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Richard Caiton's Comeback

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Richard Caiton was, until recently, little more than a name on a handful of obscure 45 rpm records released on small local labels that no longer exist. Fervent rhythm and blues aficionados, music scholars and record collectors -- even in his own hometown -- are largely oblivious to his music and recording career. Even few New Orleans musicians from his era recall Caiton's name.

However, in Europe and Japan, Caiton's emotive, soulful recordings have become revered and are highly sought after. In overseas R&B/soul record collecting circles, copies of his original New Orleans singles have changed hands for in excess of $1,000. These singles, and many unreleased tracks, have been recently assembled on Reflections, a 20-track collection released on the English Grapevine label.

"Well, I consciously tried to sound like I wasn't from New Orleans -- and I rarely gigged," the 59-year-old Caiton, now a Jefferson Parish School Board administrator, says of his relative anonymity in New Orleans. "Back then, I was trying to graduate college, raise a family and get established as an educator. Music was just really a pleasurable sideline."

Caiton was born on Dec. 26, 1944, and grew up near the St. Bernard housing project. While he attended Clark High School, he taught himself to play piano and sang in the church choir. "We could barely afford records (when I was growing up), but I listened to the radio a lot," Caiton recalls. "I especially liked the Motown sound and Curtis Mayfield. Smokey Johnson lived across the street, and he was an influence. "I remember when he was putting together 'It Ain't My Fault.'

"I won my first talent show at Clark singing a song I wrote," Caiton continues. "Even then, I consciously wanted to do my own individual thing and not copy anybody else. That might have hurt me in the long run, but I was convinced that was the way to go."

Caiton's recording debut, the somewhat staid "You Look Like a Flower" with the B-side "Listen to the Drums," was produced by Dave Bartholomew and released on the Los Angeles-based GNP Crescendo label in 1964. "A cousin of mine knew Dave," Caiton says. "He brought me to his office and he was interested in recording me. The record got a few plays around here, but it really didn't do much."

Though the debut stalled, it led to an opportunity with an upstart local label, Up Tight, in 1966. His release through that label, "Without Your Love," received radio play on WYLD and WBOK. He made an appearance on Eddie Williams' Three Way TV show (New Orleans' first dance-music show for African Americans) on WGNO Channel 26, but few gigs came Caiton's way. He followed that with the racially conscious "Take a Hold Brother and Sister" in 1968, and the song sold nearly 30,000 copies in the New Orleans area.

Caiton recalls a Chicago label was interested in distributing the song nationally, but nothing happened. A third Up Tight single, "Reflections," was released, but it stalled and the label folded. Then, into the picture came Elijah Walker, a no-nonsense longshoreman-turned-music promoter who helped launch the careers of locals King Floyd and Jean Knight via Malaco Records in Jackson, Miss. Despite recording "I'm Gonna Love You More," featuring Wardell Quezergue's arrangements, Caiton didn't go much further.

Caiton concentrated on teaching by day, but kept writing at home, including a tune with Joe Broussard, "Send Me Back," which the Pointer Sisters recorded at Allen Toussaint's SeaSaint Studio in 1975. Toussaint offered Caiton a staff position as a songwriter, but Caiton turned him down.

More efforts kept coming -- an homage to his wife called "I Wonder Will You Always Love Me," another collaboration with Quezergue, "Where Is the Love," yet another Malaco session -- none of which provided any career spark.

Caiton never stopped thinking about or writing and recording his music, but it eventually became just a pleasant memory of his youth. That was until a couple years ago.

"I got a telephone call from Europe out of the blue, and a guy interviewed me on the air," he says. "Then he wrote a story about me in a music magazine. Then, I found out about how much they're selling my records for over there -- and I don't have any of them! Still, it's a good feeling that all my efforts back then were not in vain. People are realizing now I was a decent artist."

The ground work for the Reflections CD began in 2002 when Grapevine's Gary Cape contacted Caiton during a New Orleans record-buying trip. "He told me, 'Richard, you don't realize how popular your songs are over in Europe?' He wanted to put a CD out with my material on it. He had most of my records, and licensed the unreleased stuff I did for Malaco. I never did music for money; it's always been for love.

"I'm humbled by what's happening, and I really appreciate that folks finally appreciate what I've done."

"I never did music for money," says New Orleans - soul singer Richard Caiton, whose '60s and '70s - recordings have caught fire overseas in the - compilation Reflections. "It's always been for love."
  • "I never did music for money," says New Orleans soul singer Richard Caiton, whose '60s and '70s recordings have caught fire overseas in the compilation Reflections. "It's always been for love."

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