Speaking as a fan of Bobby Bandiera’s music living some four and a half thousand miles due east of New Jersey, I know all too well that getting the chance to see him play with his own band in Europe is not something which happens very often. However, I’d heard news that the Chesterfield Cafe had opened clubs in Moscow and Madrid and that Bobby was scheduled to play the standard residency of ten nights in each city beginning 4th March 1998. Deciding that perhaps the climate in Madrid might outclass the sub-zero temperatures normally associated with Moscow at this time of year, I opted for a trip to what turned out to be, a very sunny
The club in Madrid began trading last June, has three floor levels and you’ll find the all important stage area situated on the lowest. The décor is of a rustic nature and the walls are adorned with photographs of artists who have already appeared in Paris including Southside Johnny and Bobby.
Awaiting show time you could either dine from the restaurant menu, or hang out at one of the bars pondering over the multitude of different drinks that were available. These ranged from jugs of traditional Spanish sangria to an intriguingly named Baileys-based cocktail called orgasm, which prompted the word “multiple” to spring to mind when ordering more than one!!
Plan A was to catch four gigs but prior to my arrival, the Chesterfield threw a party for mega rock stars Iron Maiden. Although it was one of their nights off, Bobby’s band was requested to perform at the bash and this of course meant rearranging the rest of the week, but even with plan B now in operation, the prospect of seeing three out of four shows still had enormous appeal.
In my experience, going to see The Bobby Bandiera Band on any number of consecutive nights is a guarantee that the actual style of the sets will vary just as much as the content. Bobby has an immense repertoire of material that he draws from, enabling him to create different moods according to the night in question. With his many years of experience, he manages to achieve this task with apparent ease.
So, let’s see … what can I tell you about the nights I was there … well for the technically minded, each set lasted about two hours, I heard at least thirty eight different songs which included several originals and Bobby played a telecaster. The band this time around featured Hal Selzer on bass and Joe Bellia on drums and although both of these guys perform regularly with Bobby, their schedules include working with different people too.
For example, Hal currently appears with the Rolling Stones tribute band Sticky Fingers whose recent claim to fame was a spot on the Jenny Jones TV Show. He also plays with Talk Town, an up and coming New Jersey based band whose originals are reminiscent of Oasis. In addition, Hal makes up one third of Tenfold.
When Joe filled in with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes on their Californian dates, people were asking “who” the awesome drummer was! But as well as having toured with Dave Mason (ex Traffic) and played with Jersey Shore favourites like Joe Vadala and James Deely, Joe also uses computer technology to create drum programmes for artists such as Cyndi Lauper.
In choosing Hal and Joe, Bobby brought with him two highly experienced musicians who were more than capable of picking up whatever he decided to play,
often without too much warning. I’ve seen several different combinations of bassists and drummers performing with Bobby but no matter who is with him on stage, the bottom line remains the same – his band always plays with an intensity that produces an unrivalled wall of sound.
This particular trio did just that when I saw them in Madrid and apart from the blur of drumsticks as they flew across Joe’s kit at a pace akin to the speed of light, it was totally knockout following the fingering on Bobby’s and Hal’s fret-boards.
The Thursday show included incredible versions of Hendrix trax Fire and Red House – the latter featured a solo from Bobby which he delivered while playing on his knees! Other highlights were originals Only In A Dream and Rescue Me as well as the Doors’ Backdoor Man and the drop dead brilliant Roadhouse Blues – this began with Hal revealing his playing prowess as the deep, infectious bass lines reverberated from his guitar strings.
Forever the optimist, I presented Bobby with my own fantasy set list before Friday’s show and after about ten songs which included a couple of Elvis renditions namely, One Night With You and Can’t Help Falling In Love, Bobby very graciously checked out what I’d selected. After joking that he didn’t recognise anything, he proceeded to play Rock And Roll Music, Roll Over Beethoven and Pretty Woman – this of course, had the all essential spine-tingling growl!
There were a few other Roy Orbison songs tonight, including Running Scared, Crying and my all-time favourite, You Got It. I had never heard the band play this before, so it really was a wonderful surprise. Alabama Song (Whisky Bar), Pride And Joy, Maybelline and Mustang Sally are just a few of the other classics that featured extensive guitar work from both Bobby and Hal.
Although I know it’s possible that some of the songs I listed may have been played anyway, hearing an extended re-mixed finale of C’mon Caroline with Gasoline Alley AND Every Picture Tells A Story as the intros, simply made my night!
