Like many fathers and sons, Carlton Pride and his father, Charley, sound so obviously alike.
The elder Pride, of course, recorded dozens of country hits from the late 1960s through the ’80s: “Kiss An Angel Good Morning,” “Is Anybody Going to San Antone,” “Roll On Mississippi,” “Mountain Of Love,” “Mississippi Cotton Pickin’ Delta Town” and many more.
Carlton Pride would seem a natural for country music, too, but he chose a different path. The younger Pride got a degree in radio, TV and film production from the University of Memphis.
“I wanted to be on the other side of the mic and camera,” he explained from his home in San Marcos, Texas. Living in Dallas at the time, Pride worked as a cameraman for pro sports teams the Cowboys, Mavericks and Rangers. But then, in his mid-’30s, he heard music calling him. And it wasn’t country music.
Pride became a reggae music fan in the mid-’70s. He remembers being knocked out upon hearing Bob Marley for the first time.
“One day I heard Bob Marley on a friend’s stereo,” he said. “I felt like I had gone to heaven. It was like church to me. And I started listening to that all the time.”
Pride ultimately decided he needed to not just listen to reggae music but also play it. From Marley, he moved on to other reggae figures, especially Marley’s former bandmate, Peter Tosh.
“I investigated the whole culture,” he said. “I researched reggae and ska, even the things that happened before ska, when they were just trying to be like Americans and play soul music.”
For Pride, reggae music was always so much more than music.
“Reggae is such a hypnotic, spiritual thing,” he said. “When it hits you, like Bob (Marley) said, you feel no pain.”
But what about his famous father and the lucrative potential of another Pride singing country music?
“Country wasn’t my thing,” he said.
Even though he grew up surrounded by his dad’s music and fame?
“I was there through all of it,” he said. “It’s an incredible career and he’s one of the few African Americans in country. For Darius Rucker and people who are doing it now, he was the one who knocked down the doors and the stereotypes. My dad is an icon.”
Through his father, Carlton Pride and his siblings met, to name a couple, Elvis Presley and John Wayne.
“We went to some of my dad’s concerts,” he said. “We were in school, so we couldn’t go to all of them. But I saw the reaction of the people he was playing for, saw how much they loved him.”
Pride also experienced the friction that came from being the son of a pioneering African-American singer in a musical field dominated by whites. Whites and blacks taunted him.
“I had to deal with the children in school,” he said. “After we moved down to Texas, they would call you names like Uncle Tom. I got a lot of that, due to the fact that my dad was playing country. And older white people would say things to my mom, my brother and I while my dad was on stage.
“So I had a bittersweet time, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because I wouldn’t be who I am now.”
Pride’s father did not approve of his reggae music for many years.
“That’s been a journey, too,” he said. “He didn’t understand it at first. ‘What is that music?’ ”
A father and son trip to Jamaica to record Pride and his band Mighty Zion’s 2000 album, What You Need, helped soothe the rift. Carlton and Charley Pride even recorded a reggae-style duet of “Kiss An Angel Good Morning.”
“Last Friday I got to see Willie Nelson again,” Pride said. “Willie told me, ‘You, me and your dad need to do a song together.’ And I took a picture of Willie and I and sent it to my dad. My dad called back and said, ‘I think we can work that recording with Willie out.’ So my dad’s attitude has changed a lot.”
Pride own attitude has changed, too, he said. Reggae music’s positive vibe helped take him there.
“I’ve realized that, because of the way I was treating people, I wasn’t representing the message in my music. It was really baffling to me that I’d be singing certain things but I wasn’t fully living that in my own life. I had to get to a point to where I was following what I sing. Now I’m blessed.”