BOBBY CALDWELL / “Open Your Eyes”
Probably like most people, I always assumed Bobby Caldwell was black. In the Eighties, Bobby’s “What You Won’t Do For Love” (from What You Won’t Do For Love - 1979) was a staple on WYLD, New Orleans’ #1 FM R&B station. You were also likely to hear it at picnics, house parties, on the Lake, etc. – in other words, anywhere black people were hanging out. Bobby has one of those classic post-Sixties R&B voices: big and soulful, with equal amounts of pop smoothness and old school roughness. I thought of him in the same way that I think of, say, a Billy Paul (“Me & Mrs. Jones”) or a William DeVaughan (“Be Thankful”) – an R&B singer who’d enjoyed a generally successful career, albeit one largely defined by a single hit record. In 2000, Common dropped his Erykah Badu-appreciating hip-hop love jam, “The Light” (from Like Water For Chocolate). No knock on Common, but a lot of the song’s appeal was due to the voice on the chorus. You know the one: “There is a light that shines….” The sample had that ‘classic R&B’ sound we all know and love, but I couldn’t figure out who it was. There was some Stevie Wonder in the phrasing, maybe a little Donny Hathaway in the tone, but I knew it wasn’t either of them. Then one day at a friend’s house, Common’s song came on. I made mention of the sample and how I wished I knew who it was. He immediately pulled out a Bobby Caldwell CD. My first reaction was, “Cool, I’ll get to hear the original record.” Right after that it was, “Bobby Caldwell is white?!” Yeah, Bobby is white, but check out “Open Your Eyes” and “What You Won’t Do For Love.” If those aren’t a couple of black music classics, I don’t know what is. (Both songs are available on the 2001 Sin-Drome release Time & Again: The Anthology, Pt. 2.) —Mtume ya Salaam So what? My first response to your surprise about Bobby Caldwell is: Teena Marie, hence a live version where she cuts loose on her signature song, “Déjà Vu,” which was written by the recently-departed Rick James. My second response is to quote you from another posting we did about a variety of versions of Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” You started your reply to my survey with the following:
When you call Teena Marie a “young white girl singing a black anthem,” it reminds me of whoever it is that referred to Jimi Hendrix as “a dead guitar player.” Technically true, but…. Teena is an honorary soul sister, period. Yeah, she may actually be a white girl from Santa Monica, but she’s also a living legend of black music. With all due respect to my man Donnie, folk were feeling Teena not because of the song she was singing, but because of the way she was singing the song.To paraphrase and riff off a well-known New York advertising campaign, just like you don’t have to be Jewish to like rye bread, you don’t have to be black to sing soul music. Period. We both know that; whites singing black music is not even news, that’s “olds.” I think the reason you were surprised is because you assumed Bobby Caldwell has a body of work like “What You Won’t Do” and to a lesser extent like “Open Your Eyes.” You assumed so because the song has a groove and the lyrics tell a story that most Black folk we know either identify with or believe the majority of Black folk do, ergo, all of Bobby's music probably was like that, but not so…. Nevertheless, it's true this song is a classic California groove, think Tower of Power, think Earth, Wind and Fire…and before you say EWF was a Chicago outfit, I quickly point out that EWF developed their signature sound out on the West Coast before moving back to Chicago. Let’s just put our tongue firmly in cheek and call this beach music for black folks. Which brings us to another example of beach music for black folks, i.e. Tupac’s “Heaven Ain’t Hard To Find,” which is underpinned by a riff from “What You Won’t Do….” Now, ain’t no doubt we’re talking sand and surf, convertibles cruising down the freeway, sunny skies and warm temperatures…. In fact, Mtume, I believe you’re loving it out in Cali right now, down San Diego way…. Come to think of it, Cali done gone to your head. You been drinking gin and juice? ;->) OK, you got it. Peace, I’m out…. —Kalamu ya Salaam No qualifier necessary Naw, the Bobby Caldwell thing’s got nothing to do with California...not for me, at least. That’s all about back home in New Orleans - barbecues and everything. Now, as for Teena Marie.... As I said back then, Teena’s officially in the family. We're talking “Fire And Desire.” “If I Were A Bell.” “Square Biz.” And what about “Casanova Brown”? “Out On A Limb.” “Ooh La La.” Etc. Etc. Etc. (That’s just a few of her more obvious, well-known records.) Like I said, Teena’s a black music legend. I don’t care if she’s blonde or ain’t. Once she opens her mouth, everybody knows what time it is. I was surfing some website the other day and they listed Teena Marie as “the preeminent blue-eyed soul singer of all time.” Now, that might seem to be a major compliment, but it’s really selling her short. That’s like calling Muhammad Ali “the preeminent heavyweight boxer of all-time.” At first blush, it sounds fantastic, but I guarantee you Ali wouldn’t be trying to hear those qualifiers. Before I went on Bobby’s website to preview a few other tracks and read comments from fans, I did pretty much assume he was an R&B singer. Like Kalamu said, he’s not. He just happened to cut a few bad-ass R&B songs. But Teena? That's a whole 'nother story. Lady T is one of the baddest soul singers there ever was, period. No qualifier necessary. —Mtume ya Salaam
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