Rock veteran talks to FBPO about his gigs with Gregg Allman and Tom Petty and his current position as bass player for the New Rascals
Charlie Souza is a rock & roll veteran, whose career has spanned some three decades. Charlie has toured, collaborated and recorded with Tom Petty, Jim Horn, Gregg Allman, Cactus, Gale Force and many other bands and world class artists. His latest CD, Livin’ in Paradise, was released on Charlie’s own label, Souzaphone Records. He also has a forthcoming book, Live Your Dream!, which is being published by Florida Books & Videos. Charlie is a board member of Musicians and Fine Artists for World Peace and is currently the bass player for The New Rascals.
FBPO: Tell me about your upbringing. How did you become a musician?
CS: Before I was born, my mother played piano and my uncle played guitar and they had a band with my grandfather who played violin! So I grew up in my very early days – before my brain even developed – hearing my mother play music on her piano in the house. I took up piano and then in school played woodwind instruments – clarinet, bass clarinet – and in my teen years I picked up a guitar. It was in my junior year in high school that a buddy of mine invited me into a band that needed a bass player. So I bought an Epiphone bass guitar and learned how to play it as we rehearsed for the “band jobs.”
FBPO: You sing and play several instruments. What is the significance of the bass to you? Is it “just another instrument,” or is there something special about the bass?
CS: The bass is the glue that holds it all together! Bass is the foundation, the counter melody and the complementary harmony to what’s happening in the treble clef. As I also use my voice as an instrument, I can appreciate all of the octaves at once. If anyone ever asks me what I prefer, I’ll choose bass every time!
FBPO: Can you define a specific turning point in your life that made you realize you were going to be a professional musician?
CS: It was actually a sequence of events that led up to it. I learned to play chopsticks on the piano at age five. Then, when I was 8, my older sister used to play Elvis Presley records until the vinyl wore out. When I was 13, I started singing and playing folk songs.
I’d say the defining moment was when I was all of 16 and I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I thought to myself that’s exactly what I want to do – along with everybody else in the world who witnessed the birth of the new age of rock and roll that was started by the Beatles!
FBPO: You’ve done so much in your career. Can you share some highlights of the things that stand out? Maybe something about your associations with Tom Petty and Gregg Allman?
CS: Sure! I was playing in a bar in St. Petersburg, Florida, late one night with my Bacchus band-mate Eric Turner, and Greg Allman came in to listen. After the gig, Gregg gave me a ride home in his chauffer-driven limousine! On the way to my house, he handed me an 18-karat gold Allman Brothers Mushroom pendant and asked if I’d be interested in playing bass with him. What do you think I said?
A couple weeks later I found myself on a plane heading to Macon, Georgia, and thinking that since Berry Oakley had passed away in a motorcycle accident, I’d be the next Allman Brothers bass man. I stayed at Gregg’s house and he brought out his tape recorder and asked me to write something with him. I got a couple of licks on tape and, next thing I knew, we were both on a plane to New York! In the studio, while overdubbing the New York Horns on some tracks for his soon-to-be-released solo album, Laid Back, Jaimoe (Jai Johanny Johanson) and Butch Trucks and a couple of other guys came in the control room and had some muttered discussions with Gregg. I could feel the vibes getting a little strange. I would later find out that Jaimoe wanted his bro to play bass instead of me. Gregg went with Jaimoe’s wishes.
I immediately hopped in a cab and headed to Long Island, where I auditioned to play bass with a group called Cactus. That’s where I met Carmine (Appice) and Timmy (Bogert), who were leaving the band to go play with Jeff Beck. I soon found myself as Cactus’ new bass player, touring the East Coast with Bob Seger and Bloodrock. It was as if I was being led by a higher power. I had no idea how all of that just happened!
