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Barnaby Bye - 2008 Interview


Dec 2008 interview with Bobby and Billy Alessi, Peppy Castro and Mike Ricciardella.
Written by: Eric Abrahamsen

It seems these days nearly every band worth their salt at one time or another are attempting a reunion of some form. I usually don't get too excited about such things since there are very few artists or groups I really want to hear from again and with the passage of time most of these attempts at a 'comeback' are not worth the effort. Enter Barnaby Bye, a New York based band who released two wonderful albums of Beatles-like pop in the early 70's. Am I excited about this? You bet! Barnaby Bye featured Billy and Bobby Alessi, Peppy Castro and Mike Ricciardella - names that should be familiar with Glory Daze readers through the various AOR projects they would be involved with throughout the 70's and 80's. On a whim, I contacted Bobby Alessi and in turn got an interview with all four members of Barnaby Bye giving us some background on their past and plans for the future.

GD: Barnaby Bye - both albums remind me quite a lot of Paul McCartney's work with Wings, but they have a certain charm all their own. How did they sell?
Bobby: The first Barnaby Bye album 'Room To Grow' only sold 20,000 copies after its release but has become a classic and continues to sell to collectors and fans today. 'Touch' initially sold about 40,000 but just before the band split up, 'Can't Live This Way' was moving up a brand new chart in Billboard, it was called 'Disco'. Jerry Greenberg asked us the do the next Bye album but by then it was too late. We all had plans do our own thing.

GD: Did you get enough label support from Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic?
Bobby: Probably not, but only because Atlantic records was in the middle of transition merging with Warner Communications. When we were signed to Atlantic they were still on 60th. Street with the executive offices down the hall from their recording studios. When we recorded 'Room to Grow' in the Atlantic Studios it was more like a family operation, at the same time we were recording, Hall & Oates were recording 'Abandoned Luncheonette', Donny Hathaway was recording 'Evolution Of Man' and Bette Midler was recording 'The Divine Miss M'. Arif Mardin would say 'check out this mix'. Gene Paul was engineering our record and once in a while his dad, Les Paul would drop by. We'd call Ahmet, who was down the hall, in to listen to our progress. It was such a cool vibe, the year we recorded that record, over 900 cheese burgers were ordered from our studio. I think that's a record. Then the merge came and the offices moved to Rockefeller Plaza, I think that hurt us.

Peppy: Things happened so fast for us that some things fell between the cracks. We wanted Ahmet's involvement all the way down the line but this was not a realistic possibility because he was so powerful and had so many responsibilities to his breadwinners like Led Zeppelin and Bette Midler. We got lost in the sauce.

GD: How did Ahmet work as a producer?
Peppy: Ahmet loved us. However, this again was a mistake in hindsight because his time was spread very thin. He was all over the world and we we're left alone with a lot of the time to produce ourselves. We were all good friends because of our stint in the musical 'Hair' but as Barnaby Bye we really didn't know what we were all about yet.

Bobby: Ahmet loved our music but he couldn't give us the time needed to really produce, he'd drop in to listen and maybe comment in between meetings. We were offered Arif Mardin and in hindsight; we realize that we should have had him produce the record

.GD: Was it the labels Idea for the colourful costumes on the first record?
Bobby: No that was our idea, coming out of the Broadway cast of 'Hair' we were very theatrical and came up with concept. We went to Brooks Van Horn who has a huge inventory of costumes for the theater, movies and TV. We went and each picked out the biggest suits we could find, thus the title 'Room to Grow'. When we went on the road and met journalists, a lot of them would say 'You guys look much heavier on your album cover'.

Peppy: This was my doing. Because we were discovered by Ahmet on the very first show we ever did, I thought it would be fun if we got dressed up in Fat man Vaudeville suits that were way too big to symbolize growing into being Barnaby Bye. Thus the Title 'Room To Grow'! Even that backfired on me because I was sitting up front in the photo and most people who saw the cover thought I was 300 pounds. I was all of 148lbs. at the time Lol!

GD: Barnaby Bye were a live fixture in the New York tri-state area and shared a Stage with people like Brian Auger, Barry Manilow, Dave Mason and others, but did the group venture out beyond New York?
Bobby: We never got to do a national tour but we did perform sold out shows about 4 nights a week for years, maybe that's why we never really got out of the tri-state area.

Peppy: We did open for Earth Wind And Fire and did tour a bit but nothing extensive.