Saturday’s show opened with If I Should Fall Behind followed by Harvest Moon and Like A Hurricane and was watched by the largest audience which included visitors from England, Belgium, Sweden and Germany . Other highlights from the set included He’ll Have To Go, Goodbye Blues, Dirty Rag and two brilliant instrumentals from the Ventures and the Surfaris which gave Joe the opportunity to seriously open up the throttle on his drum kit!
The penultimate song was something else from my list, Led Zeppelin’s Rock And Roll which never fails to give me goosebumps when I hear Bobby play it and as the last notes of Tutti Frutti faded (I know a guy named Bob, he did a rea-lly great job!) it was to enthusiastic cries of “BRAVO” that the band finally left the stage for a well-earned three night break.
Ever since I heard that the band was scheduled to play in Moscow, I’d been really curious to know what it would be like for a group of accomplished New Jersey musicians to venture into a part of the world that we really don’t know too much about when it comes to music.
Whilst in Madrid, Bobby was kind enough to take some time out to talk to me and as we chatted over brunch, amidst sporadic outbursts of compressed coffee-machine steam, he gave me a little bit of an insight into his impressions of playing in the former Soviet Union.
I knew that the band was supposed to be in Moscow for two weeks, but it didn’t quite turn out that way, so I began by asking Bobby to explain what happened.
Yeah, it was supposed to be two weeks but the promoter and agent that sets it up, messed it up from the start. He never had visas set up for us, so we only wound up doing one week there, but it was fun.
The actual dates were announced last September, isn’t that long enough to organise visas?
Yeah, positively. All you need is a week to ten days.
Doesn’t this screw you up to a point where you feel like you don’t want to perform?
You know … glitches and mess stuff like that is typical of the business, so you just roll with the punches.
How did the band cope when they actually arrived in Moscow?
That was OK. They’re a good company, the Chesterfield. They set it up so that you’ve got a guide and you’ve got somebody to translate that speaks English in whatever country you’re in. So Moscow was fun. It was different in the respect that it’s a country that’s pretty much opened itself up in the past year or so.
I agreed with Bobby here because although I’ve never been, I see Russia as a country that’s catching up with the rest of the world.
Yes, Moscow’s kinda like the “Wild, Wild, West” in that respect. You know, it’s got its points of wonderin’ … how business men are getting rich in such a quick period of time …
I chimed in with a comment about the poor seemingly, remaining poor…
Right, but I mean it’s like any big city, you know … big business. It’s a new frontier.
Have you been to Russia before?
No, so when something like that happens, anybody, any business man from any part of the world would want to get a foothold in a new frontier, ‘cos it’s going to mean money.
We talked a bit about the Chesterfield’s plans to open more clubs which as far we both knew would include Amsterdam, Lisbon, and London, although not necessarily in that order. I then asked Bobby how the club in Moscow compared to Paris and Madrid, also what the band played.
They’re all kinda set up the same … restaurant/disco-type, although the one here isn’t so much a disco, nor is Paris. But it’s a club like any club that has to cater to the local people too. They’ve got to play music that the club down the street is playing and kinda keep up with the times. And that’s what they do. So the club was set up in each city to cater to people that will probably come around to frequent it. Music in that respect has to be according to what’s happening in that city, in that country and what we did was what we always do, anywhere we go.
How did the audience respond to the music the band played?
Oh, they loved it! I imagine they like music from America and they hear it on some of the radio stations there so, when they hear a band come and do it, it’s great. It’s great to hear a band do that stuff live. A lot of stuff they were playing was oldies you know … Little Richard, Chuck Berry and stuff like that which is what we do as far as covers go. Our original material is straightahead rock ‘n’ roll and they responded to that as well, they liked it. They like live music there and if it’s a good band, the chances are they’ll like it even more. We sucked, so they didn’t like us a lot.
Thinking that my ears were deceiving me here, I asked Bobby to repeat the last bit which he did, twice more with feeling – then he assured me that he was only kidding! I went on to talk about the two musicians that Bobby brought with him namely Hal Selzer (aka Cowbeater) and Joe Bellia (aka Joe Bananas). I knew that they’d all known and worked with each other for some considerable time but I wondered if Bobby had had any trouble persuading them to accompany him to play in Moscow.
Those guys have been doing the local scene at home for the longest time. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some people that take me out of the country for a tour here and there … blah, blah, blah and so on and so forth. So they jumped at the chance to go, having not been out of the country much to play music.
I enquired about their behaviour thus far, got a reply that they’d behaved somewhat – as for the rest of what Bobby told me … I remain the soul of discretion here! So is it true that the Russians toast everything with the local falling down water?
Right, that’s true. Vodka for breakfast, vodka for lunch, vodka, vodka, vodka!!
Will you do this sort of Chesterfield residency again?
