He stood tall and proud in his rock band’s spotlight, yet he always shared the center-stage fun with others.
Fort Smith resident Steve “Bubba” Carter, who died at age 62 in his home Wednesday following a battle with cancer, will be remembered as a family man, a Northside High School Athletic Hall of Honor inductee and a co-founder of one of the busiest, most popular local rock bands, said Carter’s son, Chris Carter.
“He never met a stranger, and I can say that one of his biggest passions was music,” he said of Carter, a 1969 NHS graduate who co-founded Mr. Cabbagehead and The Screamin’ Radishes in the early 1980s. “Dad grew up with a lot of the guys in that band; he had known some of them since the first grade.”
For decades, Carter’s band tirelessly played for area fundraisers, helping raise money for the Community Services Clearinghouse, Bikers Against Child Abuse, the Fort Smith Museum of History and many other groups and agencies in need. Traditionally sharing the front of the stage with lead singer Rick Young, Carter played horns and acted as band manager, booking agent and comedic emcee for the group.
“There was never any ego when we played,” Young said. “We always liked to promote fun, and we, as a band, wouldn’t have played as long as we have if it weren’t for Bubba. He booked the shows, handled the contracts and all the paperwork. I wish he was still with us, but I know he’s with the Father now.”
Carter, who worked for years at J. Pauley Toyota, kept a watchful eye on every audience member, he said. Often dressed in shorts and colorful, collared shirts, Carter would summon junior high and high school band students to “jam” with the band on songs originally made famous by musicians like Chicago, James Brown, The Temptations and Steve Winwood, Young said.
An active volunteer and a former unit director for the Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club and a member of the First Free Will Baptist Church in Poteau, Carter also will be remembered for his school days as an “impressive” athlete, said Jim Rowland, director of athletics for Fort Smith Public Schools who coached Carter at Northside High School in the mid- and late-1960s.
“He was an outstanding football player, basketball player and track athlete,” he said of Carter, who, along with his brothers, Roger and David Carter, were inducted into the Northside High School Athletic Hall of Honor last year. “He had great speed and he played a significant role in the track team, which won the state championship in 1969.”
Steve Carter also played a pivotal role in the integration of Northside High School in the 1960s, Rowland said.
“Steve and the other athletes extended a hand out to the kids who were coming from Lincoln School to Northside,” he said. “And you could tell that Steve and the other athletes were sincere about it.”
“Yes, dad and our family were raised to see no color,” added Chris Carter. “Dad and Vera Shepherd were friends since they were 2 and 3 years old, and we’re still close with Vera and her husband, Benny Shepherd.”
When asked about their childhood friendship, Vera Shepherd laughed.
“Well, Bubba said I would throw rocks at him after school when we were kids, but I don’t remember doing that,” she said with another laugh. “I might have done that, I don’t know. I do know that we were friends.”
During their preschool and early school years, Steve Carter and Vera Sheppard would secretly meet to play and visit.
“Black people couldn’t go to Woodlawn Park back in those days, so Bubba and I would go there when the park closed,” she said. “We would buy candy at the store and walk around until our mothers would holler at us to come home.”
Benny Shepherd called Carter one of his closest friends. The two were roommates at Arkansas Tech University, despite some people’s objections.
“The black-white thing was kind of tough back then,” Benny Shepherd said. “But Bubba looked at me and said, ‘I’m sticking this out. I’m rooming with you.’ I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ He said, ‘I’m going to take a nap in the room now. What about you?’ And that was that. We stayed roommates and we remained close.”
Vera Shepherd also fondly remembers Steve Carter, whose funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Community Bible Church, 9201 S. Dallas St.
“When we were little, he would walk me down the alley to my house,” she said. “He would make sure I got home, and then the next day, he’d be waiting for me. My grandmother would say, ‘Vera, that boy is waiting for you out there again.’ He was always there for me. He wanted to make sure I was safe.”