GD: The band split after two records. Was this something you guys had thought about for a while?
Billy: It's a bitter sweet story. As the group approached the end of their second year, there was a large retainer due to us from Atlantic Records; we hadn't really achieved the numbers. They called our manager, (Peppy's room mate) and said they wouldn't be picking up our option. Meanwhile the second single was starting to take off on the Billboard charts. Peppy announced that he was going on his own with a new management. Mike had numerous offers to write drum books and produce records for Tommy Mottola and Bobby and I were quickly approached by a manager Steve Borkum who flew us out to A&M records in LA where they wined and dined us. We had a brand new record contract for the Alessi Brothers. By the time we got back to New York we had learned that Atlantic were ready to pick up our option, even though it had already lapsed. Unfortunately or not, Bobby and I honored the deal we made with A&M and that was the end of that part of our career but the beginning of another.

Mike: Back in the day I don't think we realized how close we were to breaking out and writing some great hit songs. Atlantic Records believed in us and would have given us another album, but like many young groups we all had different ideas which lead us in different directions. Myself with Wiggy Bits, Network and Aviator and now we've come full circle and the band I love best, Barnaby Bye, is back playing again and I couldn't be happier.

GD: Looking back what are your thoughts on the Barnaby Bye albums artistically?
Peppy: 'Room to Grow' was a real learning curve for us as we were only starting to scratch the surface. 'Touch' on the other hand was more evolved because we went in the studio with a reputable producer - Jack Richardson and you can hear the progression. All in all we loved being Barnaby Bye which is why we're back together again. It's unfinished business of the heart for us!

GD: The first two Alessi albums are classic examples of 70's American, yet despite selling millions of records you guys never scored a top ten hit single. Looking back do you think the record company support was a problem or were there other reasons?
Bobby: I wish I knew the answer to that one. Our manager, Steve Borkum once told me that he thought A&M Records waited to long to release 'Oh Lori' in the States after it had already become a big hit all over the world. The song was considered a 'summer' song but was released in the states in the fall. It did climb the charts but didn't do nearly as well in the rest of the world.

GD: The Andy Gibb/Alessi tour. A perfect match looking back, what was it like to work with Gibb?
Bobby: That was by far one of the highlights of our careers as far as touring went. It was a 50 city tour that played state fair stadiums, large theaters 5,000 seats or more, we performed at 'Chicagofest' for over 40,000 people. Billy and I, being big Bee Gees fans of course met them all and got to be good friends with Andy. He was also a fan of his brothers and would play Billy and I rough mixes of the next Bee Gees album. I remember standing in the kitchen listening to 'Tragedy' on Andy's boom box for the first time. The Tour had 2 complete set ups with 3 tractor trailers each. They were traveling in leap frog formation. We traveled by air so while we were doing a show in one city, the other road team would be traveling to the next city.

GD: The number of artists you guys have worked is impressive including John Lennon and his 'Milk & Honey' album.
Bobby: We were asked to do some background vocals by Phil Ramone, who we were doing the soundtrack to 'Ghost Busters' with at the time. We started doing vocals with just Phil, then Yoko and John would come in and change everything. John was definitely letting Yoko choose the direction as she had us making animal sounds and tree sounds. It was a real honor being involved in their record.

GD: 'Long Time Friends' was your last major label album. What was it like working with Christopher Cross in the studio?
Bobby: Working with Christopher Cross was like working with your best friend. He's the sweetest guy in the world and obviously an amazing talent. He's a great producer, very focused. I've heard him say that as he looks back, he feels he might have overproduced our songs a bit. At the time he was sure we were going to have a huge record. We were also working with Quincy Jones on that record which was also an amazing experience. Quincy offered Billy and me a writing deal to stay in LA and write music for his production company, we turned it down because at that time we were thriving in the jingle business in New York, earning five times what Quincy offered us. The years went by as we enjoyed enormous success in the advertising business.

GD: Looking back at your commercial work, which jingle will most people recognize and which are you most proud of? Do you find it easier or prefer working for a client and everything that goes with that rather than dealing with the pressure of a record company?
Bobby: Between Billy and I we have done ads for every car, soda, fast food chain, deodorants, cold medicine, candy bars etc, the list goes on and on. We have received awards for many of them. Some of the favourites were:

Diet Coke 'Just For the Taste of It'
Sears 'Have We Got Something To Show You'
Lifesavers 'Ta La La La' with Ladysmith Black Mondozza
Greyhound 'I Go Easy' with BB King
Coke with Elton John, Whitney Houston and many other celebrities.
Twix 'It's In the Mix'
J C Penny 'I Love the Way You Make Me Smile'
Kohl's 'That's more like it'

I'm probably leaving out some of the biggest or most played like 'Thank Goodness for Chef Boy R Dee' or Mount Airy Lodge which was on the air for over 20 years. We have worked on thousands of commercials and still write for advertising agencies but now we choose the ones we are willing to work on.

