Q&A with veteran musician Charlie Souza, bass player, vocalist, performer, writer and producer in the music over five decades

"I’ve learned that the hardest thing to do when you’re an artist/musician/writer, is to get outside of yourself and listen to others to help understand what makes the music work and flow even better. Some of us haven’t been able to do that since our own level of talent keeps us self -involved."

Charlie Souza: Live Your Dream

Charlie Souza is a bass player, vocalist, performer, writer and producer in the music business over five decades! His music has been released on Columbia, Polydor, Fantasy and Laurie Records and Atlantic Records with Fortress, an '80s melodic metal group, still a cult favorite in Europe with a release in the U.K. on Rock Candy Records in 2014, FORTRESS "Hands in the Till", also released on independent Souzaphone Records in 2008. Charlie filmed and recorded a Live DVD "NEW RASCALS RELOADED" and has toured with THE NEW RASCALS Featuring Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Dino Danelli and Gene Cornish with Bill Pascali formerly of the Vanilla Fudge, and also has played concerts in Florida with his band, THE NEW TROPICS. Has toured, and recorded with Tom Petty; Greg Allman, The New Cactus Band; Bill Champlin of Chicago; Mike Pinera, Malcolm Jones, Joe Lala of Blues Image; White Witch; Gale Force with producer Wayne Henderson of The Jazz Crusaders; Native American actor Floyd Red Crow Westerman; Santana keyboardist Leon Patillo; the Darrell Mansfield Christian Band and Fred Willard among many others!                            (Charlie Souza / Photo by Melissa Lyttle, St. Petersburg Times)

Charlie also teamed up with former Robin Trower and Sly & The Family Stone drummer Bill Lordan, with saxophonist Adrian Tapia of Boz Scaggs, and original Tropics guitarist, recording artist Eric Turner of Fortress on his solo albums "Live Your Dream” and "9 Ball in the Corner Pocket". These two CDs were recorded in Anaheim and Hollywood, California. Souza's song Carry Me Back to St. Petersburg off his New Tropics "Livin' in Paradise" CD, recorded in Tampa Bay area studios, was voted the winner of the official city song contest, and he has written an autobiography, "Live Your Dream" (2011) and co-authored a pictorial history book, "Tampa Bay Music Roots" (2020).

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Rock n' Roll Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

In 1963, I lived on base at MacDill Field Air Force Base in South Tampa. My best friend Tim and I heard The BEATLES for the first time on the radio! The song "I Want To Hold Your Hand". I knew right then where my life was headed! The music came alive in my first musical adventure. The Tropics were Florida’s best illustration of the beach garage pop music scene in the late ‘60s. California had the bright sensibilities of the Beach Boys in all of their five-part harmony surf music glory, but Florida had a scene that was unique and all its own. And arguably, the greatest band to come out of that era was The Fabulous Tropics. In 1966 The Tropics won The International Battle of the Bands held at the famous McCormick Place in Chicago, IL. The Band took first place over more than 450 other bands, which included such names as Chicago and Tommy James & The Shondells. Out of that win came a recording contract with Columbia Records and the single "Take the Time" produced by Teo Macero, which made it to the top of the charts and got a "92" on Dick Clark's American Bandstand! It was then that my primary influence, The Beatles came alive during those times we had in Chicago. There are some books out already with The Tropics story included, Florida’s Famous and Forgotten written by Kurt KOTO Curtis, The Heey Baby Days by Greg Haynes and Tampa Bay Music Roots by yours truly.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My mother played piano before I was born so my love for music started at birth! It was already in my blood! Mama and Daddy surprised me on my fourth birthday celebration with four flaming candles on a small square cake. My mother’s voice was heavenly and amazing to hear as she sang Happy Birthday to me. That was the very first time I remember hearing music and feeling the love only music can convey. From then on I’ve spent most of my life writing music and songs about love, good and bad!

"I would jet right back to 1975 to try and get it right! I was too tied up in myself to listen and learn and give the musicians I had the honor to be with, my complete and undivided attention.  I’m referring to the time when I was asked to join Mudcrutch. We recorded a lot of great songs written by Tom and I still pushed my own silly little songs, which eventually put an end to my career with Mr. Petty.  God bless him and may he rest in peace! That’s just one of the time machine travels I wish I could take. There are many others." (Charlie Souza / Photo by George Hudak)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Some things just stick with you like the time our band was recording at Malaco Recording Studio in Jackson, Miss. Because you have to wear headphones, it was hard for me to feel my bass notes as I played them through the phones so I would stand on top of my bass speaker cabinet so that I could feel it! Right then, between takes, Doctor John (Mac Rebennack) walks by me on the way into the control room and looks up at me and says “ You doin’ alrigh mista”? Evidently he was worried about me falling off that giant 18’ speaker cabinet!  That will always stick with me! Another is the tour I did with comedian Fred Willard. We played The Midnight Special on ABC in a comedy /music show. And while we were waiting in the lobby to go on, Andy Kaufman walks up to me and yells in my face “Don’t you know who I am boy?”  That was scary! But just another rare moment in time that ranks in my top ten!

