Wayne Carper lives up to his ‘Country Crooner’ nickname
Cancer survivor scheduling gigs in the Wasatch Back
Local singer and guitarist Wayne Carper is singing his heart out at 68.
Park City’s “County Crooner” who performs two to four gigs every two weeks, has played at the Park City Library, the Park City Senior Center, Lush’s Tennessee BBQ and Fuegos Bistro and Pizzeria, and he is busy setting up additional gigs in other venues throughout the Wasatch Back, including Melven’s Public House in Heber City.
“I’ve been talking with a lot of people at different places, because the more I play, the more I want to play,” he said.
After experiencing one of Carper’s performances, audiences may be shocked to know that the man who covers such artists as George Jones, Ray Price and John Denver is a tonsil cancer survivor.
“I was diagnosed in 2007 when I was 52, and this type of cancer doesn’t happen to many people,” he said. “Apparently it’s hereditary. My grandpa on my mom’s side had it, and one of my cousins also got it.”
After being diagnosed, Carper, who enjoyed playing the guitar and singing at the time, wasn’t sure he wanted to undergo surgery.
“I told the doctor to tell me the odds, because I had no desire to go into anything that was going to prevent me from living my life the way I wanted to,” he said. “But when the scans came back, the doctor said he was 95% sure that he could cut it all out, and I trusted him.”
After the operation, Carper’s wife, Jenny, told him to get a colonoscopy.
“They found a large mass, and the surgery took care of that,” he said. “That was a good thing, because that (type of) cancer killed my mom, some uncles and cousins.”
After the surgeries, especially the one on his tonsils, Carper felt self-conscious and didn’t feel like he could play and sing in public again.
“So, except for playing sometimes for Jenny, I didn’t play much,” he said. “In fact, I decided that I needed to sell my guitars.”
In 2016, Carper sold his last acoustic guitar.
“A father of a boy who was celebrating his 16th birthday answered my ad, and came over,” Carper said. “He said he only had $450, and I said, ‘Today that’s the sale price.'”
Carper had no regrets selling that guitar.
“The kid was a pretty good picker, and I think he’s still playing today,” he said.
Carper didn’t pick up the guitar again until Jenny passed away on June 28, 2021, and she ironically, died after undergoing an operation for a double mastectomy, according to Carper.
“I met Jenny in 1991,” he said. “We lived together for 10 years, and got married in 2001. Then she got mad at me in 2007, and we divorced.”
A few months later, the couple reconciled.
“I tell people that I was awfully lucky she loved me,” Carper said. “I loved her, too, but she was way better at it than I was. She was my best friend.”
A few days after Jenny’s death, Carper bought a cheap acoustic guitar that gave him something to do.
“We were living in St. George at the time, and I decided to load up my truck and drive across the country,” he said.
A few months later, Carper returned to Utah, and landed a job driving Park City Transit buses, after meeting Vinny Nguyen, Park City Municipal’s assistant transit manager.
“He asked me to come up to Park City,” Carper said.
Earlier this year, Carper got back into playing guitar in public.
“I was playing the Senior Center, of which I am a card-carrying member,” he said with a laugh. “And that’s where I met Shannon Runyon.”
Runyon, one of Park City’s premiere singer-songwriters, heard Carper’s playing.
“She encouraged me and told me that I needed to get back into it,” he said.
Runyon, along with singer-songwriter Victoria Sorenson, who were two of the artists who performed during the Park City Library’s Music on the Patio series, programmed by Mountain Town Music, asked Carper to play during their breaks.
“They are both very nice people, because they didn’t have to ask me to play,” he said. “But I did, and apparently people liked what they heard.”
It was Runyon who came up with Carper’s nickname.
“After the second time I played during Shannon’s break, she said, ‘Let’s have a round of applause for Wayne, ‘The Country Crooner,'” he said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t call myself ‘The Country Crooner,’ but she did. And I said, ‘OK. I’ll got with that.'”
Carper’s love for country music stems from his mother.
“My mom and all my uncles played and sang, and everyone on my dad’s side were all riffers,” he said. “So I did both, after I got a cheapo guitar when I was 12. Later in life, a friend of mine showed me how to play all the bar chords, so I could play all the minors and majors.”
Music was a haven for Carper during his childhood.
“I grew up in Ohio in a place called ‘The Bottoms,’ and it was exactly what it sounds like — very poor,” he said. “My old man was a drunk. And he was all messed up when he got back from World War II. So that’s how we wound up in ‘The Bottoms.'”
In 1967, Carper’s life changed.
“My mom, sister and little brother jumped on a Greyhound in ’69 and moved out West,” he said. “And that’s how I got here.”
Today, Carper plays a Fender Telecaster, and pays tribute to his musical influences and many others.
“There is a lot of good country music that has come out in the past 60 years, and I have more than 100 songs in my head,” he said. “I’m not a great or fantastic guitar player or a great picker, but I play a decent rhythm.”
After meeting Runyon and Sorenson, Carper feels the need to find more gigs.
“When I would play in the past, people would tell me I have a great voice, and they are telling that to me, again,” he said. “They seem to like my stuff again, and they keep hiring me. So, I want to play more. So far, it’s been working out.”
Santa Claus returns to the Park City Ice Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 12, from 5 to 7 p.m. for the annual Santa Skate! Don’t forget to bring your ski or bike helmet to wear while you’re on the ice. Complimentary skating and rentals.
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