When Payson singer/songwriter John Carpino answered the telephone that November day, the last person he was expecting to hear from was country western singer Gary Eubanks. And Carpino certainly wasn't expecting to be told that one of his original songs, performed by Eubanks, had just topped the Independent Country Charts as the hit single "Country Highway."
"I've been writing songs forever, since I was 15 or 16," said Carpino. "I've come real close with a lot of my songs, but I've never got on the charts ... It's really nice to get some recognition like that."
When Gary Eubanks, a former Rim country resident, first walked into Carpino's Payson studio a few years back, he was looking for some original material to record. "Gary is a very talented country singer, and he came to cut some demos. He asked if he could record a couple of my songs," said Carpino. One of Carpino's personal favorites, "Rock And Roll Highway," caught Eubank's eye. The young singer later approached Carpino to ask permission to alter a couple of the lyrics, and to change the song's title to "Country Highway."
"I gave him permission for that ... well, after a great deal of thought," said Carpino.
A few years later, Gary Eubanks gave his friend a call. "(Gary) had been working really hard on his career ... and he called and said ‘I'm in a Nashville studio, recording for an independent label, and would you mind if I did ("Country Highway")?'"
Carpino agreed, and the next thing he knew, the song was climbing to the top of the Independent Country Charts. The stations that play the songs on the charts are one of the best avenues for rising -- and setting -- country western stars.
"It's not a competition," noted Carpino, "but I was really surprised to see people like T. Graham Brown, Sammy Kershaw ... Johnny Lee ... these are all artists that were popular in the 70s and 80s. Gosh, there are people like Merle Haggard on there!"
And "Country Highways" topped them all.
What is it that made the song a success? For one, Carpino is quick to say, it has to be Eubank's own talented singing and instrumentation. Could it not also be that in the lyrics, Carpino has addressed something every human being understands and experiences? "I tie in music with the searching of the human spirit," said Carpino, quoting the song: "Seems like everybody out there's got a place to move, everybody's lookin' for a way. It really doesn't matter what direction you choose. We can all find a place to play, the Country Highway."
Carpino holds a Bachelor's Degree in music education and has written more than 200 songs in his 30-year career, but his abilities extend beyond songwriting. He has put out several albums, on which he sings originals, including "Heart in the Rain" and "Come So Far."
His inspirations? "Jackson Brown, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, just to name a few. The list could go on and on," said Carpino. "A lot of songs come from just pickin' with the guitar ... A lot of times the feel and mood will (produce) an idea, and then from the idea you can create a song. But that doesn't happen instantaneously. The idea just grows ... sometimes it takes days, sometimes years, for that idea to nurture and flourish."
As a performing artist, Carpino has a definite presence in the Rim country's music community. Voted "Best Local Musician" for nine years running, Carpino is a regular performer in the town's Veterans Day celebration, as well as acting as manager and co-host of local radio station KRIM, 96.3 FM. Carpino's wife and biggest fan, Lu, is the other familiar voice on KRIM, a unique station playing everything from blues and jazz to classical and Celtic music. "There are no stations like what we are trying to do here (at KRIM), and that's a good thing," said Carpino. "We're broadening Payson's musical horizons."
At local events, Carpino often receives requests to sing a ballad in honor of foreign war veterans, and with his fresh, youthful voice, he gives the listening audience a taste of music as a young soldier might have sung it. In the words of one veteran, "You (Carpino) sing it like you were there."
Recently, Carpino was solicited by a Maj. Arthur Dorie to put together an album titled "Ballads of Honor." Carpino sings the lyrics, which were originally composed by Dorie. "Ballads of Honor," which consists of historical songs of the Korean War era, will be placed in the Smithsonian Art Institute as part of a display giving tribute to America's veterans. Quite an honor for a man whose career in music began because he broke his arm.
"I just wanted to play football," said Carpino. "I was very athletic (in high school), but I was the smallest kid in my class, so I kept getting hurt. My freshman year I broke my arm, sophomore year I broke my wrist, and I had light surgery in my junior year, so by my senior year, I said, ‘I'd better play guitar.'"
It's been a few years since Carpino made that decision, yet you may still tempted to ask: does he regret giving up the football field for the recording studio?
But there's no time to answer that one. Carpino's schedule is packed, between performing, raising his family, and keeping on top of things at the radio station. And always, he has to be prepared for when sudden inspiration strikes, and he finds himself picking up the guitar once again to play out the music in his soul.
Who knows? With Carpino always at work, it may not be long before we hear another "Country Highway" hit the airwaves.
John Carpino will be performing live at Fargo's Steakhouse on Dec. 15 and 20. For bookings, or to request to hear "Country Highways" played on KRIM, Carpino can be reached at (928) 468-KRIM (5746), or online at johncarpino.com.