I can assure you there were some inputs there.
Gritz: What's so great about Bacharach - why musicians like him - is that he approached things differently. His songs all had a little different twist to them.
Carrigan: That's exactly right. Different time signatures and just different ways to play pop music. To us that's what it was, and we tried to incorporate that into the R&B thing, you know what I mean. Make a little twist in it. We thought it was great and I guess other people did too. They seemed to buy the records.
Gritz: The idea of mixing different influences Ü I think that's why you and those other Muscle Shoals guys were so successful. Because you brought a lot of different influences.
Carrigan: I believe you're right there. I really do. I think we were blessed and fortunate to have done that and been able to do it. Had the wherewithal to do it. I don't know. I just always enjoyed experimenting.
Gritz: I think you said that you did your first sessions when you were thirteen or fourteen.
Carrigan: Thirteen. Up in Nashville.
Gritz: Oh really? Who was that for?
Carrigan: I played with a little band called "Little Joe Allen and the Offbeats". Man, I've still got the record. It's awful (laughs).
Gritz: So you guys just rode up there.
Carrigan: Yeah, my daddy took us up there in the station wagon. My daddy was a big promoter of me, bless his heart, he really helped me in music. He promoted me.
Gritz: Did he play?
Carrigan: No, he couldn't play at all. But he loved it. He booked our band and made sure we got our money. And I was only thirteen so he had to go with me. We played honky-tonks. A thirteen year old can't go in a honky-tonk. But I did! I tell you it was wild, man!
Gritz: So you did your first Nashville session at thirteen. And then you went back home and kept on playing locally.
Carrigan: Yeah, went back home and kept playing locally. James Joiner and Kelso Hurston. Those guys they would use me on sessions on the weekends.
Gritz: And where did you do those?
Carrigan: We'd do those at James [Joiner]'s bus station on Saturdays and Sundays.
Gritz: A bus station?!
Carrigan: It was a bus station. James owned it. On the weekends we'd go in and move all the stuff out of the way and record. Then later on we went down to WJOI radio station down by the Indian Mounds. We'd go down there on Sundays and cut. Then James bought a building on Court Street and we'd go up there and record upstairs.
Gritz: I'm not familiar with James Joiner. Was he a player or singer?
Carrigan: He was one of the original music pioneers down here. He wrote "A Fallen Star" recorded by Bobby Denton. He was good buddies with Sonny James and we'd go off on the weekends and play with Sonny James. James picked me up in a big Cadillac - man I thought I was something!
Gritz: What years was that?
Carrigan: Late fifties.
Gritz: So he just happened to be recording, and you just got into it from that?
Carrigan: Yeah. Number one, I was one of the few guys that had a set of drums in Florence, Alabama. Ed Goodwin had some drums and I had some drums. I was younger than Ed and I played different from Ed. Ed was more obligated and he couldn't get off and play like I could. I was just a kid. So I got to work and they liked my playing. And the Lord gave me good rhythm and timing, and I was always able to do it pretty well. And they used me and I started doing the Tom Stafford stuff over the old city drug store.
Gritz: Is he the guy that owned the drug store?
Carrigan: His daddy owned the drug store and he was manager of the Princess Theatre. That's how we got to go to the movies from time to time! And we cut Arthur Alexander up there. "Sally Sue Brown." He went by June Alexander back then - Arthur Alexander Jr. - they called him June. I spent many hours down here [Florence/Muscle Shoals] doing recordings. I remember one time we did thirteen sides for Huey Meaux for sixty-five dollars. Isn't that pitiful?
Gritz: Was that the going rate?
Carrigan: I don't think we had a going rate. We were kids and we were starving to be in the business and make a living playing music. That's all we wanted to do but we had to figure out how to make a living doing it.
Gritz: So, you're about 18-19 years old. Were you out of school?
