One of the brightest aspects of 21st-century pop culture is the ongoing dissolution of genre boundaries. Crossovers are so common, and the demand for strong material is so insistent, that the old questions about where to file something-as in “Is this pop, soul, or R&B?”-just don’t get asked very often anymore. Bobby Caldwell, who will play the Lobero next Thursday, August 9, ought to be the subject of a dissertation on category blending. Caldwell first entered the charts in 1979 with a huge hit single, “What You Won’t Do for Love,” on the label out of Hialeah, Florida. had made its mark producing KC and the Sunshine Band, and the label was responsible for some of the most creative music ever to get labeled “disco.” Caldwell was more soul than disco, and ended up in heavy rotation on smooth-jazz radio stations. On his most recent album, Perfect Island Nights (2005), Caldwell still displays all the strengths he did in the glory days with ?-his singing is rhythmically sophisticated, and his voice flexible and passionate, especially in his unmistakable upper register. Listening to his total output makes you wonder: What if Van Morrison had gotten a dose of Vegas neon along with his Celtic moonlight?
I spoke with Caldwell from his ranch in northern New Jersey where he raises horses and children.
Not all singers are songwriters. What is the relationship between your singing and your songwriting? I always loved singing, and I wanted to sing, but ultimately the creative side appealed the most. That was the goal-to write-and the singing comes with it.
When did you realize that you would have a career as an artist? To have my debut album go platinum in 1979-believe me, that was plenty of recognition. I can only speak for myself, but I believe this is true of other musicians: You don’t know what you are worth until that validation comes from the public. For me it was a whirlwind thing, with radio, sales, and worldwide interest all coming at once. At first it was awesome, the whole “big in Japan” experience, but then it was not so fun.
What made it become not so fun? Just the pressure, the feeling that you had to go out and do it again, and that your follow-up would have to be another big hit.
What motivated you to start writing for other artists? Oh, the usual things. I was without a label for my own work for a while, and that gave me an incentive to look for other people to sing my songs. But when I had some success with it, that became its own thing.
Your recordings have been sampled by some of the biggest rappers, including both Biggie Smalls and Tupac. When did you first become aware of the potential life of your music in that arena? I didn’t know at first. It was something that came to my attention through the question of receiving royalties on those recordings that were sampled. There was some real haggling at first about that. In fact, we’re still in the process of working it all out.
Do you feel that the music industry has changed a lot over the last 30 years? Well, I don’t want to come off as one of those old guys who sit around saying, “What happened to everything?” But : what happened to everything? It’s so different now, the revenue streams, the marketing-everything has changed. It doesn’t even matter anymore that much to me whether or not I have a label or a “record deal,” as they would say in the old days. Now I market through the Web site and by doing performances. I sell online and I sell at the venues. It’s a different world, and it operates in a new paradigm. But I’m okay with it. I have adapted well, I think.
Tell me something about the band you will be appearing with. They are a huge part of the show. Seven pieces, been with me for 15 years. They are fantastic. A lot of people tell me they like the live sound even better on some songs. It will be great in this size venue [the Lobero].
I see you have a Web site. It’s a good one. Thanks, we actually just finished a redesign.
I learned from it that you are into cooking. What’s for supper? It’s true; I love to cook, and I do most of the cooking around here. Tonight we have a lot of kids to feed, and we are going with the traditional summertime barbecue: barbecued chicken, corn, homemade cornbread, and salad.
Sounds delicious. See you soon. Thanks, see you on August 9.
RoadShow Media and Magic 106.3 present An Evening with Bobby Caldwell: Back to Blue-Eyed Soul at the Lobero Theatre on Thursday, August 9 at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call 973-0761 or visit lobero.com.