CARUSO In the Face: 35th Anniversary Deluxe - Liner Notes
LISTENING BACK TO CARUSO
PART 1: THE END?
In 1987, the CARUSO band's four founding members — who all happened to be brothers — released their final album together. That album was called: IN THE FACE.
I was 26 years old. Mike Caruso (29), Joe Caruso (28) and Rob Caruso (24) would continue writing, recording and touring under the family name in the years that followed. We'd even team up from time to time to collaborate and perform in CARUSO reunion shows. But we’d never make another album with our original lineup.
As a companion to CARUSO In The Face: 35th Anniversary Deluxe, these liner notes will provide the story behind the album and tell you a little bit about the band.
THE INDIE FRONTIER
CARUSO started our recording career way back in the late 1970s. From the very beginning, every one of our albums and singles was recorded and released independently.
By the 1980s, being an indie music artist typically meant you were signed with a small record company, operating independently from the major labels. But our independence ran deeper. We filed our own music copyrights, joined ASCAP (the performance rights organization), hired the recording studios and engineers, paid the vinyl pressing plants and cassette duplication facilities directly, organized and managed our product distribution, and even created and sold our own merch.
Since the music industry’s pivot toward online distribution channels and away from physical product sales, this type of indie artist has become commonplace. But back in those days, we belonged to a smaller minority of bootstrap indies where the artist WAS the label.
FEEDING THE BEAST
In fact, CARUSO was a self-managed, self-promoting, entertainment machine. It took considerable cash to keep that machine running — from day-to-day expenditures for meals, travel, lodging, and fleet maintenance, to personnel, which included a lead guitarist, a two-man road crew (who doubled as our sound and lighting guys), and a full-time AND part-time office secretary.
We conducted business from our home office without the convenience of smartphones, email, personal computers, or the Internet. We communicated using old-fashioned telephone land lines, stamped correspondence, a band hotline with an answering machine, and a post office box. While on the road, we used paper maps to navigate, we drove to pay phones to call our clients, and we communicated between vehicles using old-fashioned, trucker-style C.B. radios. ("Ten-Four, Good Buddy!")
As you can imagine, the average home recording studios of that time weren't sophisticated enough to take our band to the next level.
A CAPITAL IDEA
Professional studio time wasn’t cheap either, and with our operating expenses, we didn’t have extra cash to cover the costs of a new album. So Mike and Joe Caruso created an investment package to raise capital from family, friends and fans. In exchange for varying levels of investment, we offered perks like free albums, band swag, a spot on our guest list, cash returns, or even landing CARUSO for their own private event entertainment.
The package was a success, raising enough capital to hire Eric Morgeson at Studio A, with money left over for cover photography, graphics, mastering, vinyl pressing, cassette manufacturing, promotional materials and mailings. To any of our patrons who might be reading this, thank you again for supporting us!
Our band’s live sound was 80s pop music with an edge. We had hoped that the sound of our new album would be similar to what people experienced at our shows, but we were slowly coming to realize that if we wanted record companies and national-level management to take a bigger interest, we needed to up our audio game, narrow our stylistic focus and create a signature sound. That meant letting our In the Face (ITF) co-producer and engineer, Eric, make some crucial decisions, not only about which of our songs to record, but also how to record them.
We invited Mr. Morgeson to come and see our live show, but ultimately, the process came down to a Studio A listening session, with Eric at the mixing console and the band seated around him. We played him several songs from a cassette we’d compiled of our strongest options. Out of everything he heard, Eric chose London (which everyone agreed would be the single), along with Can’t Stop Dreaming, and Young and Tender.
Eric asked us if, between recording sessions, we could write a fourth song that might fit in with the other three. I came up with She’s a Sensation. Our fifth track would be a snippet of a cover song called Get Together.
In the Face was recorded and mixed at Studio A in Dearborn, Michigan. Studio A was originally housed in a garage behind the owner's residence. We had tracked our fifth single there, which we later added to our first EP. Since then, the garage had been replaced with an entirely new structure and upgraded with new recording gear.
At the heart of the studio was a Synclavier — a state-of-the-80s recording system that combined a synthesizer workstation, a polyphonic sampler, an extensive, high-def sound library and (in our case) digital tape. Recordings by Duran Duran, Michael Jackson and Pete Townsend have all utilized the Synclavier. It was modern, sleek and clean, yet it rocked.