Sure, I’m hoping that the promoter wants us to come back to Paris. We’ve established a good enough rapport work-wise, so that they may have us to any of the clubs that they’re gonna open. We’ll see … time will tell, but I would at least like to go back to Paris. Moscow’s cool, I wouldn’t mind going back and it’s nice here too.
We moved away from this and I asked Bobby about his first guitar which he told me had been bought for him by his parents. He proceeded to tell me how great and supportive they’d been all his life, in spite of being disappointed by Bobby’s decision not to further his education in a more traditional way. As for what inspired him to become a musician, he told me that it was the typical thing of seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I then asked Bobby to tell me a bit more about the particular music that influenced him.
The music that most influenced me, were the bands that were becoming popular when I was thirteen – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks … all the British invasion bands and then Jimi Hendrix. They influenced me as far as wanting to play and starting to play and all that stuff.
I’d heard about a nude publicity photo of Holme, Bobby’s first band. Was it really the full monty and how did it come about?
Yeah … one guy took his clothes off and … no, it wasn’t the full monty! I don’t think we’d have gotten away with that! It was just a publicity photo to grab attention. It was a silly idea … and most of the time “silly ideas” are the ones that work for you. It worked and the band was really successful as far as cover bands go.
Who were the guys in the band?
Just friends I grew up with.
Are they still musicians today?
No, I think maybe just one of them is still in the music business and myself, so that’s two of us out of five.
What happened after Holme?
I left. I was with Holme for a few years and decided to leave to play more original stuff that I was writing and friends of mine were writing, trying to break out of the cover band thing. But the scene was so big for cover bands in New Jersey. It was a very lucrative business and if the band was at all decent, you would stand to make a good buck. So I mean, to throw that away to play original material and make virtually nothing at it, was a tough thing. You were going from making $600 a week to probably not making anything playing original stuff. If you felt your worth and realised that you wanted to do this for the rest of your life and take it more seriously, you had to write your own songs.
How long have you been writing songs?
Eleven or eight years … at least.
Figuring that this must be an American expression that I hadn’t come across before, I told Bobby that I personally found it frustrating that he’d only released 2 CDs to date.
I can’t wait to get home actually, to start working on another one. But I’ve been doing so many other people’s projects. Southside wants to make a new record, so I’m trying to write some material for that. We’re working on a record for Patti Scialfa, her second record and I’ve got some dates coming up with Jon Bon Jovi. So I mean, I gotta try and find the time to make sure I start writing and get another album’s worth of material ready. Hopefully by the summer, I’ll be recording and have some stuff in the studio ready to go.
I brought up the subject of Bobby’s style of writing by telling him that when I listen to his songs, I hear somebody writing from “personal experience”. So in that respect, I wondered if it bothered him when somebody misinterpreted something that he’d written.
Everyone perceives it in a different way and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Two people look at a picture and they see different things. As long as they’re looking at it and digesting it in some way then, buying the record is what really matters. If you and I listen to a Bruce Springsteen record we’d hear different things. So it doesn’t insult me in any way.
Do you make a conscious effort to write?
No, I just let it come out. Yeah, well you try and conform with what may be popular on the radio beat-wise or try and create the scenario. I mean, there’s an art to that as well, but it doesn’t come across as natural, as writing from just your own personal experience.
I had with me, a copy of a Backstreets article which came out ten years ago. It was a feature written by Robert Santelli entitled 8 for ’88 which highlighted the future of Jersey Shore rock ‘n’ roll. Bobby was portrayed as having what it takes to score big in the rock sweepstakes and mentioned attributes including his good looks, sexy stage presence, guitar sound, raspy street-wise voice and his solid, original songs. I asked him if he felt that ten years later, this was still relevant.
Oh yeah, positively!
Fast-forwarding, I asked Bobby to tell me about his involvement with Jon Bon Jovi’s Destination Anywhere album and tour.
We’ve been friends for a long time and we’re in the same neighbourhood. So, Jon
started working on a new record although, he was all over the world doing it, writing it, recording bits and pieces of it, demo-ing it … When he was pretty much back home and settled for a couple of months and wanted to take some of the demos he did, refine them or actually just start re-recording things, he figured he’d do it out of his house ‘cos he’s got a nice studio in his house and I live close by. So Jon said “Hurry up and finish washing the car, then c’mon over and play on some of these things!” And I did … and it just went from there.
I mentioned the fact that when the original album came out, Bobby was credited as playing guitar only on four tracks – Janie, Don’t Take Your Love To Town; Every Word Was A Piece Of My Heart; Destination Anywhere and Naked. However, at least here in Europe, we got an incredible bunch of other releases most of which featured Bobby, albeit anonymously. When I said that I thought we should know who we’re listening to, Bobby suggested that I write to the record company and yell about the lack of info on the sleeve notes! But since he didn’t actually write any of the songs, he modestly said that he wasn’t too bothered about not being credited for performing.
