Valdosta Daily Times

September 15, 2013

Playing Against Time

Former Valdosta musician’s brain procedure propels funding for CD

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — By Dean Poling

The Valdosta Daily Times

Brad Carter’s most recent journey started with tremors in his right index finger and thumb.

These tremors caused alarm because Carter had already traveled so far.

Growing up in Macon, he attended Valdosta State University, regularly played Valdosta and Remerton clubs as a musician through the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2003, at the age of 29, Carter realized that if he was ever to become a well-known actor or musician, he must travel to California.

Ten years ago, Carter made his move, began establishing a career. Seven years ago, he noticed the tremors worsening in his right hand — a concerning development for anyone, but even more so for a person wanting to make a living playing guitar and performing on camera.

He was diagnosed with “essential tremor,” a degenerative disorder within the central nervous system, with symptoms that can resemble Parkinson’s disease.

In recent months, as the tremors have become apparent in his left hand, Carter underwent a brain procedure to correct his condition. He was awake for six of the procedure’s seven hours. To pass the time, at one point, he played his handmade Kurt Schoen guitar, constructed from a 1930s shotgun-shell crate.

The medical team filmed the process. The video of Carter playing guitar went viral. Millions witnessed him playing guitar during surgery on his brain.

With help from this visibility, Carter has raised thousands of dollars to record and produce a CD of his music.

But his journey with “essential tremor” is not over. He faces surgery again as he plans to record his music before the possibility of his time running out.

“No matter what,” Carter says, “I’m going to record this album.”

Brad Carter hails from Macon. In 1994, he moved to Valdosta, majoring in art at Valdosta State University. While he studied art in the classroom, he played guitar and sang songs in area clubs. After graduating in 1997, he stayed in Valdosta, performing as a muscian.

He was often simply billed as Brad. More often, joined by Kim Harrell, they were billed as Brad & Kim, and were regulars on the acoustic circuit especially in Remerton clubs of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Carter performed with the one-time band Pre-Fab Deluxe. He worked with Valdosta musicians such as Ben Owens and drummer Steve Satterwhite.

For a brief period, he was a morning DJ, but working long nights, performing in clubs, was not conducive to being a clear voice on the air by 6 a.m.

By 2003, he was ready for something else. He had interest in playing music, but he also wanted work as an actor.

“I knew if I was going to try to become an actor, I needed to do it before it got too late,” Carter says. “I was 29, and it hit I was wasting my potential. I had been sucked into that black hole of playing bars and just existing.”

He packed his belongings and left his native Georgia behind.

Knowing no one, having no job prospects in sight, but a willingness to give it a try, Brad Carter moved to Studio City, Calif.

Studio City is a neighborhood within Los Angeles, part of the San Fernando Valley, known for its population of movie stars.

While continuing to play music, Brad Carter has built a fairly steady acting career there.

In the past couple of years, he’s had roles in several television shows such as “Longmire,” “The Cheerleader Diaries,” “Bones,” “The Mentalist,” “CSI: NY,” “House,” “Harry’s Law,” “True Blood,” “Justified,” etc. He’s scheduled to play a role in the upcoming HBO miniseries, “True Detective,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.

In terms of his career, more roles have been coming his way at the same time he’s been dealing with effects of essential tremor.

Seven years ago, he experienced the slight tremors in his right hand. The initial diagnosis: Essential tremor.

Then came the detour. The diagnosis was changed to Lyme disease; tremors are a symptom. Treatments for Lyme disease did not help the tremors. Instead, they became worse.

He discovered the medical profession of movement disorder specialist. This specialist also diagnosed Carter with essential tremor.

In the past two years, the condition has grown worse. Carter has been unable to play guitar in live shows for more than a year. Tremors had begun in his left hand.

An artist, a guitar player since 1980, an actor, a person who has always used his hands to make a living and express his creativity, Carter says, “I used to brag about having the hands of a surgeon.” Slowly, his hands no longer worked for him.

He agreed to a medical proposal, one which posed pain, potential dangers, and no absolute guarantees it would work.

Deep Brain Stimulation is a procedure “that involves the placing of electrodes in my brain and a control in my chest,” Carter notes. “By using electrical stimulation to a tiny spot in my thalamus, my doctors hope to improve my condition and to be able to manage it.”

On May 23, he underwent the procedure at the University of California in Los Angeles. A process that Carter has described as “scary as hell!”

At UCLA, the procedure went well. Carter had been approached about filming the procedure. He agreed, thinking it would be something for students to watch as a training film within UCLA.

Carter had seen a violin player playing while undergoing a similar operation. He’d seen another person play a banjo. So, he took his guitar to help him pass the time.

After the procedure, as Carter and the medical team gauged its success, the video of him playing guitar hit the Internet. Millions of people have since seen it around the world. Television shows played portions of it.

Carter was uncertain how to react to this unimagined response.

“It’s strange,” he says. “It’s the most painful thing to ever happen to me and now it’s the most public. ... But I’ve been rolling with the punches. I thought it might hurt my acting career if people knew about this, but at the same time, I had a desire to record an album before it was too late.”

Using the guitar-surgery video as a springboard, Carter initiated a Kickstarter account online. Kickstarter allows individuals to raise money for various projects from people willing to invest in the idea.

Though he wanted $60,000 to both record and produce the CD as well as film an accompanying video, Carter set a goal for $45,000, the cost of making the CD, to be raised within a limited amount of time.

He worked the fund as a full-time job during the month-long Kickstarter campaign. To raise the funds, Carter attracted item donations from celebrities to serve as donor prizes. In Valdosta, Ashley Street Station held fundraisers to contribute to Carter’s Kickstarter campaign to record an album of his music.

His deadline for this amount was last Thursday. By Tuesday, he met the $45,000 goal. By Thursday’s deadline, the amount surpassed $50,000 in pledges, but it was still $10,000 short of his hopes to raise enough to film the video on the sets where “Deadwood,” his favorite show, was filmed; however, he hopes to raise the additional funds outside of Kickstarter in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, he faces other concerns.

The initial deep brain stimulation has not slowed the progression of tremors. The medical team is discussing a second procedure to adjust the placement of electrodes in Carter’s brain. Doing it again will be dangerous and may still not produce the desired results.

“It’s scary,” Carter says, “and I don’t take it lightly.”

Nor does he take lightly the support shown him by people on Kickstarter.

Brad Carter says the CD will be made. It will happen and happen soon. “There’s an end point to my skills,” he says, if the deep brain stimulation does not work.

He hasn’t reached that point yet, and he’s doing all within his power to delay that day as long as possible.

To reach Brad Carter or to donate to his cause, email; or mail Brad Carter, 12012 Valley Heart Drive, Apt. B, Studio City, Calif. 91604.