Introduction      1) Nurtured By Music    2) Turning Point   3) Enter Karen, The Singer   4) Rising Stars  

5) Carpenters Join A&M   6) On The Charts   7) The Carpenters Legacy   8) At A Cost

9) Reaching The TV Special Pinnacle and Other Spectacular Achievements 

10) Last Performance, Continued Success


What happened next was every young act’s dream. The Richard Carpenter Trio had reached the finals of the prestigious amateur talent contest ‘The Battle of the Bands’ at the Hollywood Bowl on June 24, 1966 and triumphed. Iced tea was the favorite drink of Karen and Richard, and he composed an ambitious instrumental with that title that was a showcase for Wes Jacob’s tuba and Karen’s drumming. The group’s originality impressed the judges.

Carpenter Trio: Richard, Karen, and Wes Jacobs, July 1966Their other song was a dazzling instrumental version of the bossa nova classic The Girl From Ipanema, popularized by Astrud Gilberto with Stan Getz. A multi-time signature rendition arranged by Richard drew applause from the judges – and the trio took three awards including best combo, outstanding instrumentalist (Richard), and the sweepstakes trophy for the highest score of any act in the whole contest. Their victories were the talk of the Hollywood Bowl.

Reviewing the show in the Los Angeles Times, Leonard Feather wrote: “The musical surprise of the evening was the Trio of Richard Carpenter, a remarkably original soloist who won awards as the best instrumentalist and leader of the best combo. Flanking his piano were Karen Carpenter, his talented sixteen year old sister, at the drums, and bassist Wes Jacobs who doubled amusingly and confidently on tuba.”

As Richard walked with Karen to the parking lot, a man walked over to congratulate them and inquire whether they might like to make test records. “I was nineteen, smug, full of myself, and we’d just won,” Richard says. “I told him we already had a contract. He said to give him a call if things changed, and gave me his card.” This card gave his name as Neely Plumb, the prominent West Coast manager of pop with the giant RCA Records. Pulling his foot from his mouth, Richard gathered himself quickly and said that actually his sister was signed to a small company as a singer, but the trio was not. (Richard was signed only as a songwriter to Light-Up Music, the publishing arm of Magic Lamp Records.) Plumb said he was interested in their instrumental sound, and a test at RCA followed. It transpired that Plumb wanted to develop a ‘rock tuba’ sound by emphasizing the uniqueness of Wes Jacobs. In September, the trio signed with RCA and quickly cut eleven tracks, including Strangers in the Night, the Beatles’ Every Little Thing, and an original, Flat Baroque which eventually became a popular Carpenters track. But the RCA committee voted against them all. With psychedelia dawning, they saw no commercial potential in a jazzy trio. Losing confidence in getting themselves established with RCA, Richard, Karen and Wes accepted the company’s offer of a few hundred dollars to end the contract.

Before long the trio had split up. Jacobs decided that his way forward was in concert music, and left to pursue that aim and study at Julliard. The two Carpenters went back to their respective studies.

Richard Carpenter, John Bettis perform at Coke Corner, Main Street USA, Disneyland Summer 1967One of Richard’s fellow students at the time was John Bettis. The two would form a lasting friendship and together they would later write several of the Carpenters’ biggest hits.

Their first experience of working together professionally was less successful, however. They both took a job at Coke Corner on Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. There, routinely deviating from the selections of turn-of-the-century tunes they were asked to perform, the pair were sacked after four months.

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Last Updated June 4, 2008
May 2004  © Richard Carpenter

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