Carrigan: I was in college at that time. We'd already cut all of Tommy Roe's stuff and we were proven hit makers. Ray Stevens and all those guys were coming down. And they were courting us to move to Nashville. Joe South and all the guys from Atlanta were coming over and everybody wanted us to move to Nashville. So [pianist David] Briggs and I departed. Took off.
Gritz: You were just getting to the age where you wanted to branch out?
Carrigan: Well, we had obligations you know. We had bills to pay and mouths to feed. We had to go where there was money to be made. And those guys that were coming down here -they thought we could make a great living if we went up there, so we just took a chance and did it.
Gritz: So you got to Nashville. I'm sure you weren't readily accepted.
Carrigan: I was not accepted not by the whole music populace. Not by any means.
Gritz: You were quoted as saying that you played shuffles a little differently. And the other players that were already doing sessions didnÍt like the way you played.
Carrigan: They didn't like that shuffle at all. But they said shuffle and I played shuffle! Dotted eighths and sixteenths. What they wanted was triplets with the middle one gone. Lazy shuffle I call it. Nice shuffle. Country shuffle. When I finally figured out how to play it I learned how to play it pretty well. I liked to play it.
Gritz: So it got to the point where they more or less accepted you guys.
Carrigan: Yeah man, but there was a long little initiation there. There were some strange things going on. I'd come back from lunch break and there'd be notes on my drums. "Go Home." "We don't need you." "Go back to Muscle Shoals." Just all this stuff. Little notes laid on my drums.
Gritz: The story is that Owen Bradley was noticing that the other musicians were doing little tricks to throw you guys off.
Carrigan: It was me! I was the only new one in there. It was me and Grady Martin and Bob Moore and Ray Edenton and Floyd Cramer. And Owen finally said, "Now listen guys, that drummer is Jerry Carrigan. He's a friend of mine. I hired him cause I like the way he plays and he's playing what I want him to play. I suggest y'all play with him or I'll ask you all to leave and he and I will finish the session." That's exactly what he said. And I never will forget it. He just took up for me. Owen was a wonderful man. And I loved to work for him. He was pretty exacting. Had to be right. But it ought to be right!
Gritz: From then on the problems began to go away?
Carrigan: The problems began to go away after that because word had spread that Owen had said that.
Gritz: Said you were ok?
Carrigan: ...and the record was a big hit. It was "The Bridge Washed Out" by Warner Mack. I was just playing one of those in-between shuffles. Just playing some bass drum stuff and they just wanted to mess with me you know. Cause I didn't know how to play country music when I went up there. Didn't know anything about it.
But I tell you, when I got up there I was surprised. Those musicians were great. They just didn't make a lot of mistakes. It was so fast it was unbelievable. They were real pros and they were fast. And you had to learn to be fast.
Gritz: How did you develop your recording technique?
Carrigan: It was trial and error. I had to figure out how to tune my drums and how to muffle my drums for them to mike them and record them to make them sound the way I thought they were going to sound. You had to learn how to play a little bit quieter because they didn't have a lot of baffling and they didn't want all that leakage.
I tell you I practiced a lot too, man. I used to go over to Bob Beckham's little studio there in the back of his Combine Music building. I'd practice and tape for hours. Changing drum heads and tuning them this way and tuning them that way. I wanted to know how to do that stuff that I could hear in my head. By George, I finally figured it out but it just took hard work. I had to get it to translate through the microphone -- I don't know how to explain that. It was a real art, and man I'm going to tell you it took me a long time to learn how to do it, but when I did people loved it. They really did.
And I'd take my drums [to sessions] a lot. Back in those days there was no cartage, man. Buddy Harman had drums at most of the studios. I had drums at a few and it was pretty rough. Every now and then if it was something special you'd take your pet set or whatever. I liked to play my own stuff. Like when we did the Tony Joe White stuff I'd bring my own drums. I didn't use the drums that were in the studio.
Gritz: You also had to be able to play and have it nailed within two or three tries, right?
Carrigan: Pretty well, yes. Because a lot of times they'd have a string section, horns, voices, everything there. All at the same time. And they also had charts and I knew how to read which was a plus. It got me lots of work. That and my sound. I'm not bragging. I'm just telling the truth. They liked my sound. It's hard for me to toot my horn!
Gritz: But if you know it's from a lot of hard work, there's nothing wrong with that.
Carrigan: Well, it was from hard work. I'll assure you it didn't just come flying through the window at me. And I'm glad it didn't. It was fun. Experimenting was fun. I beat on everything. Boxes. Put microphones up inside of boxes and played brushes on them and it sounds great. I've done that on records. Played on my knees. Take a Styrofoam or paper cup and scratch it across your whiskers for a shaker. All kinds of stuff. It sounds good. It's music.
Gritz: For a number of years, you were doing about 90 percent of RCA's Nashville sessions. When was that?
Carrigan: That was in the mid sixties through the early seventies.
Gritz: Were you ever intimidated in the studio?
Carrigan: The first time I played with Jerry Lee Lewis scared me. I was young -- 22 or something like that. I got up on that set of drums and he looked at me and said "Can you rock, Killer?" I said "I don't know" and he said "We'll see." He started playing this thing real fast and, man, I mean he was gettin' it. But he liked my playing. We cut "Baby Hold Me Close" on Smash. And I played on a bunch of stuff with him after that. Country stuff, and all kinds of stuff. "What Made Milwaukee Famous Made A Loser Out of Me." "Middle Aged Crazy."
Gritz: What other types of music did you listen to? If you recorded country all day you probably didn't want to listen to any more at home!
Carrigan: I never listened to country. Never did. I listened to Johnny Taylor stuff. All the R&B things. I had all the Otis Redding records. Just about all the Stax artist's records. And I listened to Paul Butterfield Blues Band. That's what I listened to at home. And I liked that style of music and that feel and I'd try to put that into country when I could. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it wouldn't. You had to change it a little bit. I tried to assert myself a little bit. It was fun.
Gritz: What other session musicians did you like?
Carrigan: On guitar, I liked Reggie Young's playing. And I liked Joe South's playing. He played some great stuff. I used to love Jerry Kennedy's playing. Jerry Reed. He's a great player. Country bass players -- I liked Junior Huskey, Bob Moore, and Henry Strzelecki. Piano players -- I loved David [Briggs]'s playing always. Still do. He's a great player. I can almost pick him out immediately. Hargus "Pig" Robbins. Floyd Cramer.
Gritz: What about Dan Penn? I really liked a lot of his songs.
Carrigan: Oh, man, Dan Penn and I go back to teenage years. When he was 17 I was probably about 14 or 15. He used to come up here and he'd stay over at the house and we'd play music. He was just super. He didn't play anything back then - he just sang. He learned to play guitar after he moved to Nashville. But Spooner [Oldham], he'd play the piano and do the chords and they'd write. Dan was a great singer. I played in bands with him for years - Dan Penn and the Pallbearers. Those were good days. Music and fun.
Gritz: So he was a big influence on you?
Carrigan: Oh, yeah. He was really into black music. He wrote "Do Right Woman - Do Right Man" and "Dark End of the Street." We did demos together when I was a kid. I thought they were all hits.
Gritz: You were telling me about doing Elvis sessions with Al Jackson [Stax session drummer].
Carrigan: We were down in Memphis at the Stax studios. We were in there, man, and the first thing that happened was when Al Jackson played there they rolled his bar out. He had a bar and he had a key to it to lock it. And he had gin and lots of stuff in there. And Felton [Jarvis - Elvis's producer] ran over and said "Hey, Al, we just can't have that in here." And Al says "Wait a minute. I work in here usually five or six days a week -- every week. And today is no different for me. This is my bar and I'm having a drink. Do any of you other boys want a drink?"
And then we get past that and have a drink. And later that night they put this demo on. Something about "two cornfields and three cotton patches" or something like that. And it plays and old Al was listening to it and he looked over there at me and just handed me the drumsticks and he said "Have at it brother! I can't play this. Hell, man, I was raised on chitlins. I can't play that bullshit!"
