For many years, Caleb Quaye has been a much in-demand studio session musician, working with Dusty Springfield, Harry Nilsson, and Joan Baez, among others. But exactly who is the man Eric Clapton once told David Letterman was the worlds greatest guitar player?
Caleb came from a musical family. His father was Cab Kaye, a well-known jazz musician in London, himself the son of pianist Caleb Jonas Quaye aka Mope Desmond. Many may know his younger step-brother, Finlay Quaye, who had a platinum album Maverick A Strike in 1997.
In 1965, Caleb worked at Mills Music, a publisher in Londons Tin Pan Alley. A fellow tea boy working there was named Reg Dwight, a polite, shy and stodgy boy Caleb teasingly called Billy Bunter.
Meanwhile, Dick James, who had been chosen by Brian Epstein to publish the Beatles music, was looking to start his own record label. Dick and his son Stephen brought in Caleb to run the little recording studio they set up in order to create demos of songs they hoped to record and/or publish.
Meanwhile, Reg had been playing in a band called Bluesology and in 1967 decided that playing in a band was a dead end job — better he thought to be a songwriter, but he needed a lyricist and soon was connected to a young 17-year-old farmers son, Bernard Taupin, who hailed from Lincolnshire. They began writing music long distance (e.g., Bernie would mail lyrics, Reg would put them to music), and they had a need to create demo recordings of the new songs.
Quaye let Reg and some band members record demos in Dicks studio until Stephen discovered that the studio was being surreptitiously… he threatened to see Caleb and others fired over it, but it was Caleb who convinced Dick to take a listen to Regs demos. Dick was impressed and immediately signed Reggie and Bernie to a publishing deal.
Eventually Reg and Bernie realised that they were better suited to writing the kind of tunes they wanted to rather than trying to create cabaret music for Engelbert Humperdinck and others. When few artists were covering their songs, Dwight decided that he would have to promote his music himself. The idea was planted that he would become a star and so he needed a new name. Borrowing from his Bluesology sax player Elton Dean and the singer they fronted Long John Baldry, Reg became known as ‘Elton John.’
Soon, singles were released and a debut album in 1969 which sold about 1,600 copies. Dick doubled down and decided to bring in Gus Dudgeon, who had produced David Bowie, and arranger Paul Buckmaster to create an orchestral Elton John album. A trip to Los Angeles and dates at the Troubadour sealed the deal — Elton became an overnight sensation. Another couple of albums Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across The Water along with a film score Friends all featured Quaye on guitar.
When Elton left for a tour of America, he didnt initially take a guitar player, and when it came time to pick a guitarist for his band, Elton chose the talented young folk player Davey Johnstone. And soon the touring band became the recording band. So Caleb became a sought-after studio musician and performed with his band, Hookfoot (seen above this article), through 1974. Then, of all surprises, Elton called in 1975 wanting to make changes to his touring band and as a result, Caleb suddenly found himself performing Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy in its entirety at Wembley Stadium in front of 80,000 people. A few months later he was playing Dodger Stadium.
The following year in 1976 there was another tour and another album to record and then… suddenly at the end of the tour it was over. Elton wanted to take some time off. Everyone was thanked for their service but now they were free to pursue other projects. Fortunately for Caleb, he was snapped up instantly by Hall & Oates and during 1977 and 1978 he and his Hookfoot drummer, Roger Pope, toured and worked on the 1978 album Along the Red Ledge.
And then the two tea boys from Tin Pan Alley went their separate ways. On October 9, 1979, Calebs life changed in a most profound way. He heard a voice that “was louder than rock n’ roll.” For the past 33 years, the musician has been active in Southern California churches offering up a music ministry that has been helpful to many people. Additionally, he’s been performing in Southern California with his fusion jazz band The Faculty.
Now, after a long absence from the public eye, his friends are producing a fine documentary about this accomplished and historical musician. Take a look at this teaser to get an idea of what’s in store for the documentary:
If you would like to play a part in the making of this documentary, you are invited to view the following clip as well: