Interview: Brian Cadd

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Brian Cadd’s name may not be familiar to younger music fans, but it should be. As you’ll read in the following interview, Cadd has had about ten careers’ worth of experience in music – including being a member of one of Australia’s first country rock bands – and a fascinating amount of knowledge and perspective. Recently Cadd and his Bootleg Family Band released an album, Bulletproof, and they are playing dates through the start of 2017. Visit www.briancadd.comfor information.
You’ve worked across most aspects of the music industry – you’ve been in A&R, a label head, songwriter, producer and performer. I’m curious as to whether the business things you learnt along the way influenced your creative work.
I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that – that’s a great question. And now that I think about it – really on my front foot because I’ve never answered it before – I think probably they colour your decisions. They can’t help it. If you happen to know the business well enough to know that you need to need to move there and do one of those and have two of those, one of those, then that will help you way ahead of time to make decisions that will ensure that you try to get that happening. This goes everywhere from ‘What label do I sign to?’ to ‘When do I release a single before the album, or do I?’ All those sorts of things. If you didn’t know the industry you would obviously sometimes make the wrong choice. And I think that that’s indicative of some really great young acts – and we were the same when we were young. You do the thing that at the time appeals to you. Here’s the best example I can give you: when Axiom was ready to go overseas – Axiom, along with Gypsy Queen Flying Circus, we were Australia’s only two country rock acts – and we’d had hit as a country rock act. And where did we go? Because we all wanted to go to England – because that’s where the Stones and the Beatles were from – we went there and they hated country rock music. If we had have gone to Los Angeles, right then was the beginning of The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers and just before The Eagles, so we would have fitted in perfectly there, but because we loved The Beatles we went to England. So that’s an amazing example of being at the wrong place in the wrong time [laughs].
Except I guess that every decision you make along the way influences the next decision or the next opportunity, and your career has been so extraordinary, one wonders if you’d gone to Los Angeles and had success there whether you would have ended up writing for so many different people, amongst other things.
I think you’re right – in fact, I know you’re right because what happened was that Axiom didn’t make it America and broke up. And I came back and I’d been on the road with bands for quite a number of years at that point and that’s when I went into the studio and learned to be a producer, and eventually Ron Tudor kept saying to me, ‘Why don’t you make an album?’ and I’d say, ‘No, I don’t want to make an album.’ But finally I did make an album and that album contained ‘Ginger Man’ and that went up the charts, and there I was back on the road again. But I was on the road as a solo artist, something that I may not have had the courage to do in any other set of circumstances. If I look through my life I can find other instances of where that happened, you know. For instance, at exactly the same time as I came back from England, Russell Morris asked me to go on the road with him and the Bee Gees. We did this whole tour of Australia and New Zealand, and at the end of it the Bee Gees asked me to join their band, and they were the biggest act in the world at that point. I would have lived in London but I would have been just one of the Bee Gees’ band. I can remember the phone ringing in my kitchen and it was Dick Ashby, the tour manager, and they were in Singapore, and he said to me, ‘Come on, one more chance. Join the band.’ And I was so close to saying yes, but I said, ‘No, I don’t think I will, mate. I think I’d like to do some recording.’ And then I went in and cut ‘Ginger Man’. That would have been an opportunity to really spectacularly fail and not do ‘Ginger Man’.
And if you’d been in the Bee Gees, Barry Gibbs’s creativity would have dominated – whereas what I see in your career is this incredible ongoing creativity: writing songs, performing, any way you can find to create music, you’ve found it. If you’d been in that band, who knows, you might have been tamped down a little bit because Barry would have necessarily been the boss.
That’s right. I was definitely going into a subservient kind of situation, albeit a rather grand one. And I guess there’s just a little bit of instinct in all of us that says, ‘Something tells me I shouldn’t say yes.’ And I didn’t. As soon as I hung up the phone I sat there and thought, What have I done? You’re an idiot![laughs]
What you’d done was open up all that creativity. So I’m really interested, given that you have written so many songs for so many different people, when did that creative spark start for you? What was your first memory of feeling that impetus to create something?
I’d have to take you back to the early and mid ’60s when most people didn’t write – most songs that you got you copped off an English album or an American album, and the whole thing was playing live. It was all chicks-and-beer sort of stuff – nobody expected it to last more than a year. But at that point in time was when the first people started thinking about writing, and I was really lucky because I was in a band called the Jackson Kings and had a great lead singer, Ronnie Charles, and they poached Ronnie and me when a couple of members of the group had gone to England. Now, the group had already had hits so it was a fantastic on ramp for us: pow, there we were in a hit band, and I’d only just turned twenty. And here’s the story: we were going to be recording and CBS – in those days – said, ‘You’ve got two weeks and then [the producer] is going to come down to Sydney and we’re going to do an album, so get your songs ready.’ We already had a couple of songwriters in the band – I’d never written a song before – so I got with the drummer, who had never written a song before. ‘You can have the drummer’ – ‘Oh, good.’ So the blind leading the deaf. And the others were all writing away with their songs and Richard and I were in the garage having a bit of think about it all, and really he just came up with a beat and I played a chord and we thought, ‘That’s not bad.’ We finished the song and it sounded a bit nursery-rhymish to us. So the guy comes down and everybody’s playing the songs and talking about stuff on the album, and he says, ‘So, anyone else got a song?’ And we said, ‘Oh, we’ve got one’, and we played it, and he said, ‘That’s it! That’s the single!’ So we went in and recorded it, and it was a big hit, and it was the first song I ever wrote and I thought, Wow! How long has this been going on? It did take me a long time to get another one. But it was that kind of era, wasn’t it, when things happened almost immediately. I remember when the record came out we physically took a copy to Stan Rofe, who was Stan the Man, number one jock on 3KZ. He ruled Melbourne. We walked in, and it was just us and the news, and we sat down and he played it right there and then, and he played it five times in that hour he loved it so much. In those days you really needed champions like that to go to bat for you.
What do you think has been the best development in music since that time, and what’s been the worst?
If we’re talking about Australian music – and let’s talk about Australian music – to go back to the ’60s, people like us were starting to have original songs, and we did covers and stuff but we’d write a few, and by the end of the ’60s people were writing albums. Daddy Cool arrived on the scene and it was all Ross Wilson songs. Russell Morris had had ‘Bloodstone’, and Axiom was pretty much all original stuff as well. So what happened was that we were throwing the coils, if you like, of English and American influences off and we were becoming our own people. So we were a sort of hybrid of English and American influences but gradually they faded and the thing that became Australian music happened then, and I was so lucky to be around at that point. And then all through the ’70s then on to the ’80s and up to now. There will always be an argument to say that Australian music grew up right then – or started growing – and by the time it got to the end of the century there was no such thing as ‘It’s a good record for an Australian record’, which is what people used to say. Now they don’t say that, and that’s fantastic. But if you want to look at the other side of that coin, we’ve lost a lot of the Stan Rofes and the pathways for young music to get on a major playing field. The argument is with the internet everyone can get their music heard, and that is true – it can go out to 150 people and they might like it. But it’s very difficult for young people to penetrate the real main market and to have the support of a record company and tour support, and go out and get on tours. There’s not an easy path now and that’s one thing that I don’t think is as good as it was. And the other thing is that we’ve managed to dumb down the process of making records, in the sense that – and this is not criticising across the board, it’s just that it has become over the last ten years the ability for almost anyone with a computer and a cupboard and a keyboard and a microphone to make records that sound far beyond their capabilities. They can get in time, they can be put in key, and they virtually never make records together, which is one of the tricks about this new Bootleg album – we were determined to go into the studio and recreate those days when everyone was playing in real time and everyone was in the studio at the same time. And to make it even more realistic, we determined – and this was something we all agreed on – that we were never going to do more than three takes for anything. So the idea of doing the same song for two days wasn’t going to happen. The girls were there and they sang as well. So the idea was that it was all ready from the first time we ran through the song. It was the recording tension that you need to make it exciting – tension is used there in a good way. You need that tension. You need to be really on your game and concentrating on what everyone else is playing, and reacting to them and them reacting to you. That is an ingredient is sort of missed nowadays a lot of times. We were determined to have it and I think you can hear it in the record – there’s an excitement in the record that maybe wouldn’t have happened if we’d all sat around in different rooms doing different things at different times.
How did you choose the songs for the album? Because you obviously would have had a few in the drawer, and a few that other people have already covered.
The basic thrust to it was that because I was always reasonably known for songs like ‘Ginger Man’ and ‘Let Go’ and ‘Sunshine’, things that were predominantly ballads or mid-tempo things or quite pop, I was at heart, deep down where I live, I’m a rock ’n’ roller, I always have been, and the band was. And the thing that people don’t necessarily remember about that era is that we were a big, loud rock ’n’ roll band that was full on, and we wanted to make sure that we captured that in the studio. And I had a drawerful, as you say – a metaphorical drawerful – of rock songs that I’d always wanted to do, and every time I made a record the record company would say, ‘Yeah, but we want another “Ginger Man”.’ So we got them on our terms. I got all these songs that I’d always wanted to record, plus I picked three songs that I’d written for other people that I’d always wanted to record. I never wrote them for me, I wrote them specifically for them, but after they recorded it I’d play it and think, I’d love to do that [laughs]. I might do that one day. So of course that day arrived. It was a bit like having a metaphorical basket of tunes and we picked them out and we’d play them, and sometimes we’d get halfway through and say, ‘Nah – doesn’t fit.’ There’s a lot of songs that didn’t make the cut but the ones that do marry together perfectly. There’s not a song on the album that lets down anything near it. They’re all basically the same band and that’s how I wanted it.
Bulletproof is out now and available on iTunes.

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