HIT CHANNEL INTERVIEW: February 2012. We talked to Bobby Caldwell, the legendary drummer of Captain Beyond, Johnny Winter And, Armageddon and Allman Brothers Band. It was a great experience talking to such a great musician and a fine person. His music has influenced many listeners and bands. He wasn’t just a drummer, but also the composer and co-founder of Captain Beyond and Armageddon. He shared with us his memories and thoughs. Read below the very interesting things he told us:
I’m not recording anything right now, but I’m working on a project with a bunch of other people. People in the music industry came together and played together last week. I did an album last year with a fella and I’m getting ready to do my own stuff, hopefully I started in the 1st of this year.
Are you satisfied with the feedback you got from fans and press for the Captain Beyond reunion shows during the last years?
Some comments were positive and some were negative. I think it was ok, most of them were positive.
Do you think Johnny Winter’s ‘Live Johnny Winter And’ album was a catalyst for your later career?
Oh, yeah! Definitely. Playing with Johnny Winter and Rick Derringer (ed:guitar) was thrilling. Was a big stuff.
Do you remember any unknown/unexpected/funny story from the recordings of the iconic debut album of Captain Beyond?
You know, I can’t think of anything interesting in particular. When we started to play with Captain Beyond, I had already a plan with The Allman Brothers for quite a while, and ofcourse it was well. When The Allman Brothers came in L.A to play at Whisky a Go-Go, we came together and we played backstage our rehearsal tape for Duane and Gregg and probably for everybody else. That’s how the whole association came close to Capricorn Records. We had been talking to different people at that moment about who to sign with. As far as the funny moment, I think didn’t happen anything shocking, except probably talking a bit obscene and things like that.
Do you like today “Dawn Explosion” album?
The problem with “Dawn Explosion” is that it shouldn’t be recorded in the same way with did the first album. We got to record this in another place in San Francisco. I wouldn’t say the place wasn’t fine, it was the sound of this band, it sounded the same. That’s the problem I have with “Dawn Explosion”, it shouldn’t be recorded in the same way.
Are you frustrated by the fact that Captain Beyond never got the recognition they deserved?
No. I wish it could have been even more held up in the music. It wasn’t treated correct. Listen, I should tell you this: Captain Beyond had management problem, we signed with the same person who had the record company. We were trying to do things, but people in the band were occasionally misunderstood. Everyone was very young as well. What I would say to you, every other band would say to you the same thing. I mean nothing was really different. It is just part of the whole thing, being in a group and recording and Captain Beyond wasn’t the exception. We had planning problems with the individual members, there were problems with the business, with the record company. Yeah, we should have been a lot bigger financially, that’s for sure, we should have been. Looking back now, I’m happy with the world-wide following of the band and this amazes even me..
Did you enjoy your come back period with Johnny Winter when you recorded “Saints and Sinners” album?
Yes, it was really fun. With Captain Beyond we were going and Johnny wanted to come back and play with him. I put so much effort into writing the songs or co-writing and the direction of the music I was trying to forge, but I couldn’t quit. So, I ended up playing some tracks for Johnny, whatever he wanted, and I ended up doing that. It was always fun playing with Johnny.
Had you ever expected the huge success of Rick Derringer’s “All American Boy” album and especially the song “Rock N’Roll Hoochie Koo” ?
Probably. I didn’t think about it. “Rock N’ Roll Hoochie Koo” was playing every hour somewhere !! There weren’t any other people involved in the recording sessions. There were only two people: Rick and I. Rick and I, almost put the whole album together, alone. Edgar Winter cameand played a little piano and there were some girls in the audience, but for almost of the time in the whole recording it was Rick, me and Bill Szymczyk, the producer.
Let me tell you this and I know your readers don’t know it. When those concerts were recorded, I came and played with The Allman Brothers first and then one hour later, I came back to play with Johnny Winter And. So, I did both two shows for two days in the row. I played four shows in two nights. Not only that, but Johnny Winter And, was the headliner. We were the headliner, The Allman Brothers Band were second and Elvin Bishop Group was third. A lot of people don’t know that, it’s not a big deal, but it’s some kind of funny because but it couldn’t have been in the configuration but we, Johnny Winter And played in these concerts the same nights with The Allman Brothers Band.
You played four sets in two days!!
Yes, it was exhausting. At the Fillmore East when you were the headliner you could play as long as you wanted. Bill Graham (ed: the most legendary concert organizer) wouldn’t stop you. If you were the opening act, you would have to stop at the third song. We could play until 4 o’ clock in the morning. 4 in the morning!
