Australian singer-songwriter legend Brian Cadd has reunited The Bootleg Family Band after 40 years for a new album, Bulletproof. Marking 50 years in the industry and the 70 years on this Earth; I spoke to Brian about birthday plans, longevity and those moments he’ll never forget.
It’s your 70th birthday on November 29th. Are you doing anything to celebrate?
I’m not planning anything, but my family is planning all sorts of death and destruction. But they only get this chance every major birthday. Apparently, rumour has it, there’s a bit of a thing going on but I am not allowed to know. I’m not being circumstant; I’m just being ignorant, actually. It’s the not knowing that makes it a bit nerve-racking (laughs). Last time they did anything, I was 60.
What did they do for your 60th?
There’s a great old pub in Albert Park [with an] amazing bar upstairs! We just took over the whole upstairs, singing, people, and an artist jumped out of a big cake! And all these people got up on stage and told dreadful stories about me. It was all that kind of thing, you know? I suspect it’ll probably be the same sort of thing this time.
You’ve been in the music industry for fifth years. What do you think your reason for longevity is?
I think it’s gotta do with being able to do a few different things. I started out very early in my life as a piano player. Then in the mid 60s, I joined a band called The Groop, and they were basically all songwriters, so I was just thrown into the deep end and had to learn how to do it all so I learnt how to write.
After the 60s were over and I came back from England, I became an in-house producer in Melbourne, and eventually started a label by myself, so I learnt to be a producer and running a label. I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve been able to fall into different areas throughout these 50 years as things have taken me somewhere.
You definitely seem to have that business and the creative mind, whereas many others in the business only have one or the other.
I’m lucky. And as I say, I wouldn’t have expected that to happen when I started, it was mostly about playing … and beer … and ladies (laughs). But after a while, in the 70s and when people were actually making good money from selling records and being on the road; I was lucky enough to be surrounded by and working with people who were pretty successful in their areas of their industry, so I learnt a lot from them. When I moved to Los Angeles in the mid 70s, that was like going to Disneyland for me because it was the center of the music industry, so my learning curve was rather extreme during the 70s – it was wonderful.
Apart from the obvious differences in sounds and styles – how do you think music changed over the past 50 years?
I think we’ve won some ground and lost some ground. The global dream we had in the 60s, it never really quite achieved, or even right through the 70s and 80s. We didn’t really have a shot at that too much because we were isolated as an industry. But now with the internet, travel so easy, record companies, gigs and things being much more global then they even would be ten years ago, I think there’s a real positiveness about that where people get music out fairly quickly and it gets out and about. They can release it in all kinds of different countries, or they can sit in a bush hut in Dubbo and nobody knows that because it’s all on the internet.
But in the process of doing that, I think we may have destroyed some of the actual structure of the industry that got people out and up. Where people were signed to record companies that had money, that could put them on the road, and they can tour with other bigger acts and get them through into the radio thing. In that sense, there’s a bit of a negative there.
So would you say social media has helped or hindered the industry?
It’s a bit of both. It’s really about; on the one hand, everyone gets out there to some degree, which unlike in the olden days, you can just put it up on your social media and everyone gets to hear it. There’s a lot of stuff out there that’s really average and really ordinary (laughs). One time, about twenty years ago, I was asked to consult this record company in Brisbane. I’d go in and they’d play these demos and they sounded so fabulous. You’d go, “God, we’ve got to sign these guys!” [Then] you go and see them and they were out of time, out of tune, they obviously didn’t really play the instruments that were on the record. They sort of got annoying after a while simply because they were able to do all that stuff without having any real expertise.
But saying that, there is also so many opportunities on social media to put live music, YouTube being the easiest example, and I think what’s really cool about that is that you actually see them play, and hear them sing – you can actually really tell who the goodies are and who the not so goodies are. And I think also, in its own strange way, creates a kind of own truth in advertising where, everyone can tell you how great they are and play you a song they recorded – but only those who are really great can show you on YouTube and I think that’s great.
So, let’s talk about the new album Bulletproof, which came out yesterday. Listening to it, there’s a real kind of 70s vibe to it. Because, I know a lot of the songs were written a while ago; did the style come from the fact that it was written back then, a conscious decision to make it sound like that, or is it just naturally the sound that you like? etc
I think it was a natural thing that occurred, a natural evolution of us being in the band and being in the studio again after 40 years. 15 minutes in [to recording the album] we realised it was gonna work [as] we hadn’t lost any of the bits and pieces that we had as a band all that many years ago. So the reality is that it was more about fitting things into how we played them – rather than the other way around. In other words, we didn’t try and take a song and make us fit into that song. We made songs fit in with the album we were making. And I think that’s also very evident.
