CULT CLASSIC: DAVID KAUFFMAN AND ERIC CABOOR-GREETINGS FROM SUICIDE BRIDGE.
Cult Classic: David Kauffman and Eric Caboor-Greetings From Suicide Bridge.
Often when recording an album, an artist thinks about an album cover only once they’ve finished recording. Not David Kauffman and Eric Caboor. They put the cart before the horse, in the spring of 1983, and came up with an album cover before they had even recorded their debut album.
The photo shoot for the album cover took place in the spring of 1982. David Kauffman remembered the perfect place for the photo shoot, Colorado Street Bridge, which connects Pasadena to the northeast tip of Los Angeles. It wasn’t the spectacular architecture that made David Kauffman remember Colorado Street Bridge. Far from it.
Instead, it was that every time he crossed the Colorado Street Bridge as an eight year old, it sent shivers down his spine. That’s not surprising, given its history.
Fast forward to the spring of 1983, and the Colorado Street Bridge still had a bad reputation. That had been the case since it opened in 1913. For the last seventy years, over one hundred people had killed themselves by jumping off Colorado Street Bridge. Unsurprisingly, locals took to referring to Colorado Street Bridge as Suicide Bridge. That’s where David and Eric decided to shoot the photo for their debut album.
Early one spring morning in 1983, David and Eric made their way to Suicide Bridge. Accompanying them was a photographer. They found Suicide Bridge eerily deserted. There was not a car in sight. At first, they thought the bridge was abandoned. This set their imagination running. So, they decided not to hang about. They would have their photos taken, and beat a hasty retreat. Various photos of David and Eric walking across Suicide Bridge clutching their guitar cases were taken. After that, they headed home. Only at a later date did they discover Suicide Bridge was closed for repairs.
By then, Eric Caboor had hit on a title for the album they still to record. He phoned David Kauffman with the suggestion that their debut album be called Greetings From Suicide Bridge. Nervously, they laughed at the irony of the title.
When David Kauffman and Eric Caboor released their debut album on their own label, Donkey Soul Music, in 1984, the title of the album was indeed, Greetings From Suicide Bridge. On its release, it was as if the curse of Suicide Bridge had struck again and the album sunk without trace. So did three years of hopes and dreams.
It was the autumn of 1981, that David Kauffman and Eric Caboor first met. David arrived at The Basement club, which was situated in the basement of the Echo Park United Methodist Church. It was one of the last folk venues in Los Angeles. Singers on their way up, those on the way down and those hoping for a break made their way to The Basement. They played in front of folk fans and those sheltering from the realities of life. While it wasn’t a glamorous venue, it was full of likeminded music lovers. This included Eric Caboor.
Occasionally Eric accompanied his friend on guitar. That suited him fine as he didn’t have the confidence to take centrestage and was happy to stay in the background. That wasn’t the case with another singer he met one night, David Kauffman.
Just like Eric, David was also an aspiring singer-songwriter. Aspiring was the word. Try as he may, he couldn’t get a break. So, David was waiting tables. He didn’t enjoy this, but the money was good and he only had to work twenty-five hours. The rest of the time, he could spend writing songs and chasing the dream. This included turning up at The Basement one night.
With so many people wanting to play at The Basement, time was limited. Singers were only allowed three songs. Then their time was up. So when David’s time came, he didn’t bother with the banter other singers indulged in. Instead, he launched into his three songs. Literally, David poured out his soul during the three songs. The audience were captivated. Especially, Eric Caboor.
When David had packed up his guitar, he was all set to head home. Eric decided to introduce himself. Having complimented David on his performance, Eric said he would like to hear more of his music. This was the start of a firm friendship.
Straight away, David and Eric began to spend a lot of time together. The two aspiring singer-songwriters had a lot in common. They both wanted to make a career out of music.
That was why David moved to L.A. David’s dream hadn’t turned out the way he had hoped, and he was waiting tables. Eric’s luck was out too. He was still living in his parent’s home. Deep down, he wanted to make a living out of music. Eric however, was reluctant to follow his dreams. As they sympathised with each other’s plight David and Eric hatched a plan to record an album together.
