Gabor Szabo Faces Rar
"My brother decided to perform on this radio show called Burt's Amateur Hour when he was five. He sang 'Besame Mucho'. The audience went crazy. I still have the recording. Nick soon started writing little parts for our accordion/guitar duo and Dad became our manager and booker. Nick was born with perfect pitch, so nothing got by him. He was a perfectionist. Even then, he could be tough during those rehearsals, man. "One day Dad had me and Nick go to where he worked. Fisher Body was an old, dilapidated kind of place. He made it very clear to us that he didn't want us to end up there like him. Not to knock it, because Dad was proud of what he did, but he wanted us to know we had a choice. My Dad loved music. He saw music potential in my brother and bought him an accordion - top of the line, which even in the '40s cost a thousand dollars. Eventually, I began taking guitar lessons. "We toured with the USO as young teenagers and got in on the tail end of real live radio with our own show. We could dedicate songs to our friends and they loved it. We became popular at the school dances and performed frequently at local talent shows and won. Music gave us a chance to establish our identity doing something we loved. Nick got to experiment with his writing. This was at a great station out of our hometown, Cleveland, WJW. "After we'd finish our show the PD would say, 'Take it away' to the next show, and on the other side of the glass was none other than Alan Freed. Freed would take off his jacket, loosen his tie and we heard this great music, rhythm & blues. And right there before our eyes he said: 'Rock & roll.' Within a week other DJs in town were using the term." The phrase rock & roll was now becoming as popular as Alan Freed, the man who invented the new beat. In the late 1950s the De Caro brothers duo expanded with Bill Krempasky on bass and future record producer Tommy LiPuma on saxophone to complete the group, the Mello D's. Frank remembers how "Tommy always had a very good ear, and was great with both the social and creative aspects of the music business, so it's no wonder that he is one of today's most successful producers." LiPuma's association with the De Caros developed into one of the most successful recording collaborations, which included twenty-time Grammy-winning engineer Al Schmitt. Eventually, the Mello D's came off the road and took very different paths. LiPuma decided to pursue the record business ground level and soon moved up to promoting records in Cleveland and New York. Nick had completed his music training at the Cleveland Music Institute and joined the military at the same time as brother Frank. Not long out of the service, one wintry day in 1964 Nick and Frank received a call from Tommy LiPuma. At the time, Tommy was in Hollywood working for the Los Angeles label Liberty. "Guess what?" he said. "I'm eating ice cream and it's melting on my bathing suit." LiPuma encouraged the brothers to come out to the West Coast and check it out. "It took us a couple of days, but Nick and I were out of Cleveland. We had a couple of bucks, Nick's accordion and a broken down Pontiac that looked like it could still get us there. We threw it all in the trunk and with my Dad's blessing we were off in the dead of winter. Route 66 all the way, man. We chugged into LA and it was sunny." Nick De Caro's first big hit as producer and arranger was 'Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me' by Mel Carter on Imperial in 1965. Frank was the featured guitar player on the hit. "Bob Skaff, A&R Director at Liberty, brought the tune to Nick for him to produce. It flew right up there on the charts. Mel Carter performed it live recently on TV along with Nick's great arrangement. It was also featured in the Mel Gibson movie When We Were Soldiers. It sounded great. Actually, several of Nick's recordings are featured in major movies today. It's amazing." Nick also arranged and produced Mel Carter's 'My Heart Sings' album. Also on the Liberty scene were Lenny Waronker, the son of Liberty founder Sy Waronker, and future Grammy and Oscar-winning composer Randy Newman. "Randy was juggling his schedule as an aspiring songwriter and his studies as a pre-med student. Unbelievable." Newman was impressed with Nick's arrangements and his ability conducting the 45-piece orchestra on a Liberty Strings project: "I was an aspiring arranger at 20, 21, and watching this guy who was not much older than myself doing this thing with 45 guys … lots of horns, strings. Very fancy stuff, very good." He suggested to the decision-makers at Liberty/Imperial that Nick should do his own record. (Later Nick would arrange 'Rollin'' and 'Marie' on Newman's 'Good Old Boys' LP.) "We were a block away from Sunset Boulevard, so Randy came up with the name. So the 'Sunset Strings Play The Roy Orbison Songbook' was recorded. Man, what a record! It was Nick's first foothold. He blew away everybody there." Nick also wrote, produced and arranged 'Think It Over Baby' and 'I'm Gonna Make It' by the O'Jays. 1965 was a good year. In 1967, the De Caro brothers became a major part of the catalogue of A&M, the label founded by Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert. Along with the Tijuana Brass, Chris Montez, Claudine