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Writing Hits Not Enough for Singer Caldwell

October 06, 1991|STEVE APPLEFORD | Steve Appleford writes regularly about music for Westside/Valley Calendar

By many standards, the career of pop/rhythm-&-blues singer-songwriter Bobby Caldwell would seem perfectly healthy. He's written recent chart-topping songs for Chicago and other acts, and his own recording of "What You Won't Do for Love" was a pop hit in 1979.

But casual fans lost touch with his smooth balladry a decade ago, after his first albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Since then, Caldwell has been largely invisible in the United States. But his new "Stuck on You" album, due to be released Saturday, is designed to change that.

"In the songwriter community, I eventually established myself as someone who could be a chameleon and tailor things for other people," Caldwell said. "I like doing that, but I don't want to do it for the rest of my life because there is a part of me that loves to perform."

After Miami-based TK Records folded--temporarily taking Caldwell's recording career with it--in the early '80s, his friend, Boz Scaggs, suggested he peddle his songs to other artists. And while Caldwell's own recordings continued to be popular in Japan, he wrote "Next Time I Fall," a hit duet by Peter Cetera and Amy Grant, and provided material to Scaggs, Neil Diamond, Al Jarreau and others.

"It kept me going through a period that otherwise might have been really dark," said Caldwell, who settled in Studio City six years ago. "And it kept my name out there.

"I had never before looked at myself as a songwriter for other people. It's a whole different head space, writing for somebody else's style. But I had a lot of fun doing it."

He never abandoned hope that American audiences would eventually rediscover him. During the same period when he was performing what he described as sold-out tours in Japan, Caldwell slowly began rebuilding his domestic following about four years ago with club gigs.

He will bring material from the "Stuck on You" album, and his trademark fedora, to a headline performance Oct. 13 at the Wiltern Theater.

The new album, released independently on his own Sin-Drome Records, features a 60-piece orchestra and members of Frank Sinatra's touring band on the title song. Although Caldwell leans toward social commentary with "Promised Land" and the album closer "Every Man," several tracks feature the style of pop/R&B love balladry that has defined much of his career.

It's a mode Caldwell has repeatedly found himself working in ever since TK Records strongly suggested to the young singer that it was expecting something that could be marketed as Boz Scaggs-style music.

" 'What You Won't Do for Love' put me in that bag," he said. "I had established such a giant audience with that song, what could I do? That was it, I found my niche, and I went with that."

Caldwell had begun his career as a rhythm guitarist for rocker Little Richard in the early 1970s. While recently working on material for Heart and Chicago, he's been dabbling again in the earlier volume.

"Through relationships with certain people, I was introduced to the world of R&B. The metamorphosis I went through was really radical," he said. "But though it's been convoluted, it's been a natural progression."

Adult contemporary and R&B radio stations have shown interest in Caldwell's music, he said. And Caldwell added that he's taking that as a sign that the new songs will connect with contemporary audiences, much as "What You Won't Do for Love" succeeded during the disco era.

"People always want something else," he said. "I'm counting on that."

MOZART MONOLOGUES: Artist David Hockney joins a broad cast of esteemed local musicologists and historians for a series of lectures at the UCLA Extension marking the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death.

Leading the eight-week course that begins Thursday night will be music historian Dorothy Crawford, said UCLA Extension spokesman Richard Macales. The weekly class meetings are designed to explore Mozart's music, life, contemporaries and creative legacy.

Hockney, a sometime set designer for opera, including Mozart's "Magic Flute," is scheduled to discuss the visual interpretation of Mozart's music.

The fee is $95, or $65 for senior citizens. Students enrolled in the Mozart course are also eligible for half-price tickets to a Dec. 5 performance of Mozart's music by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Trevor Pinnock, in UCLA's Royce Hall.

For information, call (213) 825-9064.

OPERA PRIZE: Singers from as far away as Germany, Panama and Korea performed operatic excerpts from the works of Handel, Giordano, Verdi, Tchaikovsky and others last month for the First International Opera Singing Competition at Sarno's in Hollywood. But it was a 34-year-old Cuba-born tenor from Tarzana, Gabriel Reoyo-Pazos, who won the contest with an excerpt from Puccini's "La Boheme."

As part of the prize, Reoyo-Pazos was sent to Modena, Italy, for an audition with Leone Magiera, dean of voice at the Music Conservatory of Bologna. While there, the award winner performed at the 12th annual Opera Lirica Club September Musicale Modenese. As a result, he has been invited back to Italy to audition for a contract with the grand opera in Modena.

Reoyo-Pazos, who teaches fourth grade at Limerick Elementary School in Canoga Park, was among 28 finalists who had survived 10 weeks of competition at Sarno's in front of a panel of eight judges. The judges were opera professors from local universities, including Kurt Allen from Cal State Northridge, Tom McCage from USC, and Pollyanne Baxter from Cal State Los Angeles.

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