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Valerie Carter, St. Petersburg recording artist and backup singer, dies at 64

Fans of Valerie Carter may best remember the singer for her rendition of Ooh Child that was part of the soundtrack for the 1979 Matt Dillon movie Over the Edge or for the decades she performed backup for James Taylor.

But for Janice Carter, the fondest memories of her little sister's singing date to childhood.

"She and Dad would make up silly songs," said Janice Carter, 68, of St. Petersburg. "He'd make up a verse and she would and back and forth. The songs would be about things like our pets or Mom's rollers in her hair."

Valerie Carter, also a resident of St. Petersburg, died Saturday at St. Anthony's Hospital of a heart attack at age 64, her sister said. Janice Carter said her sister had heart issues for years.

Known for a soulful, sultry and smoky voice and for being adept at soul, rock, pop and folk, Valerie Carter released four solo albums, most notably her 1977 debut, Just a Stone's Throw Away.

That album also featured Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and Earth Wind and Fire, included the songs Ooh Child and Face of Appalachia and got her booked as the opening act for the Eagles during a European tour.

Still, Ms. Carter was more comfortable as a backup singer.

"She didn't feel deserving of adoration," her sister said. "She never felt like a big star."

Among musicians for whom Ms. Carter sang backup included Ronstadt, Browne, Christopher Cross, Ringo Star and Willie Nelson. James Taylor used her voice on seven albums.

"She was held with highest regard, known as a first-call session vocalist for these artists," her former manager Jim Della Croce said. "More importantly, she was a great friend. She left a lovely light."

READ MORE: James Taylor, Carole King, Shawn Colvin, more pay tribute to 'inimitable' St. Petersburg singer Valerie Carter

Valerie Carter and Taylor were especially close.

In 2009, after Ms. Carter was arrested in St. Petersburg on drug charges, Taylor paid for her three-month stay in a Texas rehab center.

In 2011, Taylor was there for her "graduation ceremony" held in a Pinellas County drug court to celebrate those winning the battle with addiction.

"Thank you," Ms. Carter whispered to Taylor that day. "Thank you for taking such good care of me."

Taylor and other peers took to social media to express their condolences.

"Valerie was an old soul and as deep as a well. Her voice came from her life and her life was a steep, rocky road,'' Taylor wrote on Facebook. "We were the lucky ones, who worked (played) with Valerie Carter over the long arc of her creative career; we got the best of her love.''

Valerie Carter was born in Winter Haven in 1953, but her father James' stint in the military meant the family often moved, Janice Carter said.

"Portsmouth, Dayton, Savannah, to name a few … " she said.

Valerie Carter's first break came while living with her family in Tucson, where she joined a band fronted by Gretchen Ronstadt, sister of Linda Ronstadt.

Next she was off to New York City where she formed the folk band Howdy Moon. They headed to California, released a self-titled album in 1974 and regularly played at the West Hollywood rock club, the Troubadour.

It was also during the 1970s she became known as a songwriter, penning tunes such as Cook With Honey for Judy Collins and Love Needs a Heart for Browne.

She moved to St. Petersburg a decade ago to help care for her mother, Dorothy, and retired as a professional musician.

But from time to time, her sister said, Ms. Carter would randomly ask to join a band on stage at a local establishment.

"The audience was always wowed," her sister said. "She had some voice."

Information from Times files was used in this report. Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.