Bobby Caldwell - Biography
By Nick Castro
Bobby Caldwell was a soul/jazz singer, born in 1951, in New York City. Caldwell was born into a family heavily involved in the professional entertainment industry. Both of his parents were hosts of a popular local variety hour on television, called Suppertime, and this gained Caldwell many early experiences in both music and business. Caldwell is mostly known for his classic hit song, "What You Won't Do For Love", together with an album of the same name, though his career has produced many other fine works as well. He has garnered a cult status in the US throughout the years, but is considered legendary in Japan. He still maintains a regular live schedule.
Caldwell was well immersed in his musical studies by the time he got to middle school, studying both piano and guitar. Before he finished high school, he was touring professionally in a rock group, playing Jimi Hendrix and Cream songs. He soon realized he was skilled beyond the average rock musician, and was capable of holding his own in the jazz and soul genres as well. He soon stretched his musical approach and went to Los Angeles to record what was intended to become his first album, but instead found hardship in the music business and he nearly gave up entirely, even moving back to Miami to live with his parents once again. Down, but not out, Caldwell continued to plot his next move, all the while working on the material that would later make up the majority of his breakthrough album, What You Won't Do For Love (1978 - Clouds). Though Caldwell is mainly known for the title track, the entire album is representative of his massive talent as both a singer and as a writer, with Caldwell penning all of the songs on the record. The album's first two songs, "Special to Me'", and, "My Flame", open the record strongly, the latter song charting in the r&b top 40. Much of this newfound success can be attributed to Caldwell's newfound manager, Henry Marx, who was responsible for getting the exposure, which gained him a record deal with the Clouds record label, who had had hits with groups like KC and the Sunshine Band and Anita Bell. Marx embarked on a huge promotional campaign throughout the US and Japan, which helped to garner massive radio airplay and sales of the hit song, "What You Won't Do For Love". This song, along with many other tunes by Caldwell, have been heavily sampled by modern day rap and r&b groups, most notably being used in songs by 2 Pac, Aaliyah and Mariah Carey, but was actually written as a last minute effort to satisfy the desires of the record label owner, Henry Stone. Marx has been accused of using shady tactics in promoting Caldwell, such as only portraying the singer in low lights or silhouetted manners, in an attempt to hide the fact, at least in the the initial stages of his promotion, that he was white. In an ironic twist of fate, white singers had difficulty being accepted in black music markets, with only a very few having what it took to compete in the the black soul groups of the day.
Caldwell suddenly found himself hurled into stardom, and his album was quickly going double platinum. He even found success in England when his song, "Down for the Third Time", began to hit the charts there. Unfortunately though, he was hard pressed to find another hit. He released his second album, Cat in the Hat (1980 - Clouds), to critical acclaim in Japan though was barely a blip on the radar screen in his native USA. Those who have heard the album, know it is a solid second record by Caldwell, who has some shining moments on the album with songs like, "Coming Down from Love", "To Know What You've Got", and, "Open Your Eyes", which has been sampled by rap artist Common, for his song, "The Light".
Caldwell followed up with a third record, Carry On (1982 - Sin-Drome), which went gold in Japan. Again, Caldwell handles all of the writing duties on the album, and has some memorable moments with songs like, "All of My Love", "Catwalk", and, "Jamaica". Once again though, not much was happening for him in America. Caldwell decided to focus on his Japanese audience and he release his fourth album there, but not in America, when he recorded August Moon (1983 - Sin-Drome), which was not released in America until 1991. This album was an instrumental record, more in the rock vein than soul or jazz, and see Caldwell doing most of the composing as well as playing every instrument on the album along with producing and arranging. Again the record was a huge hit for him in Japan, where had solidly established himself as a solid performer and consummate star.
After the release of August Moon, Caldwell began to concentrate on his song writing, rather than his recording or performing. He wrote songs for manypeople such as Boz Scaggs, Al Jarreau and Chicago. It was during the 80's that Caldwell made the switch to smooth jazz, becoming a mainstay in that genre ever since.
In the 90's Caldwell formed a record label with manager Marx, in order to release smooth jazz albums. He has also made sporadic appearances on his own, often doing straight jazz or big band albums, such as his album Blue Condition (1996 - Sin-Drome), which partnered the singer with a big band and found him doing standards such as, "You Go to My Head, "All the Way, and, "I Get a Kick Out of You". His audiences in Japan still love him, and they follow every musical maneuver he makes. In the US he has continued to enjoy success, but mainly in the shadows, writing for other people, having his music heavily sampled by the rap generation and composing for films.