Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine: how we made Sheriff Fatman

James ‘Jim Bob’ Morrison, vocalist/guitarist

I had read about a dodgy landlord in the South London Press. The drug-dealing, the “phoney prescriptions”, the awful living conditions for his tenants: it was all in the newspaper, even his physical stature. All I had to do was change his name – and I’d turned an awful story into poetry and pop music.

Fruitbat and I recorded the track in the same place we recorded the first four Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine albums: a brick shed in producer Simon Painter’s garden. There was no room to swing a cat, let alone set up a drum kit – two important factors in the band’s sound, since we used a drum machine. We knew the track was something special and it quickly became a live favourite, but it wasn’t really a success until we signed a major record deal with Chrysalis, who rereleased it.

I used to love the chaos when we performed the song live in 1989 and 1990. There would be so many people moshing around the band, it was difficult to tell where the stage ended and the auditorium began. We made heavy use of strobes in our sets and they’ve left my neck scarred. On good days, it looks like I’m wearing a posh scarf. When it’s hot in the summer, the tingling on my neck makes it feels like I’m being followed.

Watch the video for Sheriff Fatman

The lyrics namechecked some celebrities of the time, including the businessman Nicholas van Hoogstraten and the Prince of Wales, and we even mentioned Crossroads. Apparently Paul Henry [the actor who played Benny in the soap] got a bit miffed about Fruitbat appropriating his blue woolly hat. I’m not sure if bands today could get away with the “More aliases than Klaus Barbie” line. Big Cat Records, our original label, didn’t ever question anything in any of our songs. Maybe that’s why Fatman wasn’t on daytime Radio 1 as much as it could have been.

Sheriff Fatman used to be my Ralph-McTell-Streets-of-London-in-Big-Train moment – where the singer’s forced to perform his big hit over and over. But I’ve completely come to terms with it all – being “Jim Bob from Carter”, filling my solo sets with virtually nothing but Carter classics. Everyone knows Sheriff Fatman is coming: they just need to wait for it. And, now we’re all a bit older, I just enjoy an extended clap-along in the middle section of the song.

When the Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman producers begin casting the Carter USM movie, I’d like Sheriff Fatman to be played by either Michael Caine or Christian Bale in a fat suit.

Les ‘Fruitbat’ Carter, guitarist/vocalist

I actually had a very decent landlady at the time, although the flat’s toilet was a bit rank – it’s the one we used on the record sleeve. I covered the top of my guitar in a plastic bag before I shoved it down the bowl for the photo.

the 7in single cover for Sheriff Fatman by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine.

The 7in single cover for Sheriff Fatman by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. Photograph: Big Cat

Jim Bob had seen a few documentaries on the subject of slum landlords. I’d lived in some shoddy places when I first left home and experienced some awful conditions. Around this time, I worked for the Ministry of Defence. If I tell you what I did, I’d be in violation of the Official Secrets Act and would have to kill you.

When Fatman was first released, it only got into the indie charts. It was rereleased when we were more popular, and that’s when we made Top of the Pops. I think Chris Evans was a fan of the tune: he interviewed us in the toilet when we were on The Big Breakfast. When we played Fatman at gigs, the bouncers would get swamped. Surfers and stage-divers always broke through. Jon Beast, our larger-than-life compère (RIP), used to get them revved up with the “You fat bastard” chant.

I loved hearing Fatman covered by our Japanese tribute band, Clinton USM. They were kind enough to join us for the afterparty at a few of our reunion gigs. The real-life landlords who inspired the song are probably in a tax haven now. They’re the reason the song’s lyrics haven’t dated: they’re still accurate, unfortunately.

I’m a landlord too now, by the way. It just kind of happened. My tenants have mostly been fantastic. The only one who wasn’t is now buried under the patio.

Jim Bob plays Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, on 23March. Jim Bob from Carter is published this month by Cherry Red Books. Fruitbat is one half of Smokin’ Donuts, on tour in May.


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