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the magical times I had in the recording studio with many talented artists, two come to mind. Wayne Henderson, Jazz-Bop Trombonist with the Jazz Crusaders, was our producer at Fantasy Records in Berkeley, California. The band/artists was Gale Force, a “Free” meets “Bad Compay” rock and soul band. After each daily session, Wayne would call for us to stop for dinner, and he’d order up what he called “Some Yak ‘n’ Que” (cognac and barbequed ribs). That, I’ll never forget!  Then sometime later in my career, I did a session in Phoenix AZ. with a female artist Wendy Evans. What a great voice and the songs she wrote were hypnotic! Her producer was the famous French Composer Michel Columbier.  He was a very interesting artist and producer and played piano on her tracks. He always told me to follow what he was doing with his left hand when tracking my bass, and it always turned out pretty darn good! Those two, Wayne Henderson and Michel Columbier are long gone, God rest their souls, and my fear of the future is that we may never be blessed again with that caliber of talent! I can only hope that their musical influence will live on, and indeed, it will because music is forever!

"In the beginning of my career, my band, The Tropics opened for many of the top acts in the ‘60s. One of the most memorable concerts is when we opened for The Young Rascals! They watched us perform from behind the stage and I got to to briefly know the band members. My favorite was their drummer Dino Danelli, one of the best drummers in that era of music!" (Photo: The Topics, c.1960s)

What would you say characterizes Tampa Bay music scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

I’ve lived in L.A. &  Hollywood where the music scene is quite glamorous and the goal there is to rub elbows with the rich and famous, and in New York City where the vibe is quite serious and blunt and you have to be a tough guy to get where you want to go in music. The music scene in both places has been the place to be, other than Nashville, where many top music performers live now.

But in my writings about the Tampa Bay Music Roots, I have discover so many world famous musical artist have either begun here or passed through here in the early stages of their careers!  I’ll just list a few from an excerpt from my book.   

“When the Peerless Quartet wrote “Way Down On Tampa Bay” in 1914, Tampa Bay’s musical roots started growing. Tampa Bay is where Ray Charles created his first song, Hank Ballard wrote and recorded “The Twist,” and the Rolling Stones cranked out their hit “Satisfaction.” Stephen Stills attended both Plant High School and Admiral Farragut Academy, and Jim Morrison studied at St. Petersburg Junior College. Ella Fitzgerald kicked off her career on the storied Central Avenue in Ybor City. Savatage, Stranger, Diamond Grey, the Outlaws, Bleeding Hearts, Blackkout, the Arena Twins, Tampa Red, and The Tropics are all artists who have made a huge impact both locally and nationally. From its rock ‘n’ roll boom in the 1960s, Tampa Bay has had a rich musical history!”

What were the reasons that the 1960s to be the center of music researches? What has touched you from the 1960s?

Before I was ten, my older sister started buying Elvis records. She played them over and over and sung them around the house so much that I ended up memorizing a lot of the songs! Now, in later life, some of the tunes still run through my head!  I sold newspapers at age eleven in 1961, and came back to the base commissary to wait for my ride. While waiting, I spent most of the money I made selling papers on the juke box there! All of the good ones like Perry Como, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, The Lennon Sisters and anything you can think of from the late 1950s & early ’60s was on that box including Little Richard! After hearing The Beatles for the first time on the radio in 1963, I myself caught the spark of music right here in Tampa and just had to start my first band! Then all of the British Invasion music groups took us all in a new direction. Not to say that most of the Mo-town music  in the ‘60s wasn’t  just as prevalent or even more so for most of us! The Tropics did mostly R&B in ’64 with a horn section and then added a James Brown Show to our act a year later without the horns! There was no question that J.B. was the top R&B entertainer of those times!  And what a band he had! What I loved about ‘60s music is that it was innocent and fresh and came from the soul! Each time something new came out, it generated so much excitement! Not so much anymore, at least for me these days.                                   (Charlie Souza / Photo by Heidi J Sardell)

"In 1963, I lived on base at MacDill Field Air Force Base in South Tampa. My best friend Tim and I heard The BEATLES for the first time on the radio! The song "I Want To Hold Your Hand". I knew right then where my life was headed! The music came alive in my first musical adventure. The Tropics were Florida’s best illustration of the beach garage pop music scene in the late ‘60s."

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

In the beginning of my career, my band, The Tropics opened for many of the top acts in the ‘60s. One of the most memorable concerts is when we opened for The Young Rascals! They watched us perform from behind the stage and I got to to briefly know the band members. My favorite was their drummer Dino Danelli, one of the best drummers in that era of music! Fast forward 50 years, and I’m in the band with Dino! The New Rascals toured for about 5 years from 2006 till 2011. Playing Rascals music with Dino was one of the most important experience in my career!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I’ve learned that the hardest thing to do when you’re an artist/musician/writer, is to get outside of yourself and listen to others to help understand what makes the music work and flow even better. Some of us haven’t been able to do that since our own level of talent keeps us self -involved. Although, you have to be self-confident enough depending on your level of talent, to carry on in your own path and naturally place yourself above others to sell yourself and your music.

You has written your autobiography "Live Your Dream", where would you want to go back again in your career with a time machine?

I would jet right back to 1975 to try and get it right! I was too tied up in myself to listen and learn and give the musicians I had the honor to be with, my complete and undivided attention.  I’m referring to the time when I was asked to join Mudcrutch. We recorded a lot of great songs written by Tom and I still pushed my own silly little songs, which eventually put an end to my career with Mr. Petty.  God bless him and may he rest in peace! That’s just one of the time machine travels I wish I could take. There are many others.

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