Editor's note: Throughout the summer, Sentinel reporter Dusty W. Sipes will write a weekly feature on local artists who perform various genres of music. This week's feature reviews the exclusive acoustic musings of singer/songwriter Ryan Carter.
Readers may have heard Ryan Carter without even realizing it. His new single "Overnight" has been a recent staple on MERF radio and its infectious melody stays with the listener long after the song is over.
Carter has been writing original music for more than 26 years and has played in one of the most successful Pennsylvania cover bands in recent memory. As with every musician, his life has been a journey of interesting tales, travel and glimpses of others behind a veil of a smoky nightclub haze.
Photo submitted by RYAN?CARTER
Ryan Carter’s most recent publicity photo is currently in use for upcoming performances.
Carter began playing guitar when he was 13.
"It all started with my brother. He had a guitar and an amp that he bought and played for a little bit, but when he left for the military, he didn't take it with him," Carter said.
It didn't take long before Carter became addicted to the instrument - playing more than eight hours a day in a shed behind the house he grew up in.
"I'd leave the shed to go into the house to eat, but then I'd go back immediately after dinner," Carter said.
Carter's early household was filled with melodies of some of the most famous performers of his parents' era: his mother liked Neil Diamond, his father preferred Johnny Cash. Through Carter's original music, listeners can hear he is a collective writer, channeling the likes of popular music, country and metal.
"I would sit in the shed and work on country licks, pop licks, everything. But what really made me want to play guitar and in bands was 80s hair metal and things like MTV's 'Headbanger's Ball.' When people ask me who my playing influences are, I honestly have to say everyone," Carter said.
Carter began writing songs almost immediately after picking up the instrument, utilizing recently learned chords and recording them guerilla-style in his practice space on cassette tapes, bouncing and overdubbing until the tape was worn so thin they made "wurping" sounds.
Carter first band, Mirage, was an 80s metal group cover consisting of Jamie Lane, Roger Boozel and Steve Todaro. Group members came and went and the band never gained enough traction to take the show out of the basement.
Shortly after that, Carter experienced his first live show at the Hill Valley Hotel. The group was called Kinipshun and consisted on still-performing Mount Union musicians Steve Todaro, Tom Sheeder and Paul Veech. Carter says that his first gig was a frightening experience.
"I was so freaked out and nervous. I don't think I looked up one time during the show. I didn't have a whole lot of time to practice and there were a few songs that I hadn't learned, so I just stood there staring at my guitar. One of the members of the group we were opening up for came up to me after our set and asked if there was something wrong with my amp. No, I just didn't know the songs," Carter said.
In 1998 Carter formed one of the most popular bands of the Mifflin County area: Chain Reaction. The group consisted of Jamie Lane on drums, Ronnie Matthews on guitar and Greg Reigle on bass. The band specialized in 80s hair metal and popular music of the time. The group recorded a CD of original music in the vein of 80s metal.
After the breakup of Chain Reaction, Carter kept a low profile in the local music scene, playing rare acoustic shows and occasionally with Kyle Pickett and Quarter Moon. Carter's greatest success as a live performed would happen roughy eight years later.
In 2008, Carter joined Pennsylvania cover band titans, Lucky You. Before joining the group, Carter was faced with the dilemma of quitting his full-time job and risk failing on the road. He took the chance, quit his job and spent the next two years touring from Vermont to Florida.
"It was scary. I was so used to going out to make 10 bucks at a gig and come home to a house of bills. With Lucky You we were able to afford to do it and it was a great experience, but it's a lot tougher than people think. Some of the good and bad stories you hear about life on the road is absolutely true. It was great doing what I loved, but after the first year and a half, especially having kids, it just got to be too much," Carter said.
Ultimately, Carter decided that he wanted to spend more time with his kids, and returned to Mifflin County and has been playing in a series of acoustic ensembles and solo shows ever since.
After Lucky You dissolved, Carter and Reigle started a local 80s hair metal acoustic band aptly titled Sunset Stripped after the iconic Strip in California which is synonymous with the clubs and musicians that are associated with 80s hair metal. Various musicians sit in on percussion at different venues.
Sunset Stripped and Carter have been recording new material at Hybrid Studios, yet they are not working on a feature-length album. Carter says he is trying to write only singles.
"I get the most enjoyment out of writing. I would ultimately like to publish and sell songs. So in five or 10 years, after my kids have grown up, I may give Nashville a shot. I recently put together a demo of original material and a friend of mine handed it off to Luke Bryan and Keith Urban. We'll see what happens," Carter said.
Carter's song "Overnight" can be downloaded for free on Soundcloud.com and he will be releasing his next single "S.A.R.A." on iTunes next month.
Ryan Carter and Sunset Stripped can be found on Facebook. The band will be performing Friday at the Blue Juniata VFW on U.S. 522 in Mount Union.
Sentinel reporter Dusty W. Sipes can be reached