And I said "Oh, come on Al. Play that tight shuffle like you play and do some of those crazy fills." But he did it, man, he played it! He scared them to death with some of those fills he played. It was great, man - he played the dog out of it! The next night he didn't even show up. He didn't dig it.
Gritz: Al Jackson was into big band stuff, right?
Carrigan: Yeah, his daddy was a big band leader. And he played that stuff. And I got him to play me what he played on [Albert King's] "Crosscut Saw." He was hitting the bass drum and the high hat on the backbeats. He just played around his set. His set was tuned up tight. And he turned his snares off and he played that Rodgers snare with his billfold laid up it on like he always had. And he used those little drumsticks and played the butt end of them. But he played his cymbals soft and played his snare drum loud. I mean loud loud. Al was a great drummer. And also he told me when I was down there on that trip, "I'll tell you what we should do. You could come to Memphis and stay a week with me at my house and go to work with me every day and you could learn. And I'll come to Nashville and stay a week with you at your house and go to work with you every day and I'll learn. We'll learn from each other." And then right after that he got killed.
Gritz: Tell me about playing with [guitarist] James Burton.
Carrigan: One time we were out with John Denver. We were going on a long flight from Austin, Texas, to Montreal, Canada. And James Burton got his acoustic guitar out. Everybody else had gone to sleep. And he serenaded me for hours. He played the solo to [Ricky Nelson's] "Hello Mary Lou." I had that record when I was a kid and I wore the grooves out on his solo and I had to buy another record! And he played beautiful stuff and then funky stuff. For hours this went on.
Another time with John Denver we were over in Italy. And it was cold as the dickens over there. And we'd play these outdoor concerts in these ruins of old castles and these outdoor amphitheaters. Man, we'd play in winter coats. I looked over one night and there was [pianist] Glenn D. Hardin playing piano with gloves on but he just had the ends of his fingers cut out. It was freezing cold, man.
Gritz: How could James Burton play guitar in that cold?
Carrigan: James did it. Where there's a will there's a way and he has the will. This man never wanted to take a day off. We'd be out there working and John would say "Well, we're going to go to Chicago and take 3-5 days off." We were just going to play golf and enjoy Chicago. But James comes up and he says "Hey man, talk to Voodoo [John Denver's roadie] and get him to bring your snare and some brushes up to your room and we'll get together and play." I said "James, I'm tired man, I've been playing [on the road] for a week or ten days and I want to play a little golf." And he said "Man, c'mon, let's play." He never, ever wanted to stop playing. And I really admired him for it, but doggonit, there was a time to stop.
John wanted us to have this recreation out on the road which I thought was a great idea. But the recreation they chose was softball. They asked whether I wanted to play and I said "No man, I don't have a glove, and I make a living with my hands, so I really don't want to catch balls with my hands." I said "John, I'm telling you, somebody's going to get hurt at this game and we need to think about this." He said "Aw, no, this is great, we'll play softball." And all this softball playing was going on when we were out in Denver. And I'm out playing golf and they're playing softball. Well, a ball hit poor old James Burton on the side of the head. And he looked like a jack-o-lantern that night - the side of his head sticking out. But he never missed a lick -he was just struttin' and playin' with his head all swollen. And after that John changed the sport to golf!
Gritz: Jerry, you've been very successful. When you were a kid you never thought you'd be doing all these things, did you?
Carrigan: Of course not! Here I was beating on an old banjo of my granddaddy's with a brush taped to it to make the snare sound and boxes to make the tom-toms. I made myself a bass drum pedal out of wood and a spring and some tape with some cotton balls. And I had old records that were a quarter of an inch thick - old Edison records - they were my cymbals. And I made my cymbal stands. I just put a nail on top of a stick I had my little drums back then. And my mother and daddy knew I was serious then so they bought me some drums!