Bobby Caldwell

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This article is about the pop artist. For the article on the rock drummer see Bobby Caldwell (drummer)
Bobby Caldwell's 1978 debut album in its re-release asWhat You Won't Do for Love

Bobby Caldwell (born August 15, 1951) is an American singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who, despite a prolific musical output over his more than 25-year career, is still best known for his 1978 hit single "What You Won't Do for Love." While he has always maintained a devoted fan base in the United States, a more legendary status has been bestowed upon him in Japan.

Early life

Bobby Caldwell was born in Manhattan, New York City to Bob and Carolyn Caldwell, the hosts of Suppertime, an early television variety show. Living in Memphis and, chiefly, Miami (which he has called an influential "dumping ground" for all kinds of music), he took up piano and guitar as a preteen. Forming his own band at 17, he took the group on the road, later recording an album entitled Kathmandu.

Caldwell's first performances were more rock-oriented than the bulk of his career would indicate; early dates had him playing Jimi Hendrix and Cream covers in small clubs.

Recording career

Bobby Caldwell and What You Won't Do for Love

Ten years later, Bobby Caldwell recorded his double platinum-attaining self-titled solo album, scoring hits with the singles "What You Won't Do for Love", "My Flame" and, in Britain, "Down for the Third Time". In order to ensure significant airplay on the African American-dominated R&B radio format of the time, Caldwell's management took certain steps -- such as portraying the artist only in silhouette on the cover and in advertisements -- to hide the fact that he was white. The secret was, for obvious reasons, shattered by his first live appearances.

After the tracks were first recorded and the record was considered "complete," the head of the label said that he enjoyed the album but couldn't hear a hit. Attempting to address this issue, Caldwell and his band re-entered the studio, laying down the song's now-familiar rhythm tracks. After he quickly penned a set of lyrics, "What You Won't Do for Love" was born.

"What You Won't Do for Love" in its novelty vinyl incarnation

The song proved to be a massive success, though a bit of a surprise one due both to the haste with which it was written and the fact that Caldwell assumed "My Flame", the LP's second track ("What You Won't Do for Love" is the sixth) would wind up as the standout single. The album which contained it was later re-released under the song's title. The single was also marketed in the form of a distinctive red heart-shaped 45-RPM vinyl record (advertised as "the single that gets to the heart of the matter"), now a collector's item frequently seen on eBay. (The What You Won't Do for Love album also received a novelty release on yellow vinyl.)

While the original song still receives frequent airplay today, it has been covered, re-made (once, in 1998, by Caldwell himself) and sampled many times since 1978. Go West's version rose high in the adult contemporary charts, and Tupac Shakur's "Do for Love," which samples the lyric, also attained a good deal of popularity.

The Cat in the Hat through August Moon

Caldwell's sophmore period involved the unenviable task of following up such a staggering success as What You Won't Do for Love; during this time, his Japanese audience steadily eclipsed his American one. The Cat in the Hat (1980) and Carry On (1982), were artistic improvements upon the first album, but did not match its commercial success. They were, however, bestsellers in Japan -- The Cat went platinum and Carry On gold -- and sealed Bobby's reputation as a superstar in that country.

1983 saw Bobby Caldwell put out August Moon, a project bearing a much more rock- than soul-oriented sound, in Japan only; it was released in the United States in the 1990s.

Heart of Mine through Where is Love

Though August Moon went gold, Caldwell subsequently took a hiatus from recording, instead directing his efforts toward composing songs for other performers, most notably "Heart of Mine" for Boz Scaggs, "Next Time I Fall" for Amy Grant and Peter Cetera, "Janet" for the Commodores and "All or Nothing at All" for Al Jarreau. Ironically, these songs became bigger hits when Caldwell himself later recorded them on his 1989 comeback album Heart of Mine.

Caldwell sold albums at a steady pace throughout the 1990s, producing 1991's Stuck on You, recorded with a sixty-piece orchestra, and 1993's Where is Love, the latter having been recorded with musicians who had previously played with Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett along with a twenty-four piece orchestra.

During this period, the airplay of his music shifted from the declining R&B radio format to the then-nascent smooth jazz stations. Caldwell is frequently cited as a staple of the genre, with "What You Won't Do for Love" as well as lesser-known singles such as "Real Thing", "All or Nothing at All" (both from Heart of Mine).

