Carl Anderson's career has taken some mysterious turns.
He got his big break not on stage, but in church. Fifteen years ago, he defied a cease-and-desist order from the producers of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and sang songs from the show at St. Stephen's on 16th Street. A few months later, he was playing Judas on Broadway, and a year after that, in the film version.
And now he's turning soap into gold.
Anderson's surprise hit, "Friends & Lovers," is a duet with "Days of Our Lives" star Gloria Loring. Tonight Loring will join him at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre when he opens for Nancy Wilson. The concert will be recorded, and it looks like there's a Loring-Anderson video in the works.
The two first did "Friends & Lovers" when Anderson made a guest appearance on "Days" last fall. Loring's character, Liz, was a nightclub owner with dreams of becoming a recording artist; Anderson played an established performer trying to help her along. Soon fans were calling NBC, asking where they could find the song.
At the end of that episode, Anderson explains, "Liz got shot in the throat in such a way that she couldn't talk or sing." Then, a few weeks ago, he went back on the show, "to talk her into singing again. She was talking but depressed, so I walked out at a concert and invited her up to sing and she had to or get off the boat." Not surprisingly, they sang "Friends & Lovers."
Ironically, because it had been conceived on a soap opera and because it was a soft-spun ballad, Anderson's label, CBS, wasn't interested in releasing "Friends & Lovers." So he worked a deal with a French label, Carrere, which is distributed by CBS. The day he went back on the show and sang with Loring, Carrere bought a 10-second spot in six major markets saying the record was available on "Carrere/CBS." That lit up the CBS switchboard, and it apparently lit up Anderson's singing career as well.
" 'Friends and Lovers' was shipping and selling at such a rate," he says, that "CBS said they needed an album on the shelf in six weeks, which meant they had to have it in less than 20 days, which meant I had to go into the studio with a sleeping bag. "I lived in the studio for 15 days. It's a good record and CBS was in a position where they had to do stuff I suggested that they normally might not have gone for." The album, just completed and scheduled for release next month, is his fourth for the label.
Anderson has always been a little out of the mainstream, choosing to emphasize the ballad form. "I completely dropped out during the disco era," he says. "There just didn't seem to be any place for me in the music industry, so I went out and earned a living as an actor, a journeyman actor at that. When the market seemed right for me, I reemerged as a singer . . .
"I didn't then -- and I still don't -- subscribe to the theory that black music is all dance music. While that's a great part of our heritage, we can be soothing and melodic at the same time, and my quest is to do that."
Anderson says his new hit "made pop not a bad word in my case. If nothing else, it rang a bell at CBS and I got attention there I'd never gotten before. It woke them up to the fact that there's people out there who want to buy a record from me who aren't dancing in discos."
In 1971 Anderson was lead singer for a Washington rock band, Second Eagle. "We were living on a farm out in Front Royal and playing at the Bayou," he recalls. "People would dance to our music and we hated it. We had a half-hour set of our original stuff and we were recording and had real high hopes for the band. We decided to do 'Superstar' just to get the dancers off the floor."
At the time, the show was getting ready for its American premiere after being a sensation in England. Producer Robert Stigwood owned the rights, and when he heard Second Eagle was doing some of the show's songs, he sent the cease-and-desist order that Anderson ignored.
"Father William Wendt the minister at St. Stephen's took responsibility, saying if the word of Jesus is to be stopped by a telegram, then we're in the wrong ship. So we went ahead with it. At that point we were just going to do it at the Palm Sunday mass and it was no more unusual than things he had been doing at his church all along. But as my mother would say, the Lord moves in mysterious ways."
Indeed. A camera crew from the "Today" show covered the illegal performance, a William Morris agent in charge of booking the road show saw it and Anderson was summoned to New York. He was cast as Judas in both the Broadway and Los Angeles shows and finally in Norman Jewison's film version (which led to nominations for the NAACP Image Award and two Golden Globes).
Like many critics of the film, Anderson had some qualms about casting a black as Judas. "At the time, I thought I was the best actor for the part, race notwithstanding. In retrospect I understand the sensitivity, but at the same time I still think I was the best actor for the job. Norman Jewison, who handled casting in the film, didn't want to use me. He didn't want to use Ted Neeley (who played Jesus) either. The lucky thing was we worked together and they saw the charisma and the electricity that happened between us."
After "Superstar," Anderson moved to Los Angeles and he has appeared on a number of television series, including "Hill Street Blues" and a recent "Hotel" (opposite Shari Belafonte-Harper). He also appeared in a film called "Black Pearl," and as Rev. Samuelson in "The Color Purple." But though he'd had good notices as Judas, he got few subsequent film offers, and took fewer.
"They weren't the kind of roles that I wanted to play," he explains. "I'll still turn down roles if I'm broke and I don't think it's cool. My litmus test is, would I want my mother to see me in it?" Being a black actor, he adds, "places a responsibility that is not on the typical white actor," he adds. "White roles span the spectrum, black roles don't, so I can't play a pimp today and trust that I can play an attorney tomorrow."
*An only son with 11 sisters, Anderson grew up in Lynchburg, Va. From the age of 16, singing was all he wanted to do, which caused some friction with his father ("which we've reconciled," he says). He moved to Washington after high school in search of greater opportunities, worked here with various bands and was just beginning to get involved with Robert Hook's Black Repertory Theatre "when the 'Superstar' thing came about."
While living here, Anderson developed a close friendship with Stevie Wonder, who celebrated his 19th birthday at Anderson's house. In fact, for a while Anderson was signed to Motown with Wonder slated to produce him. This came in the middle of Wonder's on-again-off-again-on-again "Songs in the Key of Life" project, however, and "we had great fun but got very little done. And I had the same problems at Motown as at CBS . I was fresh out of 'Superstar' and the rock thing was attached to my name on the one hand, and on the other they were trying to push me into serious R&B."
Wonder did write a song for Anderson's first album, "Buttercup" (which became a No. 1 dance hit in England). But R&B wasn't really his strength. Quincy Jones called him "the best male ballad singer performing today" and for a while, in the late '70s, it looked as though Anderson might sign with Jones' new label. "He was looking to sign a female and a male singer. In the end he had to choose between George Benson and me. I'd have made the same choice."
Speaking of choices, Anderson insists he won't have to make one between singing and acting. "I think my life is at the point where I can do both now. I was afraid for a while because they're two different kinds of people and I wasn't insulated well enough one from the other to successfully bridge that gap."
Last year, as if warming up for his collaboration with Loring, Anderson did some serious gap-bridging with "General Hospital" alumnus Tony Geary -- in, of all things, "Jesus Christ Superstar."
*"He'd always wanted to do Jesus," says Anderson, laughing. So the two took the show on the road themselves, looking for backers. "We wanted to prove ourselves and do a long-term show, but people didn't see it was going to be a viable thing until the end, by which time we both had other things we'd committed to."
Anderson says the show grossed more than $6 million and the two might do it again "if I'm the producer. I'd like to work it for myself."