Richard Carpenter had shown an interest in music from a very early age. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, on October 15, 1946, he can remember listening to his fatherís 78s when he was just three and four years old. His father, who worked for a container corporation, had everything from the classics to big band music. Richard would develop a similarly eclectic taste in music.
He heard more music on the radio, and soon he was asking his parents to buy him some of the records he heard. Guy Mitchell, Perry Como, Patti Page and Nat King Cole were particular favorites, as were guitarist Les Paul and his wife Mary Ford, and he also enjoyed both the Dixieland jazz of Red Nichols and the comedy of Spike Jones and his City Slickers.
At the age of eight, he started to play some music himself. His first instrument was the accordion, but he soon abandoned that in favor of the piano. By the time he was 15, he was studying piano at Yale and was part of a piano/bass/drums trio, playing at venues in and around New Haven.
His sister Karen, on the other hand, initially showed no musical inclinations other than listening to records. Born on March 2, 1950, she was barely into her teens when in 1963 the whole family moved to the Los Angeles suburb of Downey. It would be the following year before Karen felt any urge to express herself musically.
Richard attended Downey High School as a senior and during this time studied piano at the University of Southern California. Informed that he could be transferred out of physical education if he were a member of the high school marching band, he was faced with the problem that the piano is not a particularly portable instrument.
Upon hearing him play however, the bandís director, Bruce Gifford, asked him to play piano with the concert band in a class performance of Gershwinís Rhapsody In Blue. Gifford went on to invite Richard to join his own combo playing music outside the high school itself.
By late 1964 Karenís musical talent was awakening. Now a first-year student at Downey High School and playing glockenspiel in the marching band, she was inspired by the drumming ability of band mate Frankie Chavez. She went home and started adding her own rhythm accompaniments to some of her records, using a pair of chopsticks and a set of bar stools as her drum kit. When her parents responded by buying her a proper drum set, she was able to play it instantly, and before long the idea of some kind of Carpenters group had been born.
Karen was just 15 when the Carpenter Trio was formed. The brother and sister teamed up with a classmate Richard had met in June of 1965, tuba and bass player Wes Jacobs, to play jazz.
At Richardís urging, Karen would sing an occasional selection but primarily the trio was an instrumental outfit, as Karenís distinctive singing voice was just developing and she was not very happy with the sound. By early 1966, however, Karenís voice had matured quite a bit and, while still a bit rough around the edges, had developed enough to attract the interest of more than a few.
Through a classmate, an audition for Karen and Richard had been scheduled with West Coast studio electric bassist nonpareil, Joe Osborn. Osborn and a partner had recently launched a record label, Magic Lamp, and were on a search for new talent. Slated for approximately 1 a.m., as Joe routinely worked in the studios until midnight, the audition took place at Osbornís garage studio at his home in the San Fernando Valley. Richard played, Karen sang, and a decision was then made to record and listen. The result was incredible; Karenís voice was born to be recorded and, in May of 1966, Harold and Agnes Carpenter signed a contract for Karen with the fledgling label. From several songs cut, two written by Richard but named as Karen Carpenter solo records, were issued as a single, Looking For Love and Iíll Be Yours. It was a start, but it went nowhere. The small label had no machinery for distribution and promotion, and it folded within a year.
Last Updated June 4, 2008
May 2004 © Richard Carpenter