Bobby Caldwell to headline River Raisin Jazz FestivalWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Bobby Caldwell ups the ante on his 2012 disc, “House of Cards.” On the cover, he’s sporting that familiar fedora and holding five playing cards.
Is poker his game?
“Well, that’s a leading question,” the singer-songwriter wagered and laughed. “I really like imagery, so painting a picture of a backroom in some bar with people playing poker, I tried to spin that lyrically.”
He’s been dealing up music since he hit the jackpot with his 1978 self-titled debut. But it wasn’t without some high-stakes drama.
“After eight to 10 months of punishing myself, I delivered a record and ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’ was not on the album. The record label, TK Records, they were enthralled with the record; they loved it, but they didn’t feel that I had the breakout cut,” Caldwell said.
“And so after an arduous journey, it was like, ‘Quick, go back in; we don’t think you have your lead single.’ And I went back into the studio. Jeez, it kind of took place really quickly and I gave it very little thought, and at the end of the day, this is the song that broke the record.”
“What You Won’t Do For Love” hit No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. That sultry, smoldering track with the smooth bass groove has been covered by Boyz II Men and Go West, and has been sampled by more than 100 artists, including Mary J. Blige, Gym Class Heroes, 2Pac and Aaliyah.
“People look at that song and they go, ‘Oh my God, how brilliant! How incredible!’ And it wasn’t really. It was just something that happened, spur of the moment,” Caldwell said during a call from his New Jersey home.
When it came to Caldwell’s race, TK Records wanted to bluff; early album covers featured colorful illustrations.
“I had very little say in that. This was a label that basically their platform was R&B, so they had a lot of black artists on the label, huge sales,” he said. “And when I came along, I guess they thought, OK, we have our like Boz Scaggs or whatever. They decided, ‘OK, we don’t want to disclose his color,’ so that’s how it played out. So the silhouette became heavily in play.”
The shuffle didn’t faze Caldwell or his fans.
“Why I was adopted as a blue-eyed soul artist — wow, it’s just anybody’s guess,” he said. “All I can tell you is that I cut my teeth on the stuff that I used to buy — from Philadelphia, Motown, Stax Records, Marvin Gaye, Four Tops, Spinners — all heavily influenced me.”
Caldwell started to play big-band music in the mid-1990s.
“My home life as a child, it was like Ella Fitzgerald-Frank Sinatra headquarters, so I was exposed to all that incredible and wonderful music. It got under my skin and like so many other artists — Natalie Cole, Michael Bublé, Rod Stewart — they all in some respect carry the torch for the American songbook, as do I; it’s something that should be kept alive.
Caldwell will headline the 12th annual River Raisin Jazz Festival at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11 at St. Mary’s Park, Monroe. The event is free.