That’s how, in the spring of 1983, David and Eric found themselves on Suicide Bridge. With their album cover shot, all they needed was to write and record their debut album. It didn’t even have a title. That was until David suggested the title Greetings From Suicide Bridge. Not only did they have a title, but inspiration as to what the music
After their visit Suicide Bridge the photographs that had been shot were received by David and Eric. As they looked at the shots, they gave them an idea as to how Greetings From Suicide Bridge should sound.
For Greetings From Suicide Bridge, David and Eric originally had written and recorded thirteen songs. What they had forgotten, was the time restrictions of an LP. So, Greetings From Suicide Bridge went from a thirteen song album, to one featuring just ten. They were penned by David and Eric.
Of the ten songs that made it only Greetings From Suicide Bridge, David contributed Kiss Another Day Goodbye, Life Without Love, Life and Times On The Beach, Where’s The Misunderstanding? and Tinsel Town. David also penned the lyrics to Midnight Willie, while Eric wrote the music. Eric’s other contributions were Neighbourhood Blues, Angel Of Mercy, Backwoods and One More Day (You’ll Fly Again). These ten tracks, which became Greetings From Suicide Bridge, were recorded between June and October of 1983.
As recording of Greetings From Suicide Bridge began, it wasn’t in one of L.A.’s recording studios. Instead, David and Eric recorded their debut album after they had finished work. Eric played acoustic, electric, slide and steel guitars, plus dulcimer, mandolin and vocals. David played bass, piano, acoustic and electric guitar. This complicated matters.
For their recording sessions, David and Eric only had a four-track portastudio. Eric had bought it in a music store in Van Nuys. It used just blank cassettes. However, given the wide variety of instruments the pair were using, they didn’t have enough channels.
This wasn’t going to stop David and Eric. Necessity was indeed, the mother of invention. The pair were forced to improvise, so that they could layer instruments. It was a complicated and time consuming process, but one that seemed to have worked. However, there was a problem.
When David and Eric took their cassettes to be professionally transferred onto reel-to-reel tapes, Norm Stepanski of Hillside Recordings, Encino thought that the tapes were so badly damaged that Greetings From Suicide Bridge would have to be rerecorded. David and Eric’s hearts sank. However, Norm promised to work out a way to save the project.
As David and Eric left Hillside Recordings, it was with a heavy heart. Four months’ work was at stake. It could all be for nothing. If they had to start again, they might never replicate the same sound. Especially, the way they layer had been done. They needed Norm to save the day.
And save the day he did. Somehow, Norm worked out a way to save the tapes. The thirteen tracks were transferred across. Norm had saved the day. David and Eric enjoyed the journey to Hillside Recordings, where Norm told them that if they “doing this again, ring me first.” That was the future, now David and Eric had a record to release.
It was then that they realised that the thirteen songs they had originally recorded wouldn’t fit on Greetings From Suicide Bridge. So, thirteen songs became ten. Even then, David and Eric were pushing their luck. They managed to utilise ninety-nine percent of the vinyl. With the ten songs chosen, now came the process of sequencing Greetings From Suicide Bridge. With that done, David and Eric played their forthcoming album for the first time.
The person chosen to appraise Greetings From Suicide Bridge was David’s girlfriend. Her reaction was that the album was that they had taken “their most depressing songs, and put them on one record…isn’t that a bit much?” This made David and Eric think. So, they switched the closing track. One More Day (You’ll Fly Again) closes Greetings From Suicide Bridge which was recorded in January 1984, and is the perfect counterpoint to the album opener Kiss Another Day Goodbye. With this new track listing, the record was ready to be pressed.
To press Greetings From Suicide Bridge Quiex, a company who specialised in short runs of vinyl were chosen. Partly, this was because of the sound quality they promised. There would be no erroneous clicks or crackles during Greetings From Suicide Bridge’s quiet parts. This was perfect for an album like Greetings From Suicide Bridge, which has a number of quiet parts. If the sound quality complimented the music, so did Greetings From Suicide Bridge’s album cover.
