Bobby Caldwell: ‘Most of my listeners thought I was black man’

14th February 2015

Interview. Bobby Caldwell talks about his career and present his brand new jazz album After Dark.

You grew up in a musical environment. What musical memories do you have of your childhood?

My parents were both in show business. I grew up surrounded by music, and theater people. Sinatra was the favorite artist in my family’s home, and I developed a deep appreciation for the way Frank was able to emote a song. I also loved the Beatles. After mowing lawns to raise money, I bought my first guitar. I used to sit in my room and listen to the Beatles. Eventually, I could play every one of their songs on that old guitar. It was a great time in my life, as a kid in Miami, Florida.

What are your memories of the blue-eyed soul/AOR era in the 70’s when you started your career?

Most of my listeners thought I was black man. To this day many people do not realize I am a white guy. If you look at my twitter feed, you can still see the comments. Back in the day, there were times when I would walk out onto the stage, and a hush would come over the crowd. A skinny blue-eyed guy wasn’t what they were expecting to see. Back then, people only got to see the artists at live performances, or on Dick Clark, or Ed Sullivan. Radio was the way to reach the audiences, and I visited a lot of stations back then, and I had a lot of fun along the way.

Your new album After Dark is a collection of standards. How did you choose the songs?

I have a great fondness for the American Songbook. The style of songwriting, during that era, was seemingly simplistic, but very powerful. Writers could say so much, yet with very few words. On After Dark I made it a point to include some lesser known songs, that I felt deserved to be revisited, along with some classics.

One of these songs is your song “What You Won’t Do for Love”. Could you tell me about the writing of this song?

In 1978 I got my first record deal with TK Records in South Florida. TK was home to K.C. and the Sunshine Band, along with a number of disco acts. I went into the studio, and a year later, presented my album to the management. They wanted more. I went back into the studio for another couple of days, and emerged with “What You Won’t Do for Love.” I really didn’t labor over the song. It just happened to come together in a way that was pleasing to the listeners. To this day the song lives on. I am truly grateful to the generations of listeners, who still love the song.

In After Dark, you sing a latin version of “What You Won’t Do for Love”. How came the idea to transform it that way?

I wanted to be able to perform the song at my big band shows. The Latin vibe was appealing to me, and a new spin for the song. There’s a great musician/arranger, Jessie Green, who lives near my farm in New Jersey. He took on the project, and did some very interesting things with the charts.

You seem very comfortable when you sing with a big orchestra. Do you have to change the way you sing when you are accompanied by a big orchestra?

I love to sing with the big orchestra. The vocals have to match the song. I try to stay true to the songwriters, and the meaning of each song.

You played the role of Frank Sinatra in the musical The Rat Pack Is Back. What are your memories about this experience?

I had already released my first big band album, Blue Condition, and was very pleased with the outcome. Then one day I got a call from POP icon, David Cassidy. He and Don Reo were producing a new show on the Vegas strip, and they wanted me for the role of Frank. The show opened in the summer of 1999 at the Desert Inn, which I always considered to be the jewel of the strip. The show featured a full big band, and of course the beloved Rat Pack characters. I was honored to play the role of Frank. I did the show for about 18 months. In fact, I met my wife at one of the shows, so it certainly has had a lasting effect on me.

Another very famous song written by you is “The Next Time I Fall”. Could tell me about the writing of the song? And how does it ended in a Peter Cetera album?

I had written a few songs for the group, Chicago. “Next Time I Fall (in Love)” was a new demo, and somehow it got into Peter’s hands at the time he was leaving the band to pursue a solo career. He liked the song, and wanted to record it as a duet, which he did with Amy Grant. I was honored, and the song went on to have great success.

Japan is very sensible to your music and I know you often tour in Japan. What are the things you like best in Japan?

The audience in Japan has embraced me since my first album, and I will forever love them for that. I get over there once or twice each year. The food is fantastic! The Japanese people take great pride in everything they do, even down to the most fine detail. I marvel at their cities, shops, and of course, the high-speed trains. It’s a great place to perform, enjoy the culture, and the people.

Is there a chance to see you in Europe and particularly in France in the near future?

I would love to get to Europe! France would be fabulous! Hopefully, we’ll find a way to work out the details and get over there. So, to any potential promoters, please keep me in mind.

Who is Holly the Bulldog who frequently writes news about you on your website? Is it your dog?

My wife and step-daughter love bulldogs. Holly was our first bulldog. She passed away in 2008, and it broke my wife’s heart. After being without a dog for a couple of years, we got Stella, another bulldog. Unlike our sweet Holly, Stella is a feisty creature, and a real show-off. She has her own facebook page, but hasn’t been too active writing on the website. I’ll have to talk to her about that!

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