Tom Petty is a whole ’nother story! I had done some recording for Capricorn Records in Miami with Layla producers Ron and Howie Albert for a group called White Witch. Months went by and we didn’t seem to be playing very many concerts. Around the end of that year, ’74, I received a record called Depot Street by a band called Mudcrutch in the mail and got a call from a Gainesville kid who used to come and watch the Tropics play when he was a kid. The Tropics played for all the fraternity parties up in Gainesville for Gator students. He said his name was Tom and he was calling from California. He asked if I wanted to fly out and play bass on some recordings. I made the long drive out, with the equipment truck and all of my belongings.
First we headed to Leon Russell’s house in Tulsa to record for a while and then out to Leon’s house in Encino for a few more months. Lots of tunes were recorded, but it got real boring in the studio and the money stopped coming from Shelter Records. So I found another project and kept right on recording with a new bunch, Gale Force, who had a deal with Fantasy Records up in Berkley, California. We went there with the Crusaders’ trombone player, Wayne Henderson, who produced the rock album. Unfortunately, we were still having no success. Meanwhile, I was hearing my alto sax part on the radio whenever “Hometown Blues” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers came on the radio. All of this will be in more detail in my upcoming book Live Your Dream.
FBPO: What’s “The New Rascals” group all about? Is it the modern-day version of the Young Rascals?
CS: Well, the truth is since their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in ’96, they really didn’t want to play together anymore. Eddie (Brigati) had given up music totally, Felix (Cavaliere) went off to do his own thing and drummer Dino Danelli, along with Gene Cornish, the guitarist, started the New Rascals. A ruling had been made by a court judge that no one could use the name “The Rascals.” It had to be “The New Rascals” or “Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals.” Carrying on the tradition of playing concerts containing so many hit songs by the Rascals, Gene and Dino kept going with it. In 2005, they hired the Vanilla Fudge’s lead singer, Bill Pascali. I got the bass gig in ’06. It’s amazing to me still that I am now playing bass guitar with Dino Danelli, who happened to be one of my rock idols when the Tropics used to open for them in the sixties. Ironic!
FBPO: What exactly is “The New Rascals Reloaded?”
CS: “New Rascals Reloaded” is the title of our live DVD and CD, which we recorded it in 2008. It took a very long time for post-production and editing. It still hasn’t been released, but I’m told it should be out soon on a major label.
FBPO: What kinds of crowds come to the New Rascals shows? Are they mostly older folks who want to remember the old songs or are you reaching out to the new generation, as well?
CS: It’s really nice to see a packed house of baby boomers and their sons and daughters as well. The music appeals to people from the ’60s to the present, as far as I can see.
FBPO: In addition to your work as a sideman, you’ve released some projects under your own name, too. Tell me about them.
CS: In 1999 I headed up a 30-year reunion of the Tropics. I was working a day job in the ‘90s, playing in L.A. on the weekends. I took the positive energy from the Tropics reunion and started to record my solo albums. The first was Live Your Dream then 9 Ball in the Corner Pocket. I also did an “unplugged” album, The Rose, and in ’06 I recorded a few Tropics songs. They were actually songs of my own that I hadn’t recorded yet. And of course I covered a Beatles tune, All you need is Love. All the music is available through iTunes, Amazon.com and just about anywhere you can buy music today, including Walmart.com.
FBPO: I get the impression you still have a lot of energy. What else would you like to accomplish in your career that you haven’t done yet?
CS: I have been invited by Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane to do some live recording of some songs he just found in his library of tunes. He wrote the hit song “Miracles,” among others, and some of these new tunes he has sound similar. I look forward to that project. I have also been asked to serve on the board of directors for the Florida Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame. It’s a very interesting and challenging role to play as a force for recognition of all the deserving souls who earned their wings and whose music originated in Florida. You’d be surprised how many there are!
FBPO: What sorts of things do you like to do that aren’t necessarily musically oriented?
CS: At this point in my life, if I am not playing and singing music, I’m not really living life. Anything else is just a walk on the beach where I live now, or watching the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, anticipating the next concert.
May peace be with us all.