The fact that song of the songs are older, like I recorded a song that I wrote for Joe Cocker, another one for the Pointer sisters, and Bonnie Tyler; and those were songs I specifically wrote for those artists, I but after they recorded them and years after they’ve come out, I thought I really like those songs (laughs) I wonder if I could do them. So when the album was put on the table, I threw those songs in as well.
We actually took a lot of songs into the studio and we very quickly figured out which ones fitted together as a set and which ones didn’t as a cohesive effort. I’m not really a fan of albums where the first song is a calypso song, the next ones a death metal song, and then there’s a rap song. It polarizes audiences.
This [album] is maybe the most fun [I’ve ever recorded] because it was really done in the right spirit. It was done in the spirit of fun. It was done because we could, not because we had to or because the record company wanted anything. There’s a great wonderfulness about any kind of art form if you do it because you can. There’s a great freedom in being able to do it that way [and] we were lucky enough to do the album that way.
Did you record the album like you would have in the 70s?
We recorded it as we would have in the 70s, not with the same old machines, but the attitude was very much [that] we wanted to all play together at the same time. Not just spend months and months overdubbing. And we only ever allowed ourselves three takes of any song. It’s got this real positive tension through all of it, because everyone was trying to play as well as they possibly could during every take. We really reaped the benefit of that. The album overall, there’s an energy there that could only really have been because of the way we recorded the album.
I read that you began working on the album three years ago – why has it taken so long to make if every song was recorded in only three takes?
Three years ago, it was the 40th anniversary of Brian Cadd and the Bootleg Family Band and that was when we first started. We recorded the majority of the band tracks very quickly but life interfered. I got involved in a project which took 18 months out of the picture, and then I’ve been in Nashville working on some stuff with other people. Even though the album was ready by about March or so this year, which is even with itself a long time, I wanted to make sure I had all the space ready to release it and do gigs.
You recorded the album with the Bootleg Family Band, which began as a band in 1972. When was the last time you toured together and have you performed any of the songs live yet?
No, this’ll be the first dates we’ve played as the Bootleg Family in 43 years. We’re opening at Crown Casino on the 18th of November – and that’s the big kick off of the tour! I’d like to play some of the really great rock pubs, because that album is much more applicable to a broader age group. Rock n roll’s pretty universal and the young people, who have heard the album, say they really love it … and that’s from a bunch of old geezers (laughs)
The oldest bunch of geezers just tour each others head off in Coachella. The Rolling Stones, God knows how many thousands and millions times they’ve played and the audience to a large degree are young. I think we’re getting to being at that point where people just select music because they like it and not practically because it’s particularly genre driven. You’re not obligated, because you’re young, to like Britney Spears, rap and Justin Bieber. There’s a lot of young people who like really extraordinary stuff!
In 2010, you also wrote your autobiography, From This Side of Things. I thought maybe, is there one story that you could share that would tickle the taste buds of people who may not have read it yet?
Oh gosh. There’s so many – where would I start? There’s a great section about John Farnham and me in Tokyo. There was one night, we came back from dinner and had a couple of bottles of saki and whatever, and we were just nice and mellow. We were walking along the road near the hotel and in front of us there’s an entrance to a bar. In the bar, which was tiny, about the only thing in it was a piano, piano player, and there was really only room for thirty people maybe.
On the piano there was an open mic, we ordered a Cognac, and the guy started playing some old Sinatra songs [on the piano]. Johnny was just enough Cognaced in that he casually picked up the mic and just started singing, and none of us had ever heard him sing that kind of stuff. It was absolutely startling. He was amazing! By the time he got to the end of the song there was about four or five people who had come in. By the second song, the place was packed. And by the end of the third or fourth song, it was all packed on the street outside and everything. It was just amazing. They would have been inside, but they couldn’t fit any more people inside.
And what the Japanese do, if you’re any good, they buy you a round of what you’re having. So by the end of the fifth song, the top of the piano was completely covered in Cognacs (laughs). I thought of all those kids who go to John’s concerts in those days, scream and do all that great things they used to do, it would be hard for them to imagine that this same guy can sing like that. I will never forget it. It’s just a stunning hour of my life.