Longet, the Sandpipers, the Baja Marimba Band (of which Frank was a member) and the Carpenters, the De Caros soon achieved success in the AOR era of the '70s. From 1967-1970, Nick, "The Hit Maker", produced and/or arranged six albums for Claudine Longet, four for Chris Montez and six for the Sandpipers. He also produced and arranged 'Love Story', 'Honey' and 'Born Free' for Andy Williams. At Warner/Reprise, Nick came together again with Randy Newman, Tommy LiPuma, Lenny Waronker and Joe Wissert on the making of recordings by the group Harpers Bizarre, five middleclass kids from Northern California, including Ted Templeman. Produced by Waronker, Nick arranged several tracks with Newman writing some of the material. "The first release 'Feelin' Groovy' was a smash hit. I was on the road with the Baja and really didn't know too much about it, but it turned out great for Ted Templeman, who became a major producer over at Warner Brothers with the Doobies and so many more." In 1969, Herb Alpert gave Nick a shot at making his own LP, 'Happy Heart with Nick De Caro and Orchestra', produced by Nick and Tommy LiPuma. Highlights included 'I'm Gonna Make You Love Me', Brian Wilson's 'Caroline No', 'Hey Jude' and Nick's own song 'Love Is All'. With Nick as producer, arranger, songwriter, musician and vocalist there was much anticipation, especially as the title track began to climb the charts. At that time, Nick received a phone call from Andy Williams, who had acquired the rights to do 'Happy Heart' with a lyric. He wanted Nick to produce and arrange, but Nick declined and the rest is history. "Nick was really crushed," recalls Frank. "He wanted no part of it, since his own record of 'Happy Heart' was just starting to get recognition on the charts. Nick felt he would've been competing with his own record. What really hurt him was that they used his arrangement on Andy's record. There was also some mention of a bet between Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert regarding the expected success of Nick's 'Happy Heart' LP. It pretty much took my brother a year to recover, since Andy's record was a smash hit. It was not a good time for him." Nick gave his solo career another try in 1974 with 'Italian Graffiti'. His musicians on the album included David T. Walker and Arthur Adams on guitar, Wilton Felder on bass, drummers Paul Humphrey and Harvey Mason, Plas Johnson on alto sax, Tony Ortega on tenor sax, Jim Hugart on upright bass and flautist Bud Shank. From the pop bossa tempo of Steven Bishop's 'Under The Jamaican Moon' to the obscure 'While The City Sleeps' by Randy Newman and one of Nick's favourites, 'All I Want' by Joni Mitchell, on which he alters the lyric "I want to knit you a sweater" to "I want to lift your sweater", and a surprise ballad arrangement on 'Tea For Two', which includes the verse, it's all Nick De Caro - lush string arrangements, great upbeat pop with a Jersey edge wrapped in Nick's vocal harmonies and sometimes haunting solos. Unfortunately, the Blue Thumb label began to have serious financial problems. Nick discovered the depth of the problem during a promo trip to his hometown, Cleveland. "Nick appeared on a live radio interview with several tracks from the album being played. It all sounded good, real positive, except for one thing. At the 'Italian Graffiti' promo party, the label was unable to pay for the event and approached Nick to cover the total cost. My brother couldn't believe it." Soon after the incident, the financial backers (Gulf Western) called a meeting and took control of the label. "For Nick, this was the straw as they say. This record had all the elements of success, the tunes, the players and Nick, but with no promo money, it didn't have a chance. I don't think it even got a single review. The label failed to live up to its commitment." Nick continued to move on to the next to last phase of his amazing career as prominent arranger and or producer to Grammy-winning artists. To mention but a few LPs: James Taylor's 'Gorilla' and 'In The Pocket', Gordon Lightfoot's 'If You Could Read My Mind', 'Don Quixote' and 'Sundown', Little Feet's 'Time Loves A Hero', Neil Diamond's 'Beautiful Noise', George Benson's 'Weekend In LA', Maria Muldaur's 'Maria Muldaur', Helen Reddy's 'I Don't Know How To Love Him', 'No Way To Treat A Lady', 'Music Music' and 'Imagination', Dolly Parton's 'Here You Come Again', 'I Will Always Love You' and 'Heartbreaker', Barbra Streisand's 'The Way We Were', 'Barbra Joan', 'Songbird', 'Wet' and 'Superman', the Baja Marimba Band's 'Fresh Air' and Rickie Lee Jones' 'Rickie Lee Jones', 'Pirates', 'Girl At Her Volcano' and 'The Magazine'. Many projects were also recorded with brother Frank as music contractor and A&R director of Charles Koppelman and Gary Klein's The Entertainment Company. One of the most notable recordings of the '70s was Dolly Parton's 'Here You Come Again' with Nick as arranger and vocalist. This album is still considered to be one of her best ever. Also, the Livingston Taylor album 'Three Way Mirror' exemplifies Nick's overall capacity to simultaneously produce, arrange, play accordion and provide vocals. Whether the recording is James Taylor's 'Shower The People', Barbra Streisand's 'The Way We Were', Helen Reddy's