Probably the luckiest thing in Carl Anderson’s life was that Ben Vereen didn’t do the movie of Jesus Christ Superstar. He was the original stage Judas. Murray Head was Judas on the concept album that predates the show. But for the movie, they chose to go with the more obscure Ted Neely and Carl Anderson as Jesus and Judas, and that made both men’s careers. Now, it’s entirely possible that Anderson would have broken through even without Superstar. Certainly he did other things, including recording with Stevie Wonder and appearing on Cop Rock. But he is one of those people whose life is shaped by a single moment and who became strongly identified with one role almost by chance.
Before Ben Vereen got sick and opened the stage for Anderson to make his mark, he had been one of twelve children growing up in Virginia. He spent time in the Air Force. He performed with a band called The Second Eagle; he was discovered among other things performing covers from the concept album. He was Judas in the pre-Broadway touring company, then Vereen took over the role. That all catches us up to where we know him.
After 1974, he did other things. He was in The Color Purple. He did a bit of television—Cop Rock and The Rockford Files, for starters, but also he played himself on a couple of episodes of Days of Our Lives. He also did quite a lot of recording. Music fans might be excited to learn that he performed on the Songs in the Key of Life double album from Stevie Wonder. He put out several of his own albums as well as performing on various other people’s, such as Nancy Wilson and Peabo Bryson. He also sang on the Am I Cool or What Garfield novelty album, which has far more quality performers than you might expect.
And, yes, he was Judas. My goodness was he Judas. I must admit that my mental image of Judas specifically from “Superstar” is a friend from high school who I saw perform the song live, once long ago. However, everything else related to the character is Carl Anderson. “Heaven on Their Minds,” “Damned For All Time,” and the rest. And while it’s Chris Loop singing “Superstar,” that doesn’t mean I can’t hear the song whenever I look at a picture of Anderson, and it doesn’t mean that it isn’t the specific moment I visualize him from.
It is also worth noting that not everyone has a Leonard Cohen song dedicated to them when they die. The song is a tribute to the quality of Anderson’s own voice. Likewise, he reached number two on the charts in 1986 with a duet called “Friends and Lovers.” Even if all anyone knows him as is Judas Iscariot, it’s a worthy tribute, but there is enough to Carl Anderson that it’s worth diving deeper into his career and life. It’s also nice to know that he and Ted Neeley only agreed to the “20th Anniversary of the Movie” tour if both of them would be there for it. That Judas and Jesus were lifelong friends is funny, of course, but it’s also beautiful.
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