GD: Now we have Alessi's most recent 'Just Like That' and a brand new Barnaby Bye release. Let's start with Alessi - why the new album now?
Bobby: 'Just Like That' is the last Alessi release which was very well received in Europe and the title cut is still on the RTL play list for over a year. Billy and I are currently completing a new CD to be released in April '09. The third Barnaby Bye CD was as Peppy puts it 'unfinished business' We all remained close friends over the years, Billy and I invited Peppy and Mike up to do a song with us at an Alessi show in 2004. We all loved being on stage together again and decided to do a reunion show, during rehearsals we couldn't help but start to write songs together, it was like deja vu. We felt that the third Bye album had to be done.

GD: Peppy?
Peppy: Billy and Bobby were doing an Alessi show at a club called The Downtown in Long Island. They invited me out to come up and join them. Mike showed up as well and it was a magical night with lots of Alessi and Barnaby Bye fans. We were all taken back by the attention we got and it was obvious that we had to get back and enjoy each other again. After so much time and parallel careers, we picked right up where we left off and it's been nothing but a rewarding experience ever since.

GD: You guys toured with Orleans in Holland and we recently interviewed Larry Hoppen here at GD. How did these gigs go over and can you explain your popularity in places like The Netherlands and Japan?
Peppy: Thankfully Barnaby Bye was able to piggyback off of the already Alessi Brothers notoriety in those countries and introduce Barnaby Bye to their audience. The gigs were great and we were very well received. We couldn't ask for more! The long-time friends and new fans have been ecstatic. We've been selling the new CD 'Thrice Upon A Time' online through iTunes and other media outlets. We've been having great sold out shows and the audience seems to be feeding off of our own excitement with each other.

GD: What's next for Alessi and Barnaby Bye?
Peppy: Alessi will do a new CD called 'Pure Alessi' and Barnaby Bye will backup and support Billy and Bobby on their upcoming tour in the UK and Holland. Barnaby Bye will also continue to play out and record as well. It should be noted that I have reunited The Blues Magoos in the studio of which I was an original member. We were a top ten recording act in the late sixties and also there's a new Balance record being released on Frontiers Records. I formed Balance in 1980 and also had a top twenty record in the States. Mike is writing yet another drum book and Barnaby Bye continues to perform and enjoy touring.

Bobby: We are finishing another CD to be released in the spring of '09 which will coincide with a tour in Europe, this time Denmark, Germany, Belgium and Holland of course. The four of us feel like 15 year olds when we are on the road together as you can see from our You Tube videos.

GD: Any final comments?
Bobby: I would like to thank Glory Daze for giving us the opportunity to connect with our fans around the world. We value our fans because without them we'd be a long lost memory. It is our fans who brought us back and we're enjoying every minute of it.

Peppy: The joy of doing something you love more than anything and having lost sight of that for so many years has now turned into poetic justice with our reuniting. Barnaby Bye is more than a band. We are as close a family as you'll find. Money can't buy you love. The love we share for each other is obvious by all who come in contact with us. Thanks so much for your interest. It validates our own love for Barnaby Bye.

Mike: 'If we could do it one more time' - that's what I hear from so many of the guys I've played with over the years. I feel so blessed that after all this time we can still play our music on our terms. I smile every time I walk on that stage knowing how lucky I am and how great life is still doing the thing you've always loved the most - playing music. Who could ask for more?

Billy: I am also grateful that we have the chance to live those days of being in our rock band. Mike and Peppy were our band members when we were very young and we had a very nice following and every place we played would be packed. We didn't really try very hard to be the best band out there but we did always enjoy playing our music and I guess that is a key ingredient. Now we have grown children and I don't have to tell you, that we are not the young rockers we were back in those days. But the closest thing to going back in time is what has been happening with Barnaby Bye these days. Sometimes when we are playing on stage it almost feels like I've gone back and I'm that 20 year old singing my heart out and harmonizing with my band mates. Time moves on but some things will never change and that's looking over the stage to Bobby Peppy and Mike and feeling our music. For that brings out the children in us all, like when you hear a song that takes you back to a feeling you had all those years before and for that I am thankful.

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