Do you have happy memories from the period you played in Armageddon band? Was Keith Relf’s death the main reason for the break-up or that had happened prior to Keith’s loss?
I loved that band and playing with Keith (ed: Relf, The Yardbirds singer) who was a real legend, as far as I am concerned. They were great guys. A wonderful band, talented and smart. It was a great band. Again, that band had also the same problems: we had bad management and ofcourse as things started crumbling, there were drugs and alcohol too. That kind of things that everyone had been in and if I hadn’t admitted you that, I wouldn’t be honest with you. Yes, it is just the way it is. It doesn’t make right or wrong. I had a great time, I think we all had a great time. As far your question we had problems with the management and Keith had personal issues he tried to work out and we couldn’t quite figure out what he was doing. It was hard, it was a really tough time. We didn’t really break up. We just were trying to figure out what to do with the bad management. I remember, Martin Pugh (ed: guitar) and I, we lived in L.A and Keith and Louis (ed: Cennamo, bass) were living in London. We didn’t feel “Ok, I won’t do this anymore.” Nobody said that. We just stopped. We stopped because of that kind of problems. We couldn’t get things on track. That kind of things happened because of the pressure anybody felt.
Are you aware of the influence Captain Beyond music has on newer bands (especially Swedish) like Witchcraft, Abramis Brama and The Quill?
I know that Captain Beyond had a lot of influence on people and I know Swedish bands really dig, but I don’t know those particular bands.
Abramis Brama and The Quill participated in a tribute album to Captain Beyond where Pentagram covered “Dancing Madly Backwards”.
Do you mean the tribute album? Yeah, I’m aware of that.
They love your music. Magnus Pelander from the great Swedish band, Witchcraft really admires you, personally. He posts in Facebook videos of you playing and he writes “Bobby Fuckin’ Caldwell”.
Ah!! Which is his name?
Magnus Pelander. I ‘ve done an interview with him. I’ll send you his email, afterwards.
Good. Captain Beyond really could have been as big as any American band ever was. It really could have been. We were an American band but we didn’t sound like an American band. There is nothing wrong with the American music but it sounded more European. A lot of people thought that we were from Europe.
It is pretty much everywhere but probably you’re right. I talk to Lee Doorman (ed: bass) sometimes, I talk to Rod (ed: Evans, vocals, first singer of Deep Purple), “Rhino” (ed: Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt, guitar) ofcourse passed away.
Yes, this is the next question. What do you remember the most from “Rhino”;
Well, “Rhino” and I, had known each other since we were teenagers. We were young kids when we met, kind of like Steven Tyler and Joe Perry (ed: from Aerosmith). He was a very talented guy and he had a very distinguished style of guitar playing. He was a really talented guy.
Were you surprised that Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters played in a Bobby Caldwell tribute drum kit?
Yes, yes (laughs)! I saw that! A friend of mine had sent that to me a couple of years ago. Yes, that was pretty funny.
Is there anyone you’d like to play with and hasn’t happened yet?
There is a lot of people I would like to play with..
I would like to play with Jeff. I would like to play with.. (ed: pause)
Tom Waits would be me! Herbie Hancock. There is a number of people that I really admire. I would like to play with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. There are a lot of people that I think they are extremely talented. You know, I met Jeff years ago in London exactly when he was working on the “Blow By Blow” album. We were there for a long time and it’s funny that nobody came up and bother. We sat in the table, in a very busy place and nobody came up hardly to the table and bother me and didn’t say anything to me. I think Keith (ed: Relf) came over and said “hi” ofcourse, he was very busy, we thought we were in a very private place. Nobody even bother them. I think Keith gave him the phone number. The same thing happened with Jimmy Page a few years later when Led Zeppelin came at a studio in London. It was a studio where everybody in the world recorded then and ofcourse Led Zeppelin. You could get the phone number of a person to call him to say “hi” but some years later you could meet again and you could say “I think you would call first”. That’s a curious situation which has a variety of meanings. Sometimes you think that you should have call and “What are you doing?” I just talked to Vinnie Colaiuta (ed: drums), he is a friend of mine and he played with Jeff for three years. He’s playing with Sting right now. There are a lot of people that you really like to play with.
During your career had you ever met a member of The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
I have. I actually jammed with John Lennon and Ringo Starr, out in L.A during John’s “lost weekend”, the period he had broken up with Yoko Ono (ed: 1973-5). There was a big, big private party at the Record Plant (ed: Studios, famous recording studios) and I had the chance to play with them and with Eric Clapton and a bunch of people there.
Wow! You played with John and Eric!
Yes, they had set up two drum sets and at the time I walked in, Joe Vitale the drummer of Crosby, Stills and Nash, who was an old friend of mine came up and said “Hi Bobby, how are you doing?” and I said “Fine” and I came up inside and.. I don’t know.. He was there and I met a lot of people through him. I played with John and Ringo. I met George Harrison (ed: The Beatles guitarist) when he had Dark Horse Records in a private party in L.A. I still think I have never met Paul (ed: McCartney). I met Mick Jagger a couple of times. I would love to have spent more time with those people talking about music and things but maybe that time was impossible but I have met them.
What kind of music are you listening this period?
That’s a very good question. I listen to really everything. I have a very collective interest in music vocals-oriented kind of bands to progressive rock bands, jazz. I’m listening to Chick Corea and Return to Forever and to Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. I was listening to Mile Davis, yesterday. I’m listening to a lot of different people of all the kinds.
Well, one afternoon, a guy that worked in the band I was at that time, called me and asked me to come down and jam with Johnny Winter. I said “No, it’s not so much interesting for me” and we talked for a little bit longer and he came back with the question “Would you like come and jam with Johnny Winter?”, I said “I like Johnny but I just don’t think of jamming”, he said “Come on” and we talk a little bit longer and he hit back and said “Please come down for a little bit! Just for a while. It would be fun to jam a little bit” and I agreed, finally. When I was there, everybody was and people kept coming in and out in that period of playing inside. And as people were walking in and out, music would stop and then would start up again. It’s very-very hot the summer afternoon here and I had to see my friends and I didn’t know how long this was going to be, because I just couldn’t leave. For all this short time I was out, I said “ok”, I stayed around and a little while later I had to go ahead to others to play. They told me “Come in. They are waiting for you” and I said “Ok, great”, so I walked in, Johnny Winter was there, Edgar Winter was there, Steve Paul, their manager, Randy Jo Hobbs, their bass player, Rick Derringer. I said “hi”, I sat on the drum set and I started playing a beat, a Tony Williams kind of beat and they all joined this. We played for about 35 minutes and finally we stopped. When we stopped, Johnny said “Can you travel?” and I said “Yes, sure!”, he didn’t know that I was doing that for several years, I guess. He said “Well, so I want to join my band” and then Edgar said “I want to join my band”. Then, I realised that there wasn’t a jam session at all and the whole thing was an audition. So, that’s how I started, that afternoon. That’s how I joined Johnny Winter And.
How did you meet the other guys of Captain Beyond and decided to form a band together?
Well, I knew “Rhino” Larry Reinhardt since we were teenagers. So, when they decided that Iron Butterfly was going to break up, they contacted me and asked me if I was interested in doing something with them. At some point, Johnny Winter And took a break and I was in Los Angeles, and that’s how we all got together initially, in L.A.
Under which circumstances you got the idea to write “Dancing Madly Backwards”?
Well, I was playing that drum pattern “da-da-ba-ba-boo-ba/ da-da-ba-ba-boo-ba-boom”. I was playing that at rehearsals, at different things, and I think pretty much “Rhino” came up with the chord progression. Then, we collaborated at the music and I had written the lyrics of “Dancing Madly Backwards”.
Who are your influences as a drummer?
Oh, boy! There is so many people.. From Benny Benjamin, Levon Helm (ed: The Band), Earl Young from Philadelphia, Al Jackson at Stax, Ringo Starr (ed: The Beatles), Charlie Watts (ed:Rolling Stones), Mitch Mitchell (ed:Jimi Hendrix Experience). Joe Morello, the great jazz drummer. The one that probably impressed me the most. I saw Buddy Rich many times, and I actually worked for Buddy Rich one time. You know, everyone was impressed by Buddy Rich and he’s probably the world’s greatest drummer. When you talk about drums, first you talk about Buddy Rich and then for everybody else. There are so many.. There are also some great modern drummers like Vinnie Colaiuta. He’s a fantastic drummer!
Do you think the fact that recording companies are collapsing, is a kind of justice for their corporate greed all these years?
If I think that record companies are collapsing because of their own greed? There may be some true in that all. The fact of the matter is, since music has been recorded and sold, the record companies have generally been stealing from the artists. This didn’t happen only in the rock’n’roll big bands era, it has been going forever. I suppose you could argue that what there were doing to others, now that happens to themselves. Maybe, they have made a new medicine now, I don’t know. I know that the whole industry is changing.
