Bobby Caldwell: 'Perfect Island Nights'

Ed Gordon talks with singer-songwriter Bobby Caldwell, whose music has become a staple in the smooth jazz world. Caldwell recently released a new CD, Perfect Island Nights.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Musician Bobby Caldwell has spent the past 25 years spinning musical tales of love. Caldwell's latest CD is "Perfect Island Nights." He tells NEWS & NOTES host Ed Gordon the story of how his first big hit, "What You Won't Do For Love," came about.

Mr. BOBBY CALDWELL (Musician): I was on a label that was located in Miami, Florida. It was TK Records. And their base to launch their product was basically an R&B format. So they really didn't want it to be well-known that I was white. Today, as we speak, there are still a few holdovers that don't know that.

ED GORDON reporting:

Don't know that.

Mr. CALDWELL: But the album was completed minus "What You Won't Do For Love."

GORDON: Really?

Mr. CALDWELL: And the guy who ran the company, Henry Stone, an old music mogul who's still alive today, came to me, he says, `You know, I like the album but I'm just not hearing the hit.' So, quick, in a hurry, in the last minutes, we went in and cut this groove and I, quick, penned some lyrics to it, and, you know, that just goes to show you that sometimes the things that you disregard are the things that come up and rear their head, you know?

(Soundbite of "What You Won't Do For Love")

Mr. CALDWELL: (Singing) I came back to let you know, got a thing for you and I can't let go.

GORDON: You live an interesting dynamic in that many African-Americans through the '60s, and even the early '70s, surprisingly, had albums released without their pictures on the cover for fear that whites would not buy that music. You, on the first album, and subsequent albums, but, by then, people were starting to hear the ID and the tag of `blue-eyed soul.' The first album, I assume, was intentional not to have your picture on it?

Mr. CALDWELL: Not by my choice, but by the label. You know...

GORDON: Did that bother you?

Mr. CALDWELL: You know, I more or less deferred to all the things I didn't understand and didn't know. And I was fortunate...

GORDON: If you knew better, had that had bothered you?

Mr. CALDWELL: No. Because--not that there was an animosity towards that, from, you know, programmers, but I felt possibility there was a degree of deception on behalf of the label. But that was quickly laid to rest when I had my first tour which was opening for Natalie Cole, and she was on her debut album, "This Will Be." Well, she was playing large venues, 4,500-plus. And "What You Won't Do For Love" was, at that point, working its way up, so I was very surprised at seeing nothing but black in the audience. And certainly they were probably more surprised than I was. But...

GORDON: But it does show the--what music can do to cross barriers, doesn't it?

Mr. CALDWELL: Most of the wonderful people I've gotten to know in the radio business, they all say the same thing. It's like a universal language, and should have no barriers.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. CALDWELL: (Singing) Even as the world goes insane, and we're feeling the strain, I'm committed to loving you.

GORDON: What is it about your music that has allowed you, or, perhaps, you, to cross genres so successfully? You started out, and, I think, if we're going to do labels, people would have labeled you and R&B singer. Then it moved to a smooth jazz, perhaps, even Brazilian-tinged flavor of music, then into classics, and now, it seems, that you can jump barrier between any of these musical genres. Does that speak to you?

Mr. CALDWELL: You being in radio, certainly you know that this business is constantly in a state of flux. R&B radio is not what it was back then. You know, with the introduction of rap and urban has given way to what I refer to as, you know, adult urban, which is more of the R&B that you and I cut our teeth on. As it constantly changes, you kind of have to keep re-inventing yourself.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. CALDWELL: (Singing) Our day will come. And we'll have everything.

GORDON: What about the Brazilian island-, as I mentioned, tinged music that you do? You very early on introduced that into some of your songs and into--some of those rhythms and beats into your songs. Was it a love of the music? Did you happen to visit the islands one time and pick it up?

Mr. CALDWELL: Always had it because most of my childhood was spent in Miami, which was a dumping ground for all kinds of music--Haitian, reggae, Latin, pop, R&B, culture. I mean, it was really a diversified city. But my mom, who was a real estate broker, sold Bob Marley his home in Miami, and I became friends with Bob Marley through friends and we became close enough to where I actually had felt as though I had been to Jamaica.

GORDON: Let me ask you--the new project, you have another name who's ripe for the picking for those of us who love the '70s and early '80s music, and that's Deniece Williams. You've brought her on this project to sing a duet, a wonderful singer with fantastic range, and you picked a classic, "Where Is The Love," Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack. Any trepidation in picking a classic like that, first and foremost?

Mr. CALDWELL: None whatsoever. It is a classic that maybe some wouldn't dare go near, but when Deniece and I had spoken about "Where Is The Love," without reservation she hands down said, `Yes.'

(Soundbite of "Where Is The Love")

Mr. CALDWELL & Ms. DENIECE WILLIAMS: (Singing) Where is the love you said you'd give to me soon as you were free? Will there ever be...

GORDON: The new CD is "Perfect Island Nights," and we want to thank you for joining us and spending a little time with us.

Mr. CALDWELL: Well, thanks, Ed, for having me.

(Soundbite of "Where Is The Love")

Mr. CALDWELL & Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) You told me that you didn't love you and you were gonna say goodbye. Oh, if you really didn't mean it, why did you have to lie?

CHIDEYA: Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today. To listen to this show, visit npr.org. Or, if you'd like to comment, call us at (202) 408-3330. That's (202) 408-3330. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American public radio consortium.

(Soundbite of "Where Is The Love")

Mr. CALDWELL & Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) ...you tell me so. Don't leave me hanging on the promises.

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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  • Album: Perfect Island Nights
  • Artist: Bobby Caldwell
  • Label: Sin-Drome Records
  • Released: 2005
 

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