On the front cover of Greetings From Suicide Bridge, David and Eric decided that the picture should be underexposed. The back cover however, was overexposed. This results in an atmospheric, poignant, and in the case of back cover, eerie scene. It was bound to catch the eye of record buyers.
David and Eric only had enough money to print 500 copies of Greetings From Suicide Bridge. This they hoped would be the first of many pressings. With the 500 copies, David and Eric took turns at writing the album title. This took time, but the end was in sight. All that was left was to send out promos and sell the rest of the copies of Greetings From Suicide Bridge.
A total of 150 promo copies of Greetings From Suicide Bridge were sent out to college and independent radio stations. David and Eric were hoping this would garner some radio play. This wasn’t the case. The 150 promo copies of Greetings From Suicide Bridge failed to illicit any interest. Record sales weren’t doing any better.
A few copies were sold at local record shops. Then when David and Eric played at The Basement, they managed to sell some copies of Greetings From Suicide Bridge. There were even a few copies sold via mail order. Apart from these few sales, Greetings From Suicide Bridge passed most people buy. That was apart from a couple of DJs in the unlikeliest of locations.
Neither David nor Eric thought to send copies of Greetings From Suicide Bridge to DJs in Halifax, Novia Scotia, or Sitka, Alaska. However, somehow, these two DJs heard about Greetings From Suicide Bridge and requested promo copies. It seemed that an album written and recorded in L.A. had struck a nerve much further afield. That’s still the case today.
Recently, there has been a resurgence in interest in David Kauffman and Eric Caboor’s debut album Greetings From Suicide Bridge is a cult classic. No wonder given the quality of songs on the album.
Kiss Another Day Goodbye opens Greetings From Suicide Bridge. Just an understated acoustic guitar plays in the distance. Gradually, it moves to the front of the mix, and in the process, usher’s the vocal in. It’s despairing, and full of sadness at the breakup of his relationship. This heartache is apparent when he sings: “and I don’t know, how much longer I can feel the way I feel, and never cry.” Washes of guitar shimmer, complimenting the soul-baring vocal, on what’s a heartachingly beautiful song.
Neighbourhood Blues is quite different from the opening track. Elements of blues and folk combine during the track. That’s the case lyrically. Eric seems to draw inspiration from both vintage blues and the Laurel Canyon sound. As he picks his guitar, he delivers a reflective vocal. He can’t relate to his family, and his friend has moved to the suburbs. However, he needs to tell someone how he feels. His only option is to write to a stranger: “some lonesome loser, who’ll hear what I’ve got to say.”
Straight away, Life Without Love sounds as of it belongs on an early Sting solo album. Again, an underrated arrangement accompanies a reflective vocal. Guitars combine with a subtle bass. They frame the vocal. Again, it’s full of despair. Then midway, through the track, a curveball is thrown. A dramatic flourish sees the guitar played with a degree of urgency, while the vocal grows in power. It veers between a scat to a despairing vocal. The cause of this despair, is the thought of Life Without Love.
Just acoustic guitars open Angel of Mercy. They set the scene for the vocal. From the opening line, “oh I should have seen it coming,” the vocal is rueful and reflective. Folk rock and country are combined on this cinematic track. It’s a song about someone whose lost their way; and spends their time drinking and making the same mistakes. Then when the vocal drops out, some of the best guitar playing can be heard. It’s neither flashy, nor overcomplicated. It is the perfect replacement for the rueful vocal. Once the vocal returns, the scene is set for the finale, and the poignant closing lines: “and I’ve never learned to pray, until today.”
Stabs of piano open Life and Times on the Beach. It sounds as if it’s a homage to Neil Young, who in 1975, recorded his On The Beach album. However, again, the vocal sounds like Sting. It’s delivered against the piano and occasional, but subtle bursts of guitar. They provide the backdrop to a vocal that’s remembering a life that’s drawing to a close. The sands of time are slowly slipping away. Then after 2.22 a mandolin proves a game changer as it injects a sense of urgency. It’s as if the realisation that time is quickly running out. As the vocal drops out, there’s a brief Celtic influence. With just over a minute to go, the arrangement becomes slow, understated and thoughtful. There’s also a beauty to this soul searching song.
