Interview of Felix Cavaliere by Monica Yasher

Posted on 6/16/2010 by Monica Yasher

Felix Cavalaire and I had a very early morning interview. I just got my children on the bus and called Felix. He was in a time zone that was one hour earlier than mine. And, Wow! This man is a morning person!  He has such energy, and is so excited about his work! It seems that life can be in chaos in any family’s home, even a great musical legend such as Felix, who shared that he has four children and was used to getting the kids off for school days too.

Felix is a really fun guy to talk to. Yet, there is a seriousness to him as he talks about being blessed to achieve what he has done in his life musically, which does include being an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Though his latest effort with Steve Cropper was computer inspired, he strongly feels that computers have their place, and that is not to fix the vocals of live performances. Felix is proud of his craft. He's proud of his vocal accomplishments and his songwriting.  Let’s see what Felix had to say about the music in his life and his new CD, "Midnight Flyer", that he produced with Steve Cropper.

Monica: Felix, let’s talk about songwriting. Felix, sometimes when I write a song it doesn’t come out how I would have thought. Not that it is a bad thing. But do you think sometimes the music just has to take you somewhere?

Felix: I put that in one of my lyrics as a matter of fact. That’s the fun of making music. Especially if you make music with other people, which I think is really the way it is supposed to be. Today we have a tendency to make our music by the computer. A lot of this album, believe it or not, was done via the computer, as the stimulus, the catalyst. It was based around that. I know that many will not identify with that with Steve and myself, because we come from the old school.

It was so much fun to start something that was totally generated by a software. And, then put our taste on that. I had a blast with it. The title song, “Midnight Flyer”, I grabbed those lycs right off of a program called, "Logic", that Apple makes. We wrote to that. It was so much fun! When you are young and have a band, you sit around and say, “Let’s go into the studio and write a song“. That’s kind of how we did this. Only instead of a whole band, we had three of us plus the computer (he laughed). Seriously the computer at this time was sort of like the drummer. It was like having an extremely talented international person in the studio with you that could sing and play and do anything you wanted them to do right on the spot. We had a ball. I really enjoyed it! You bring in new technology with the guys who are used to making records the old way, it’s very much fun!

M: Did you start with the drum track first?

F: Actually we started with the guitar track on there. There’s a guitar loop on there that is amazing!
I don’t know who played it. But it was excellent. I would like to thank him because it was excellent.
Whatever inspires to get an idea…that’s where it really starts. That’s where you begin to feed. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

M: How long did it take you to do this effort?

F: Because both of us are traveling musicians, and we are touring almost all of the time, it took us at least a year. We had one out previously. I think, last summer. The record company said we would like you to do another one. So, we got started. We couldn’t do it continuously. We had to do it when we were home.

M: Felix, I would like people to learn something from you. I would like to build on this. You are using canned computer tracks. For that artist out there that wants to do a song, is there licensing requirements or concerns with this?

F: The correct term is loops. When you buy a product such as Apple’s "Logic". "Logic" is a professional one. The amateur one is called, "Garage Band". They supply you with loops and basically the license is free, and you are able to use them. Of course, you can purchase loops from a lot of different sources, if you are so inclined.  A lot of the magazines like “Keyboard Magazine” and “Electronic Media” will do reviews on different CD’s that people make for loops. You can get drum loops, guitar loops, bass loops. It is amazing what they compile. What we did is used a loop to inspire a song. In other words, what a great groove that is. What a great beat that is. Wow! I’m going to write to that to this groove. Then after the song was completed, in terms of the lyrics and melody, we played to it. Like live. We actually wrote a lot of these songs right in the studio. Guitar, keyboards and loop.

M: This sounds like fun!

F: It was a blast. Because first of all the drummer was the computer, who can play anything. Anything! With all due respect to a lot of drummers, that really does it. From Brazilian to African whatever it may be. When you put a real drummer on top of that, which we did, then you bring in the human element. The inspiration that comes from that loop is really a lot of fun.

M: Cool. Now I read that you are co producer of this effort. Tell me about that experience.