career breaking record 'I Don't Know How To Love Him' or the Gordon Lightfoot hit 'If You Could Read My Mind', it is all "pure" Nick De Caro. "And with Nick it was all about the music." Throughout the '70s and '80s he appeared on at least 50 recordings playing the accordion and or concertina for everyone from Prince to Arlo Guthrie, the Stones to Randy Newman, Neil Diamond to Carly Simon, Dolly Parton to Johnny Cash, Livingston Taylor to James Taylor, Maria Muldaur to Glen Frey and many more. "Then one day in the late '80s Nick told me he wanted to go back to being a recording artist, which totally flabbergasted me at the time. I had been trying to get him to do this for 15 years. Furthermore, he told me, in essence, Japan came to him. They came to Hollywood. They wanted to do 'Italian Graffiti 2'. He was very excited, very upbeat in his own quiet way. He asked me to assist in the negotiations and he seemed pleased with the results. Also, Nick learned that something like 10,000 copies of 'Italian Graffiti' had been sold in Japan." The album recorded was 1991's 'Love Storm', which is a collection of songs, written mostly by Japanese star Tatsuro Yamashita and Alan O'Day, along with two originals written by Nick., 'Silent Night, Lonely Night' and 'Love Magic'. Although this album was not a collaboration, songs were suggested by Yamashita, who was a huge fan and had been following Nick's career since the '60s and the 'Hold Me, Thrill Me' hit. Tatsuro had the chance to finally meet Nick in 1990, around the time Nick recorded 'Love Storm'. It must have been a dream come true for the Japanese artist to finally meet his American music idol, whose first solo album since 'Italian Graffiti' includes several of his songs. Tatsuro was aware of Nick's work with A&M Records, and albums by Ben Sidran and Rickie Lee Jones. 'Italian Graffiti' for Tats though is "The end all. In major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, import album stores began to spring up and through the stores 'Italian Graffiti' became a hit record. Even today, it has a cult like status." Nick De Caro followed up with a promo tour in Japan sponsored by Kirin Beer. The Nick De Caro All Star Band consisted of LA's top studio musicians, including Neil Larson, David T. Walker and the Yellow Jackets' Jimmy Haslip on bass. Other acts on the bill included James Ingram and Ramsey Lewis. In his first solo performance Nick was in the spotlight, front and center at the grand piano, lush string arrangements, pure Nick vocals and his All Star Band in the opening song 'Love Storm'. The video reflects the pure delight and admiration on the faces of the entire orchestra. "My brother must have been terrified or extremely courageous. Probably both." Nick also performed and recorded with singer Agawa Yasuko. He conducted and arranged for her live concert recording 'Live At Orchard Hall', which received rave reviews. During this busy time, Nick was bouncing back and forth between the US and Japan. He recorded 'Bolero California' with Katoh Kazuhiko in the US and recorded with Tori Amos, whose 'Little Earthquakes' required Nick's guidance with a 40 piece orchestra. The piano and vocal tracks were laid down first. Everything else was built around them with layers of orchestral sweetening. The result was a hit album which featured Nick's stunning arrangements on both 'Mother' and 'Winter'. This would be his last work in the capacity of arranger for any artist other than himself. On Nick's second Japanese album, 'Private Ocean', engineered by Al Schmitt, he insisted on complete creative control. Frank recalls, "Nick was adamant about picking the tunes for this album. I remember at the meeting how he made it very clear that he wanted to record his own songs." As a result, Nick recorded several of his own songs, including one he had intended for Frank Sinatra, 'Reach Out, I Won't Be There'. The personnel on the last two solo albums read like a who's who of LA's studio session players. They were David T Walker, Alex Acuna, Michael Landau, Jimmy Haslip, Neil Larson, Harvey Mason, Dean Parks, Eric Marienthal, Abe Laboriel, John Robinson, Tommy Morgan and Sid Page. The final solo recording, produced by Nick and Tetsu Hoshika, embodies the true essence of songwriter, musician, vocalist, producer and arranger extraordinaire Nick De Caro. And so from the shadows of the recording studio the somewhat introspective producer stepped into the spotlight once again to pursue his solo career. Nick toured Japan twice, did TV and performed, arranged and produced several Japanese artists and projects. During the last two years of his life he was embraced by an audience who had applauded his work for decades. Although 'Italian Graffiti' was not well received in the USA, it clearly became a major force in establishing Nick De Caro as an international pop icon. Nick De Caro passed away on March 4th, 1992 at the age of 53. Funeral services were held at St Jude's Catholic Church in Westlake Village, California and in Cleveland, Ohio, where Nick is laid to rest with his father Nick Sr and mother Margaret, who passed away when Nick was 2 years old. He is survived by his brother Frank, sister-in-law Denise, nephew Nick and nieces Julianne and Francesca.
Gabor Szabo Faces Rar