Monday After: Remembering the Carpenters 1971 concert in Canton – Canton Repository

Even though it was only February in 1971 when the Carpenters — Richard and Karen — appeared in concert at what was then Malone College in Canton, the song “Merry Christmas, Darling” was featured among their hits.
Such Christmas songs were among the group’s favorites, a caption to a photograph published in the school’s yearbook later explained.
It might as well have been “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” because there was a local connection to the brother and sister singing team that was rising quickly on the song charts.
“One of the group’s members, reed player Doug Strawn, is a former Cantonian,” explained The Canton Repository in a promotional article appearing in the newspaper the Sunday before the Carpenters’ appearance in Malone’s Osborne Hall on Feb. 13, 1971. “He attended Canton City Schools until 1957, then transferred to Glenwood High School. He left the area in 1960 when his father was transferred to California.”
At the time of the concert, the group also included Dan Woodham as bassist and Gary Sims and Bob Messenger as guitarists.
The group was named after siblings Richard and Karen Carpenter, of course. Richard, who played the accordion and piano, did the group’s arranging. His sister, Karen, was the lead singer and she also played the drums.
One other tie to the Buckeye State also made the Carpenters feel at home that night.
A singing group from Bowling Green State University called The Primary Colors also performed at the concert.
The musical event was sponsored by the Malone Student Senate, and tickets were sold by the school’s students and personnel, as well as at area music stores.
“Our president at that time, Dr. Everett Cattell, did a good job of bringing the artist series and important lectures, as well as popular performers to campus,” remembered Jack Hazen, Malone’s cross country coach emeritus. “I was told that we signed the Carpenters eight or so months before the performance, when they weren’t as popular. I forget which song emerged before our concert that made them nationally known. We got lucky.”
Hazen had his own connection to the singers, at least for the time they were in Canton.
“One of my runners was assigned to tend to Karen’s needs and to see that she had everything she needed,” Hazen said. “She was very excited and gave a report of that experience. She spent a lot of time with Karen.”
Hazen’s observation about the increasing popularity of the Carpenters was historically accurate. The group’s distinct musical style was just catching on at the time they came to Canton.
After they were signed for the Canton concert, but before they came to the city, their hits “Close to You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun” heightened their status in the musical world.
“It snuck onto the pop music charts in 1970 and took over,” wrote Kenneth Bosso in a Repository review of the Malone concert. “‘It’ is what has been called the ‘soft sound’ in music and the leading exponents of ‘it’ were in Canton Friday night. … The Carpenters demonstrated why they have become one of the top acts in the country today.”
Bosso traced the Carpenters’ rise to fame.
“It all started when young Richard Carpenter learned to play the accordion, then switched to the piano. His younger sister, who had been a sports fan until then, became interested in his music when she was 15. She decided to learn an instrument and, after experimenting with a few, decided on the drums.
“While in college, they and a tuba player turned base player, formed ‘The Carpenters Trio’ which went on to win the Hollywood Bowl Battle of the Bands in 1966.”
Some “near misses” at recording music as simply “Carpenters” finally brought the singers success after they appeared early in 1970 with Burt Bacharach in Los Angeles.
“He liked them and they went on tour together,” wrote Bosso. “During the tour, Herb Alpert suggested they record Bacharach’s composition ‘Close to You.’ They did and the rest is history.”
Still, the Carpenters were more than the singers of one of Bacharach’s best compositions when they appeared in Canton, the reviewer noted.
“In actuality their talents are much more varied,” wrote Bosso in the Repository. “Their songs range from rock to ballads, although most contain a strain of progressive jazz. … Although all their hits have been of the serious vein, the moods of their concert are as varied as their music.”
A Christmas joyfulness even entered the musical atmosphere, noted the reviewer.
“A surprise in the concert was ‘Merry Christmas, Darling,’ which even though a bit out of season was performed well and allowed Karen to step from behind the drums to sing solo,” wrote Bosso, who noted that the hometown favorite in the group also was given his moment to shine.
“The very light Mason Williams song, ‘Cinderella Rockafella’ was performed by former-Cantonian Doug Strawn, who also plays reeds for the group,” Bosso wrote. “His introduction was greeted with shouts of ‘Hey Doug’ from friends in the audience.”
The performers appeared at ease on the stage, Bosso noted, adding that one reason for that “may be that they enjoy it.”
“We really don’t have any problem getting emotionally ‘up’ for a concert,” Richard Carpenter told the writer. “Sometimes, if we’ve been driving a long way and we get the equipment unpacked and everything, we’re really tired. But once you change clothes and shower and walk out on stage it’s different.”
Bosso noted that the Malone concert provided evidence backing up Carpenter’s words
“Although most of the group was recovering from varying stages of colds and sore throats, it wasn’t at all noticeable,” wrote Bosso, “from their opening number ‘Help’ to their encore, when they sang their hit ‘We’ve Only Just Begun.'”
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On Twitter: @gbrownREP


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