90’s Country Star Jeff Carson Dies at 58

For a while, it looked like the fate of Jeff Carson was to be a side player for the duration of his career, or maybe a songwriter. Later, he became an in-demand demo singer—all the while dreaming of getting the opportunity to sing big country songs himself. And when he finally got that opportunity, Jeff Carson made the most of it and rocketed to the top of the country charts. It all went by real fast, but Jeff Carson left his mark. And now, the country world is mourning his passing.

After playing in bands during his high school years, Jeff Carson moved to Branson, Missouri, and became a bass player for local bands while also working as a songwriter. He met his future wife in Branson, who convinced him he had the stuff to be a star, and should move to Nashville. So in 1989, Jeff Carson did that very thing.

Taking work wherever he could find it, Carson started playing in a house band at the Opryland Hotel, later convincing management to book him as a solo artist. He then started singing demo recordings for other artists—a common way to get heard in the 90s as songs got shuffled around and needed quality stand-in singers to showcase them to bigger performers. Jeff Carson sung on the first versions of songs like Tracy Byrd’s “Walkin’ To Jerusalem,” Reba McEntire’s “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter,” “I See it Now” by Tracy Lawrence, and Diamond Rio’s “Mirror Mirror.”

It was producer Chuck Howard who first discovered Jeff Carson in 1994, and arranging a contract with Curb Records for him to record his debut self-titled album. Featuring all the great session players at the time like Paul Franklin, Larry Franklin, Brent Mason, and Glenn Worf, the album took off like a rocket. Though the first single “Yeah Buddy” struggled, “Not Your Love” became a #1 hit for Jeff Carson, followed up by the #3 hit “The Car,” and another Top 10 hit in “Holdin’ Onto Somethin’,” and soon Jeff Carson was a participant in the 90’s country resurgence.

The video for “The Car” won the 1996 ACM award for Video of the Year. But Jeff Carson ultimately found difficulty distinguishing himself in a crowded field of country artists at the time. His second album Butterfly Kisses released in 1997 failed to launch any Top 40 singles. Curb suddenly didn’t seem to know what to do with him, and perhaps didn’t want Carson to compete with their similarly styled superstar, Tim McGraw.

Carson was matched with Merle Haggard who Curb also was fumbling the career of at the time for a rendition of Merle’s old standard “Today I Started Loving You Again,” which fans of both artists enjoyed, but it failed to go much further. Curb released a third album from Jeff Carson in 2001 called Real Life, which saw him to return to the charts with the title track that peaked at #14, and also saw Carson crossing over into the Christian music market. But afterwards he continued to struggle as a performer, though continued to write songs for himself and others in both the country and Christian markets.

In 2009, Jeff Carson saw the writing on the wall after a Greatest Hits package failed to materialize from Curb, accepted his fate, and chose to dedicate his life to serving the public as a full-time police officer, joining the force in the Nashville suburb of Franklin. Carson continued to pursue music part time though, releasing a couple of songs in 2012, and then releasing a song called “God Save The World” in 2019. Carson had recently signed with Encore Music Group, and was in the studio working with artists such as Darryl Worley and Craig Morgan on a specialty project scheduled to be released later in 2022.

Born Jeffrey Lee Herndon in Tulsa, Oklahoma on December 16th, 1963, Jeff Carson was raised in the small town of Gravette, Arkansas, about 100 miles from Branson. Growing up, Carson regularly sang in church and played guitar and harmonica. He passed away on March 26th at the Williamson Country Medical Center in Franklin due to a heart attack.

Jeff Carson is survived by his wife Kim Cooper Carson, son Dayton Grei Herndon Carson, mother Virginia Norton, brother Steve Herndon, and sister Karen Spurlock.

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