In soulful remembrance of Bobby Caldwell (August 15, 1951 – March 14, 2023) of “What You Won’t Do For Love” fame, we revist a classic soul interview from 1979.
Rest Peacefully, Mr. Caldwell
Bobby Caldwell: The Final Breakthrough
By John Abbey
If patience is a virtue, then Bobby Caldwell is a virtuous being. Apart from the fact that he has been patiently awaiting his own breakthrough for a good eight years, the record that has attained that success – ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’ on the Clouds label – has been on the streets for almost half a year. However, they say that the cream ends up on top and that looks to be the case for Mr. Caldwell. Some measure of Bobby’s ability can be measured in the fact that he sings, produces, arranges and plays all instruments except drums on his debut album.
Born into a show business family in Manhattan, New York, on August 15, 1951, Bobby got his first guitar at the age of then and soon after formed his first group, the Rooftops, In his teen years, he mastered as many instruments as possible as his group played local rock and roll hops. Saxophone, bass, piano and even steel guitar.
At fifteen, he formed a new group, called the Katmandu and made his first records for the Mainstream label. It was at this time that he came to the attention of Little Richard, who promptly hired the group to appear in Las Vegas with him. It was an incredible experience for me because it was my first experience of show business at that level,” Bobby recalls. “We did TV shows – such as Glen Campbell’s Special, Merv Griffin – and played Vegas and Tahoe for almost a year.”
Bobby then split again and formed another group, the Radio Flyers. “It was really a vehicle for my talent,” he explains. “I wrote all the material and started playing the club circuit – you know, five shows a night, which is killing! But when it came to recording, I didn’t use all the guys in the group and it caused some dissent and I disbanded that group, too. I really couldn’t support them all and figured that if I was going to starve, I’d rather do it alone.”
Bobby first came to any semblance of prominence, though, with his first record. Entitled ‘The House Is Rockin'”, it became a disco success in Britain and Canada and certain parts of America.” It was this single that brought him to the attention of Henry Stone and Steve Alaimo at TK and they were so impressed with the young man’s talent that they signed him to an album deal immediately. The result, of course, is common knowledge now. However, what baffles most people is simply that Bobby isn’t black! Sounding like a cross between George Benson, Donny Hathaway and Peabo Bryson, you could be forgiven for making the same mistake – I did! Right now, Bobby is involved in his second album. “It will be an extension of what I did in the first album,” he explains. “No disco! But it may be a little more progressive now that this album has done some good for me.”
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