Tenor of Conversation

Tenor of Conversation

Arlington’s Carl Tanner offers amazing tales, new holiday CD.

Compared to some other bounty hunters he knew, Carl Tanner was downright patient in his approach. “I wouldn’t come in with a hail of bullets, guns blazing like a cowboy,” he said. “I’d wait until you came out — or get you very early in the morning, or very late night at night. So you wouldn’t try anything stupid.”

But this kid, holed up in a cabin in West Virginia? He was stupid, and Tanner knew it.

He had been hired by the young man’s parents to track him down and bring him in. Usually, Tanner was picking up people trying to jump bail for blue- and white-collar crimes, working as a partner for an Arlington bondsman. He was a truck driver after graduating from college, but the finances weren’t good enough. A friend put him in touch with a bounty hunter in need of some backup. Tanner bristled at first, but eventually decided to give this career opportunity a chance. He took self-defense, martial arts and crisis intervention training, to go along with the size and quickness he displayed on the football field at Washington-Lee High School in the early 1980s. He carried three guns, including a Mossberg 500 sawed-off shotgun with a pistol grip — he never loaded it, but used it for intimidation — and a fully-loaded Beretta 9 mm. Soon after he broke into the business, Tanner discovered that business could be good, to the tune of $80,000 a year.

“But it got very, very dangerous, very quickly,” he said.

Like outside of that cabin in West Virginia around 1990, where a kid with a 22 caliber rifle was firing indiscriminately at Tanner — 17 bullets whizzing past him as he took cover. “I didn’t know what to do,” recalled Tanner. “I just stayed in the door jam until his gun locked up. He came running out the cabin, I tackled him, hog-tied him and put him in my car.”

The entire car ride featured a lecture from Tanner to his new acquaintance, about life choices, right and wrong, and how every decision and action affected his future.

He slowly started to realize the lecture wasn’t only for the boy in his car — it was also for the man in the driver’s seat.

“Why am I doing this? What am I running from?” he recalled thinking. “I was getting signs all around me that I was being called to sing. I was given a gift, and I was running from it the whole time.”

And with that, a bounty hunter was on the road to opera stardom.

CARL TANNER speaks enthusiastically about every facet of his life that led him to the stage. The 44-year-old singer — a lifelong Arlington resident now relocating to Fairfax Station — has become “one of today’s most distinguished tenors on the international opera scene,” according to Rebecca Shapiro, his publicist. He has performed at London's Royal Opera, Milan's La Scala, New York City and Washington Opera, and starred in concerts from Brussels to Tokyo. Placido Domingo, general director of the Washington National Opera, hand-picked Tanner for the lead role in “Il Trovatore” in 2004. Tanner has garnered notice from television programs like CBS’s “The Early Show,” which highlighted Tanner’s interesting life journey.

This October, he released his first CD recording called “Hear the Angel Voices,” a stirring collection of 16 holiday classics built around what’s become Tanner’s signature Christmas performance: “O Holy Night,” which he memorably sang at the White House Christmas tree lighting and at midnight mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

Ron Kramer, manager of marketing and promotion for "Hear the Angel Voices," said having a debut album that's a Christmas CD is a difficult sell — holiday albums are often released well into an artist's career.

"You have an artist like Carl who's a very prominent tenor. What he doesn't have yet — but he will — is a mainstream persona," Kramer said. "But Carl has this amazing passion for these Christmas songs."

Tanner always wanted to make a Christmas CD, as his parents both loved the music of the season. His father died in 1991; his mother in 1994.

TANNER SAID they both worked hard — at least two full-time jobs apiece — to support him and his siblings as they grew up in Arlington.

Tanner was a jock at Washington-Lee High School, back when the Generals were a major player in the Northern Region football scene. “Actually, we were damn good. I played right tackle and center. I’d sing the national anthem, and we’d go out there and kick butt,” he said.

But for the most part, his vocal talent was kept to himself; that is until a female classmate heard him singing in the locker room, and confronted him, saying that the W-L choir needed him.

After learning how many fellow athletes tried out for the chorus, he decided to have a go at it. He sang “Amazing Grace” for an audition. The music director quickly stopped him.

“Is this a joke? C’mon, who set you up?” Tanner recalled him saying.

The director said Tanner wasn’t bad or good — he was phenomenal. Too good for the chorus, in fact; he was meant to be a soloist.

After graduating from W-L in 1982, Tanner took a job driving a delivery truck instead of going to college. When he decided to continue his education, he ended up at Shenandoah University Conservatory of Music — earning a degree in 1987, only to return to truck-driving and, eventually, bounty hunting.

AFTER THE INCIDENT at that cabin in West Virginia, Tanner began questioning the direction of his life. Those questions were answered shortly thereafter, during another bounty hunting job.

He and his partner were closing in on their target when the guy decided to flee — by leaping out of his apartment window, latching into a power line and electrocuting himself.

“I had to rethink this bounty hunting thing,” Tanner said.

His speaking voice doesn’t resemble his booming operatic tenor. It’s scratchy, almost weathered — the result of a condition which gave him a crease in each of his vocal chords. He said it’s an affliction that both Nick Nolte and Gary Busey share with him, as well as Harry Belafonte. “It’s rare you find a singer with it,” said Tanner.

But Tanner is a rare singer: one whose soaring tenor can mesmerize 100,000 people in Central Park as easily as it transforms well-trodden holiday fare like “Silent Night” on his new CD.

“I croon on it,” he said, with pride.

“If this becomes the album of the year or just something I play in my bathroom, I’m happy. Because it’s a dream to have made it, and it’s a dream to have made it for my parents,” he said.