Soul Survivor through Come Rain or Come Shine

1995's saw the release of Soul Survivor, marking a turn toward coverage of others' songs. Though a handful of original songs were present, the album was for the most part focused on, appropriately, soul standards such as "Walk on By" and "Your Precious Love".

He later turned to singing nothing but big band standards and original, yet big band standard-like songs (such as the much-promoted "Tomorrow") on 1996's Blue Condition and 1999's Come Rain or Come Shine. Blue Condition was recorded in real-time, live with a sixty-piece string section and twenty-piece jazz band in the same Capitol Records studios used by such icons as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Bobby Darin.

Perfect Island Nights

In 2005, Caldwell released the long-awaited Perfect Island Nights, his first album of mostly original studio material since 1993. The record features a new version "Rain", a track which made its debut on his first anthology, Timelime, as well as versions of Phil Perry's "Perfect Island Night", "Where is the Love" (rendered as a duet with Deniece Williams) and "Our Day Will Come". Guest players include saxophonist George Shelby and percussionist Russ Miller.


Caldwell's music has been popular source material for younger artists to sample. Of the many releases that make use of clips his work, the following are some of the most prominent:

  • Aaliyah's "Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number" (samples "What You Won't Do for Love")
  • 2Pac's "Can I Get Your Number", "Do for Love" and "Heaven Ain't Hard to Find" (samples "What You Won't Do for Love")
  • Tatyana Ali's "Boy You Knock Out" (samples "What You Won't Do for Love")
  • Common's "The Light" (samples "Open Your Eyes")
  • Notorious B.I.G.'s "Sky the Limit" (samples "My Flame")


Aside from a minor role in 1988's Salsa, Caldwell portrayed Frank Sinatra from October 1999 to January 2000 in the Las Vegas stage musical The Rat Pack is Back, garnering positive reviews.

Personal life

Caldwell's twin daughters, Lauren (an answering machine message from whom briefly appears in the opening seconds of "Call Me Up", a track from Perfect Island Nights) and Tessa (who aspires to be a film director), were born in 1993. Though the marriage -- his second -- to their mother, Rina, later dissolved, a musical love letter still exists in the form of a song named for her that appears on "Where is Love". (In a 2005 interview on Art Good's Jazztrax radio program, Caldwell expressed regret about having recorded it.)

In 2005, he and his third wife, Mary, relocated from Las Vegas (a city that Caldwell has been quoted as saying "can be compared to Baghdad") to New Jersey.

Current activity

Bobby Caldwell continues to record and tour extensively in the 2000s, promoting Perfect Island Nights and an upcoming 3-CD set, The Ultimate Bobby Caldwell. In 1999, he received the "Lifetime Achievement Award in Music" at the 10th annual Heroes and Legends Awards.

Bobby Caldwell on the cover of the October 1996 issue of Ad Lib, a popular Japanese adult contemporary music magazine

Japanese audience

Like several other singers (such as Lou Pardini, Peter Cetera and Daryl Hall) whose work can be roughly categorized in the "adult contemporary" genre, Caldwell has attained a great deal of popularity in Japan. In 1992, he received the nation's equivalent of a Grammy as the "best international artist."

His current career reflects his fame in that country. His albums tend to be released in that country before his own, his tours typically include many, prestigious well-attended dates at such venues as the Nagoya (Japan's "home of American music") Blue Note and, in the early 1990s, he married (and fathered twin daughters with, and later wrote a song about) a woman from Japan.


Other media

Bobby Caldwell Live in Tokyo, a recording of a 1991 performance in Japan was released on both Laserdisc and VHS. Featured members of his band at that time included Marilyn Scott, Boney James (billed as "Jim Oppenheim") and Machun Taylor. Several songs include music video clips mixed with the live footage, one of which shows Caldwell driving a Nissan 300ZX.

Caldwell also composed and performed "Don't Quit", the theme song for Body by Jake's workout video of the same name. He also appears in the associated music video, musically urging an actor portraying a weak young man to engage in weight training in order to defeat the bully of a local beach.


  • "It got to where I could just send the hat to the show and stay home!" - on why he no longer wears his former trademark fedora during live performances
  • "The record label went to great lengths to hide the fact that I was white, and I just deferred to what I didn't understand." - on his career immediately post-"What You Won't Do for Love"

External links