There are several job titles one does not expect to encounter in the Payson area.
Astronaut, for example.
Surfing instructor, for another.
Banana baron. Submarine captain. Dog sledder. National recording star.
Whoops. Scratch that last one. It applies to John Carpino. This singer-songwriter has been entertaining locals at various venues including Kohl's Ranch and Pete's Place in Star Valley with his folk-rock repertoire for more than a decade. And for nearly the same length of time, both Carpino and his wife, Luann, have been news and talk-show mainstays on KMOG Radio.
But now, with the national release of a new CD from a California-based recording label, his musical career is taking on a whole new dimension.
Not to mention a whole new audience.
The CD is titled "Ballads of Honor Korea: John Carpino performs the ballads of Frank G. Gross." Billed as a "special war memorial release" for the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, the CD puts Carpino's voice and musicianship to the poems of Korean War veteran Frank Gross.
Gross barely survived that conflict's epic, bloody battle of the Chosin Reservoir, and has spent the subsequent 50 years memorializing his wartime experiences in rhyme. While those poems have had a number of recorded incarnations over the years, Gross thinks Carpino's interpretation is by far the best.
"I've recorded this poem several times, and I'll tell you the truth: the last time I did it, I sounded like Walter Brennan."
"John recites this stuff as though he's reincarnated from one of those fellows who either never came back or was there," Gross, 70, said from his home in Vineland, N.J. "He seems to have that Marine Corps spirit in him, and he's never even been in the military. It's just amazing."
The singer and the songs
Carpino was born and raised in Calispel, Montana, 44 years ago, the youngest of five children.
"All my brothers and sisters got piano lessons, but they all quit," he remembers. "So when my parents got to me, they didn't even bother. I didn't get piano lessons."
But he did start playing brass in the fourth grade, and went on to major in French horn in college.
But Carpino's life didn't change until he was 16, picked up a guitar for the first time, and thought, "This is what I want to do."
During his college years, he started performing in coffee houses, and he continued to moonlight in that fashion after becoming a full-time music teacher. Nary a weekend would pass when he wasn't in front of an audience.
"I wanted to be the next Neil Young," he said.
At that time, though, teaching seemed like a more realistic career path. He taught for 10 years in Colorado, a few more in Yuma, Ariz., and another three in Sedona.
In 1987, Luann landed a teaching job in Payson. After two years of weekend commuting to be with her, Carpino quit his job, moved to Payson, and began assembling his recording studio, Sound Check Productions.
Carpino's home-based business since that time has been singing, playing and producing demo tapes and CDs for aspiring songwriters all over the U.S. and Europe who in turn pitch the demos to music publishers and recording industry executives. So far, Carpino estimates, he has recorded roughly 1,500 such songs.
One of the songwriters who sought to take advantage of his services was Frank Gross, who ordered 30 to 40 musicalized demos of his poems.
At about the same time, an executive at the California-based Macrotone Records somehow stumbled upon Gross' poetry on the Internet which is apparently the modern-day equivalent of Schwab's Drugstore, based on what happened next.
"The executive said, 'Let's do a CD,'" Carpino said, "and here we are."
Now that Carpino has recording company connections, his next project is a CD release of all Carpino-composed material performed by himself, backed up by Payson musicians which is already in the post-production phase.
To order "Ballads of Honor Korea: John Carpino performs the ballads of Frank G. Gross," go to the Web sites www.amazon.com or www. macrotone.com, or contact John Carpino at 474-5770. This special CD benefits the New Jersey Korean War Memorial, which will receive a portion of the net proceeds.