In which band you hadn’t been, would you like to have been a member?
Well (ed: pause).. I would obviously say The Beatles because there would have been so much to learn from Ringo and the whole recording process and from George Martin (ed: their legendary producer). It would have been a great learning experience. I would probably say The Beatles.
I think music will never die because people love it too much. You can’t stop the love affair between people, the human beings and music. It will never go away. But the business of music it’s suffering. There are no record stores, there are no radio stations to play their latest records, there is no really a fanbase to make a star. To make a star, means that there is a machinery like Joni Mitchell. There is to have been a process. But there are no record stores and radio stations now. There are radio stations, but there aren’t playing what the record companies are producing. I mean all this part of the media that used to make people like The Rolling Stones, The Jimi Hendrix Experience or even Michael Jackson, it is almost not existent. People used to make them stars because they would go the record store and buy and the record or listen to the album or whatever. Lot of people that I know, can’t even listen to the radio, because radio don’t play the kind of music they listen to. Because the corporations are all about money. They don’t give to the public the kind of music they need. I understand that they need to make money. But you don’t have to alienate the audience so much. A lot of people I know, wouldn’t listen to the radio stations.
Do you think that the most important thing for a band is giving good shows and the studio albums come second?
Yes, that’s all about they have to do. What they do right now, is recording whatever they are doing and hope that somebody buys it on the computer and take them in their shows and hope that somebody buy it out of the back of their car. That’s all you can do right now as there is no place to put your product. My opinion is that never going to be a big star again. The whole system is broke.
Give an advice to a kid who wants to start playing drums.
I would tell a kid to go to a music conservatory. To just start playing drums, wouldn’t go you anywhere. You have to go to a music conservatory where you will meet other people, learn music, read music, start learning interesting things in order to get around. Somebody who was a guitar player, asked me one time about his son who wanted to become a guitar player what he should do and I told him “Send him to a conservatory of music” because that’s where you’re going to learn a lot and meet people. Now, if you would try to do it alone as it was, and that your playing is going to make you famous, it’s not likely. It happens but it’s not likely.
But some people, including me, say that some of the greatest musicians were self-trained.
I think you are right. There is certainly a great number of that, but remember that those people who were self-trained, had a lot of opportunities. There was a lot of music and stores and things to do. Your percentage chance of getting almost someone if you played well, whether it was piano or anything else, was higher in the past. Tony Williams come out from Boston and joined Miles Davis when he was 18. Those kinds of opportunities aren’t common now. You’ve got much better chance if you know how to read music and you’ve been to the school, you might have a jazz band, you might read. Even if you want to do something on television you have to read chart. If you are self-taught and you don’t know how to read music, they are not going to give you the job. It’s really beneficial as people are much more prepared and learn how to read music.
From your experience meeting so many people, do you think that money and fame affect the character of a musician?
Yeah, absolutely. Most certainly, it does. Fame, I don’t want to use the word “fame”, I think vanity and money and all that stuff, take a lot time to a person to understand what it is and what it isn’t. In the beginning, as it affects people, they just start to mistaken about what it is and what it isn’t. It affects everyone and then as they get older and the situation has changed, they realise that it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t have to do with music, it’s athletes, it’s the actors. As somebody is promoted, says “Look at me, now”. It’s just a part of growing up, really.
Which is the best concert you have watched as a fan?
Oh, let’s see. I suppose when I was a child a saw the Dave Brubeck Quartet with someone called Paul Desmond (ed: alto saxophone) . I never saw The Beatles live, I never saw The Rolling Stones live. I’ll tell you this, I saw many great people in places like The Fillmore East and The Fillmore West, the big rock crowd. I saw a lot of people who were really great as they had their show there. It was big.
Did you like the Grateful Dead or Jerry Garcia?
I liked some of the stuff Grateful Dead did but I didn’t go out to buy many of their records, for really no reason. In that time, as you know, there were hundreds of records that were out there. So, I didn’t buy too many Grateful Dead records. Some of the stuff they did, was really interesting.
Have you ever been in Greece?
No, I haven’t been in Greece but I should tell you my wife is Greek. He maiden name is Vaitsis. I hope to come to Greece. We played some years ago with Captain Beyond in Sweden Rock Festival and Deep Purple was the headliner. People think we have a connection with that band. We don’t really have an connection. Deep Purple do tours all the time and they had a concert in Greece after Sweden Rock Festival.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Bobby Caldwell for his answers and his patience with my English.
Please check www.theofficialbobbycaldwellsite.com