I knew that Bobby had appeared with Jon Bon Jovi during last year’s Carlsberg concert at Wembley but I just had to know what it was like and how it came about that he also got to perform on Maggie May with Rod Stewart.
Tell you what that was like? – said Bobby with a huge smile! We rehearsed the whole week prior to the show. There was a house band and I should not have been on with any other artist but Jon. So when the show finally came around, because there was a house band doing everybody’s stuff, I snuck on to play with Rod thinkin’ … yes, he can throw me out if he wants to …
But he didn’t!!
The one thing about Bobby’s talents as a musician that I think makes him unique is the fact that he has played and worked with some of the biggest names in the entire music business like Bruce, Jon Bon Jovi and Southside Johnny to name but three and yet, he’s still able to walk down the street hassle-free. I told him that I found it incredible that he has managed to stay on the side of the line where he is still in so much control over what he does.
Yeah, I think it’s a good thing too. On the other hand, it’s fortunate I can get to play with some of these other people. It’s probably the best compromise. I would like to concentrate on just my career and you know, there’s going to be a time where if nobody else is touring, or nobody else is doing a record, I’ll have the time to concentrate on my own career. It’s a good thing that having played with some of these people gives me the publicity in that respect. It works out. I mean, to work on my own career at this point and just my own career is still my main thing, but I can’t turn down the publicity and everything else that goes along with going out with some of my friends that also have careers and who are doing well.
I then mentioned that I thought the best example to date of Bobby’s relative anonymity was the part he played at the recent Come Together benefit concert staged at the Count Basie theatre in Red Bank for the family of the late Sgt. Patrick King. I’d heard that Bobby was heavily involved in organising the music for the show, yet in all the reports I read, he got no mention other than being part of the line up.
Right, yeah well basically the way it went was that they (the promoters) approached Jon Bon Jovi ‘cos he’s a hometown boy, to see if he’d be interested at all in playing a benefit. So he called me up and he said “Bob, would you be willing to help me out with this?” and I said “Yeah, that sounds like fun!” Then we started getting ‘phone calls from people making ‘phone calls to people to see if they also wanted to be involved and sure enough, everybody pitched in, everybody thought it would be fun and it was. It was great fun! I was kinda the Musical Director for it. Jon asked me to take over a lot of the responsibility in making sure that everybody knew what songs were going to be played and what keys they were going to be in and who the band members were going to be. That also, like the show in London at Wembley, the retrospective show, it was one of these things where different artists were coming out onto the stage. The benefit wasn’t as big, there weren’t as many people, but there was Bruce, Little Steven, Southside and Bruce’s wife Patti Scialfa …
The greatest line-up of New Jersey musicians … EVER!
Yeah it was fun to see everybody together from that area. It was a fun thing to get in and be a part of, in every respect. It was Jon though that was kinda behind it. I helped out … not a lot.
I disagreed with Bobby’s last sentence and he very humbly told me that he didn’t want credit for something like that, he just did it.
Bobby told me a story though, about how his name had appeared on the benefit show t-shirts and sweatshirts. He went on to explain that he was actually separate from everybody else, having been added on at the very bottom – i.e. the bit of the shirt that disappears when it gets tucked in! But nonetheless, Bobby’s name was there and it was also on the till receipts from the Chesterfield Cafe in Madrid.
So where does it go from here?
Where does it go from here? It can only get better!
And with that last comment, Bobby leaned over towards my tape machine and said
a resounding …
During their second week in Madrid, the band were interviewed by a local radio station and since I’ve given my impressions of what it was like watching the band, I thought it appropriate to end with quotes from Bobby’s two musicians Hal Selzer and Joe Bellia. They gave the following answers when the Spanish radio interviewer asked them how they actually felt about playing with Bobby.
Joe: I like playing with people that raise you to another level and that’s what Bobby is like. He makes you rise to the next level of playing which is something not many people do. That’s why he’s really great to play with.
Hal: Bobby is the best! I’ve played with a lot of well known guys from well known bands, not on a regular basis, but off and on and Bobby is the best musician I’ve ever played with – he is also the most demanding. He treats being on stage like most guys treat being in the studio. He wants you to nail every note, all the time.
So there you go … whether it’s Paris, Moscow, Madrid or even the Jersey Shore, if an opportunity arises to catch The Bobby Bandiera Band in action, just make sure you don’t miss out on a chance to witness talent and dedication that is without a doubt, unparalleled.
And hey … tell them Maggie sent ya!