And then, suddenly, the music stopped.
"I still shake," the 39-year-old actor-musician said as his right hand began twitching uncontrollably. "I just try to get by as best I can, but I know there are songs I can't play anymore."
Stricken with a progressive neurological disorder called benign essential tremor, Carter is scrambling to fulfill his lifelong goal of recording an album before the illness strips him of the ability to play his beloved instrument.
Now he will do just that, thanks to a campaign on the crowdsourcing site Kickstarter.
com, through which he was able to reach his initial goal of $45,000, which covers online fees and everything needed for the studio. The funding was so successful he is hoping to garner about $15,000 more in pledges, which will let him make a music video as well.
Studio City actor/musician Brad Carter is asking fans to help him record an album after learning he has the degenerative condition, essential tremor. Carter had brain surgery at UCLA in order to alleviate the symptoms of essential tremor and a video of Carter playing his guitar during his brain operation. (September 9, 2013. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker/L.A. Daily News))
"It's not because I want to be a star or anything else," Carter said. "It's because I know that the shelf life on my skills is going down by the day. It's important to me to let people hear my music - that it's there for posterity, because I know I won't be able to play in the future."
While Carter's music, which he describes as "somewhere between folk rock and a hillbilly stomp," isn't widely known, his face may be familiar to many.
The Studio City resident who hails from Macon, Ga., has had small roles on dozens of television shows. Usually playing "the guy who gets murdered or is killing people," Carter has graced such series as "CSI," "Criminal Minds," "Castle," "Bones" and "The Mentalist."
He was a Civil War re-enactor who kept vomiting into a bucket in "House, M.D.," a drugstore robber shot dead by Gary Sinise in last year's "CSI: New York" season finale and someone brutally bludgeoned to death by Michael C.
More people, however, probably recognize Carter as "that guy who played his guitar during brain surgery," after the video he posted of his first procedure went viral on YouTube and has now been picked up by mainstream news outlets and seen the world over.
Carter underwent deep brain stimulation, in which a pacemaker was inserted in his brain. The operation, long used to calm the tremors associated with illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, is always done while fully conscious.
His surgeon, Dr. Nader Pouratian, director of UCLA's Neurosurgical Movement Disorders Program, had felt confident that Carter's symptoms would be alleviated.
Carter first began noticing the tremors in 2006, but he thought he had merely hurt his hand while swimming. Three specialists later misdiagnosed it as Lyme disease, and for four years he spent much of his earnings on treatments that made him feel worse instead of better.
Last January and March, Pouratian performed two surgeries - the first to put electrodes in Carter's brain, the second to add wires down his neck to a controller embedded in his chest.
Carter stressed the disease does not interfere with his ability to work as an actor, because at this point he can generally mask the shaking. Essential tremor is often mistaken for Parkinson's but is said to be 10 times more common, affecting some 10 million Americans.
Actress Katharine Hepburn manifested the symptoms in her old age. "It's called benign because we don't think it shortens people's lives, but if you ask most people who have essential tremor, they say it's anything but benign, especially when the tremors are so severe that it can interfere with the activities of daily living and function and quality of life," Carter said. "How about they call it 'you-shake-until-everything-in-your-life-sucks-and-your-dream-falls-apart' disease? That would describe it great."
A minister's son, Carter bought his first guitar with a roll of quarters, and since then, he has always yearned to be "a rock star or an actor." He came to Los Angeles after working for years as a struggling musician in Georgia, performing in smoke-filled bars for $35 to $100 a night.
Now, in addition to being a musician and actor, he is an accomplished painter, sculptor, photographer and occasional stand-up comic. He is able to grin and bear any pain or discomfort with the help of friends like Tony Hawk, who donated skateboards to the larger donors in Carter's Kickstarter campaign.
"His story and his attitude, it's inspiring," Hawk said. "It's him chasing his dream."
Pouratian credits Carter with making people aware of the disease, as well as getting the word out that there are therapeutic options for patients, even though the symptoms will increase with or without treatment.
Carter's sister, Christy Drawdy, hopes he finds comfort in knowing he is helping people. "Maybe he has a higher purpose," she said.
"I feel like other people somehow have attached to my story, and they're counting on me," Carter said. "It makes them feel better somehow to see me doing this. All I can do is embrace it."