We had a very positive experience making the album. Eric and his wife, Marilyn (who handled the studio’s accounting), are terrific people with a good sense of humor. The band and the Morgesons had a great rapport and we felt a mutual respect between us. We laughed a lot and the time went by quickly.
One of our greatest advantages in terms of our sound is that Joe Caruso took courses in recording techniques at a pro studio which was then called Super Disc, (now The Disc), on 9 Mile Rd. in Eastpointe, MI. It's where George Clinton and the P-Funk gang made a lot of recordings, and we recorded our fourth single there, too. Joe learned all he could about audio and he not only was responsible for our stage sound, but he even helped build our home studio control booth. Joe sat alongside Eric in the studio and helped ensure we got that big sound you hear on In the Face.
Clocking in at only 16 and a half minutes, the finished album was frustratingly short. Here we were, at the top of our game, with a national corporate sponsorship by the Miller Brewing Company. The sponsorship included a bevy of promotional materials like stage banners, posters, fliers, table tents, tee shirts, keyboards, an electric guitar and bass, drum sticks, guitar and bass strings, and most notably, songs on 2 RCA Records special releases.
We were touring the midwest college circuit, headlining shows, opening for national music acts, and primarily performing our own music. Yet all we had to show for our collective accomplishments was a four-and-a-half-song music product.
In The Face sold very well. One of our most important distribution channels was Harmony House, with 38 record stores based in Michigan. Distribution Director Sandra Bean called In the Face "the most successful record by any unsigned Detroit band in the history of Harmony House."
According to the Detroit Free Press, "CARUSO has all the makings of a great pop band... The beat on London, the first number on the disc and the one which has received the most air play on radio, is a fast-paced, enjoyable morsel of pop music. It's accented with a gashing guitar and vibrant vocals... Young and Tender is the strongest song on the EP... Musically, CARUSO has their house in order. Especially noteworthy are the guitars and Rob Caruso's drumming. The vocals are excellent."
Based on its position in our band’s timeline, the expertise of the producer and the quality of the studio and its resources, In the Face should have been the culmination of the band’s best work in its final year. And in many ways, it was.
We were proud of In the Face for its distinctive 80s imprint, as characterized by its lush arrangements, humongous drums and hummable hooks. But despite our overall satisfaction with the album, for various reasons it fell short of representing a more complete picture of the band at its apogee.
WHAT ITF MISSED
During our 4-brother, 13-year run (practically a lifetime in band-years), CARUSO had racked up more than 1,500 performances, 6 two-sided 45 RPM singles, 2 EPs, and a 7th single which we chose not to release — not to mention dozens of home studio demos and live recordings.
As songwriters and musicians, we had grown immensely in that time, especially in the past two years. By then I had about 70 copyrighted songs in my name. In the Face had only showcased a tiny fraction of our songwriting catalogue.
On our previous EP, all four brothers had received songwriting credits. Rob’s share of songs in our live show had really grown since then. Rob was also singing lead about half the time. When Eric chose four of my songs for the album, Rob was prepared to do whatever Eric deemed best for the band, but I imagine that wasn’t easy. Looking back on it, I’m glad I arranged the vocals so that Rob could sing lead in the second verse of She’s a Sensation and trade vocals with me in the third verse of Young and Tender.
Another missing ingredient from the album was our two-man horn section. Mike, our bassist, had recently decided it wasn’t worth the maintenance of keeping his lip in shape for just a few songs per night on trumpet. Our horn section had been a big feature in the CARUSO live show. Mike would swivel his bass behind his back and at the same time, Joe, our rhythm guitarist / saxophonist, would sling his guitar backward. Then with a flourish of showmanship, they would hoist their horns in the air and wail, while my left hand took over on keyboard bass. Since trumpet and sax weren’t appropriate for the arrangements on ITF, this aspect of our sound wasn’t captured on the 1987 album.
As the 35th anniversary for In The Face was approaching, I saw an opportunity. While the brothers would never be able to go back as a band and create more CARUSO recordings, I could still commemorate the occasion and make the ITF album package more substantial by fleshing out our audio story with unreleased recordings from that era. That's the idea behind CARUSO In the Face: 35th Anniversary Deluxe.
SING WITH ME
Some of you reading this have never personally witnessed a CARUSO performance. Others may have followed our band during its glory days, dancing to our music and singing along with us for years, and wishing they could hear never-released recordings of songs they still remember.
Whether you’re learning about CARUSO for the first time or revisiting the band as an old friend, this expanded album is for you.
Available on CD and digital on 04/07/23.
-- Dave Caruso