Backwoods is an eight minute epic where David and Eric combine folk and country. Just like previous tracks, the folk-tinged arrangement has an understated sound. Just a guitar accompanies the vocal, before David and Eric harmonise. Then when the vocal drops out, the guitars add an element of drama. This isn’t new. It’s been used before on Greetings From Suicide Bridge, and has proved effective. That’s the case here, on this tale of a guy who came from the country seeking riches. These riches have eluded him, but still the city: “won’t let me go.” It’s a poignant and cinematic song, that many people will be able to relate to.
From the opening bars, Midnight Willie has a wistful sound. David’s lived-in vocal is perfect for the lyrics, and brings them to life. With guitars for company, the pictures of a drifter and musician, jumping trains and moving from town to town. One wonders if it was based on Mark Phillips, who organised The Basement club, where David and Eric met? He too, was a one time drifter who had dreams of making it as a musician. Who knows, maybe this is David and Eric’s homage to him? If it is, they’ve done him proud, given Midnight Willie is one of Greetings From Suicide Bridge’s best tracks.
Folk, blues and country combine on Where’s the Understanding? It’s a two minute track with a slightly experimental sounding arrangement. A blistering guitar cuts through the arrangement. Meanwhile, an urgent acoustic guitar and vocal combine. It’s as if David is tormented by the “pain that has filled me…and has drilled me.” This makes Where’s The Understanding? a powerful track.
Tinsel Town is a song about L.A. at Christmas. It’s not a song with a happy ending. Instead, it’s about broken promises and broken dreams. 3,000 miles from whatever went before and going down. Christmas in the Southland, lonely to the bone.” Desperation is omnipresent. “I’ve tried to do my best, and tried to live with nothing less, all it’s getting me is deeper in this mess.” With just washes of quivering guitar, a soul-baring Neil Young inspired vocal oozes despair.
One More Day (You’ll Fly Again) was recorded in January 1984, and replaced one of the original tracks on Greetings From Suicide Bridge. A twenty-seven second meandering acoustic guitar sets the scene for the vocal. It’s reminiscent of James Taylor, as David sings of a musician going from town to town, always hoping that the good times will return. This ensures that Greetings From Suicide Bridge ends on a positive sounding high.
Thirty-six years ago, David Kauffman and Eric Caboor released Greetings From Suicide Bridge and only a few of the 500 copies sold. They sent more promo copies out than they sold. Some of the promos found their way into record shop bargain bins. That’s where the lucky ones found this cult classic.
Greetings From Suicide Bridge was neither a success nor appreciated upon its release. That isn’t unusual as all too often, good music fails to find an audience first time around. It’s only at later date that their music finds the audience it deserves. That was the case with Greetings From Suicide Bridge.
The album find David and Eric creating music that is understated, rueful, wistful, melancholy, despairing, poignant, hopeful and beautiful. Other times, the music on Greetings From Suicide Bridge is also stark and personal. Sometimes, the music is cathartic, when David or Eric unleash their hurt and heartbreak. When this is the case, Greetings From Suicide Bridge becomes like a confessional. Always though, the music on Greetings From Suicide Bridge is captivating. Not once does the listener one think about missing a track. Far from it. On every track the listener is drawn in, just in case David and Eric throw one of their curveballs.
They do that several times on Greetings From Suicide Bridge. When this happens, the song changes totally. Often it’s totally unexpected. This is another reason why Greetings From Suicide Bridge is such a compelling album. It’s also an album where David and Eric flit between and fuse musical genres combining elements of blues, folk rock, country and rock. Their playing is mostly subtle, and proves the perfect foil for the vocals on Greetings From Suicide Bridge.
It’s an album that deserved to find a wider audience but like so many private presses, failed to find the audience it deserves and the story of Greetings From Suicide Bridge is a case of what might have been? This long-lost cult classic found David Kauffman and Eric Caboor’s laying bare their souls and unleashing their hurt and heartbreak during Greetings From Suicide Bridge which is a powerful and poignant cathartic confessional.
Cult Classic: David Kauffman and Eric Caboor-Greetings From Suicide Bridge.