F: When you have people like Steve and myself, Steve has been producing for years. I’ve been producing for years. You are really in charge of everything in terms of the writing, selection of the songs, the arrangement, the playing, everything. We really needed a third party, which was Tom Hambridge. Sort of like a referee (he laughed). You know? The United Nations Representative! (We laughed)

Tom has the most balanced personality . He is a real gentlemen, respectful of everybody, takes all opinions and puts them into play without any kind of upsetting anyone.  When a producer comes into a situation, unless it is a Phil Specter, who basically is responsible for everyone, he is utilizing the artists talents as writers, players, in order to make an album. That is basically what happened here. We had three people contributing at varying degrees. We were all very involved in the creation process.

M: I always believe that conflict yields a good product. If everybody is on the same mindset all the time it doesn’t always…you just need that devil’s advocate in there to say what about this….

F: Absolutely. I totally agree. Otherwise you just may as well make it all by yourself, which to me, is not the way music is supposed to be. Music to me, seriously, is like making love. It is an interplay between you and me. It’s got nothing to do with just me, me, me, me, me. When you play with other musicians that are really powerful, it is really a joy to hear the way they think about what you just started. They think the sound is different. Who is right or who is wrong? There is no such thing. There is no such thing as right or wrong. You hear it your way. I hear it my way. So, the important thing is for people to be respectful of one another. Not get angry. Not get ticked off. It happens a lot you know. But it’s really funny, because, who’s right? Believe me it’s gotten so technical today, that if you go around people who make music, they will argue about how fast or slow the song should be to the degree of point five.

M: Oh My!

F: It’s so subjective. We can control everything now. It’s absurd. It used to be you had a drummer and you played. Now you can get that drummer to play at the exact time you want with the speed. Believe it or not, that’s a big decision,  how fast or slow the song should be.

M: Oh it is.

F: A song has a certain place that it lives.

M: With today’s market, the shorter the better. You think about Pink Floyd, with their ten minute songs that can’t happen today.

F: You know why that is?  There’s a big article out about Google and all these programs are making our attention spans less than ten seconds.

M: It’s true.

F: We don’t have time. Now, bing, it’s done.

M: I’d like to talk about getting a group of people together, as you said, and everyone having their own ideas. I see that you did tour with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band. What was that experience like? He puts great bands together.

F: It’s a lot of fun. For me I made a lot of friends. New people that I would never have met under any other circumstances. My tour with him was with Mark Farner from Grand Funk. We had Randy Bachman from Canada. We had John Entwistle, who passed away.  He was on the bass. Billy Preston, who also passed away, was on the keyboards with myself. Ringo’s son was a great, great guy. You know I never would have had the chance to play with one of  The Who or Billy. And, of course, Ringo.

Every time you open your eyes and see a Beatle, it’s kind of a Shock. (He laughs) It’s so much fun. He’s a really good, good person. He’s a guy who basically still has the love of being on stage and playing and getting that adoration and getting that thrill of the performance. It just never gone away with him. He’s like a little kid when he gets up there, which is pretty much like the rest of us….except he’s got a hundred times the money! (We both laughed.)

M: So he’s so much more happier!

F: Those guys are phenomenal.

M: Where are the lines drawn for you between saying I have a blues album, a funk album, a R&B album?

F: When I started playing music, I started playing as a classical musician. Then when I first went into the musical world, I was playing for everything. Weddings, Bar mitzvahs. We had to play everything. I don’t put myself into a category of I can only do this. We had to play whatever those people wanted to hear that night.  It was our responsibility to play it. I learned it all. Latin music. Love Latin music. I have incorporated that into my work for many years.

M: What was it like to perform with your daughter, Aria?

F: She’s a great singer. She really wanted to give it a shot to be in this business. She found out it is very difficult to be in this business period. Great singers are fun to be with. Great singers that are related like the Bee Gees or the Jacksons, they kind of have a certain something about singing together. I wanted to see if that would happen and it did! I was very proud of her. She’s a twin by the way.

M: Cool. I wanted to get to a voice question. I read in your early days that you thought your voice sounded bad, which is obviously not.

F: Thank you.

M: For that vocalist out there that gets the Simon Cowell of, "You shouldn’t be doing this!".  What is your encouragement for that vocalist? Can they be great?

F: I am fortunate. When we were coming up we had to do other people’s songs. That was demanded upon us from the clubs that we were working in. I tried to emulate all of these great singers. Whether I was doing it or not, I thought I was doing it. So I was doing Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Ray Charles, Rolling Stone, The Beatles, and trying to do my version of what I thought they sounded like. Low and behold something happens that becomes you. It’s kind of like learning how to paint when you learn the basics, and then learn from the masters and copy their work so you know how to do it. I think this is the same thing. Now whether you establish a style or not, that really to me is good fortune. I have no idea how that happens. I’m very, very happy about it, because I love to sing!

M: Well we love to hear you!

F: Enjoy it, that’s all I can say.

M: What do you do to keep your voice healthy today?

F: You have to sing. You have to sing. Like any muscle in your body, you have to work out. So I try to sing as much as I can. Especially when your doing studio work. It’s much more finite. On stage you can get away with more things. Those of us that can still sing on stage, that’s a dying art by the way, because of computers. When you do a word document you have that thing called spell check. Well we now have this thing called tune. Auto tuning. The computer programs are so sophisticated now that I can tune you live. A second delay, and you will never know it. But, I can tune you up live. It has become disgraceful. That’s all that I can say. I feed you into the laptop through the virtual tuner, which is getting faster as we speak, as you well know. No problem.

M: That makes me sad.

F: That’s the way it is. That’s what is going on out there. It’s taken over like spell check. People can’t spell anymore or write. I use spellcheck. I will use auto tuning as well. But, not live. I’m not pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes. In the old days you sang until you got it right. Now. Just sing. Go home and I’ll fix it.

M: Let’s get the look and we will fix it up.

F: Technology has changed everything. Negative side.  We have a tendency to think about how someone looks rather than perform. That’s not fair. That’s belittling to our craft. I’m sorry, it’s demeaning! Madonna got live performer of the year. Madonna won’t go on stage without this tuning. They should have a category best live performance with tuning. That’s not live. That’s canned. Elton John really reacted to that when she got that over sees. For those of us that try to keep our voices strong and tuned, it’s like a waste of time. That’s the world. Could you imagine a man like Bob Dylan going on American Idol today?

M: I don’t think he would make it today. Would he? He honestly wouldn’t make it!

F: Well Bob.  You may have to tuck in your shirt. (We both laughed)

M: People always speak of Bob Dylan as the Great Bob Dylan.

F: He’s the best. He’s a phenomenon. There isn’t an American songwriter that comes near him. What a writer. His body of work is unbelievable. The talent. All the songs that he has written and he is still writing. He’s an American icon for real.

M: Absolutely! Would you rather be known as a songwriter or a performer? What do you think?

F: It doesn’t matter. I moved to Nashville to continue to write and to be more part of that world. I figured I will not be able to tour the rest of my life and sing. It’s all great. It’s an honor to make a living at this. I’m very very fortunate. I love to produce. I love co writing with other artists to get their energy and their style. It’s all about making a living at something you love.

M: Hey don’t say you’re not going to perform. Honey boy is 94 and still at it.

F: He’s amazing! It’s becoming harder and harder out there because of the travel. It used to be a lot of fun to fly.

M: It’s kind of degrading now.

F: The old days we could load our own gear in the bay of the plane. Those days are long gone.

M: With your CD, will you be touring?

F: Not sure if it is feasible. It’s tough with the economy. It’s difficult on the road. A lot of the summer tours are less than they were a few years ago. I’d love to play this live.

M:  Well Felix, we would love to hear you. I want to thank you for your time.

F: Thank you, Monica.

There is a secret during this whole thing that Felix shared with me. Felix always had the term, Blue -eyed soul, associated with his music. Now, take a real good look at Felix’s picture. What do you see?

If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy reading about another Rock and Roll Inductee, Kim Simmonds.

Copyright © 2010 Copyright Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photos used by permission.

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