In 1971, Rose Colored Glass released its first single, “Can’t Find the Time (To Tell You),” and success appeared to arrive almost overnight; they appeared on American Bandstand, and their second release, “If It’s All Right with You,” entered the charts as well. But, just as suddenly, the group fell apart. The original members left one by one, leaving a lot of questions about what happened — questions that the passing of time have done nothing to clarify.
Yesterday we looked at how Rose Colored Glass went from a folksy trio playing coffee houses to a dynamic quartet with a hot, charting record and an appearance on American Bandstand. In the second part of our interview with founding members Larry Meletio, Roe Cree, and Bobby Caldwell, we learn that although the group was riding high and another charting record was on the horizon, things were about to fall apart.
REBEAT: It sounds like after the success of “Can’t Find the Time” and the appearance on American Bandstand, everything was going great.
Larry: It was. But we had a tiger by the tail at that point because we were young and really weren’t sure how to handle it. Then, we went under new management, and that was the beginning of the end. Norm [Miller] always had a big picture of where he wanted RCG to go, but he said what we needed was someone to take us to the next level. Things were going well, and we didn’t want to lose him, but other people were very interested by then. By that time, we’d also gone into the studio and recorded “If It’s All Right With You.” The result was a second record on the charts.
Then, a few weeks later, we went on tour. We left Dallas on a couple of charter planes, and we were flying over Kansas City and the motor quit. The prop was dead steady and you could hear wind. Bobby and I are sitting next to each and he looks at me and says, “Larry, were going down.” I said, “Naw man, this ain’t happening.” He said, “We’re going down!” I said, “But we aren’t famous yet!”
Bobby: I was thinking, “Here we are — it’s Buddy Holly all over again!” Well, the pilot hit the reserve fuel tank and the engine coughs and restarts. We were on a glide path going down, but we were still going down. The pilot got it down and, as we taxied, said, “There’s the terminal ahead.” Larry said, “No, stop now!” The pilot stopped the plane, and Larry opened the door and puked all over the wing. We’d lost track of the other plane by this point.
Larry: The plane that Roe, Mary, and John Govroe were on — by this time, John had joined the group to play lead guitar — had landed at an abandoned airport where there’d been a lot of drug running and a lot of suspicious activity. Back then, all of us were long-hairs and had mustaches, and Mary was dressed for the times. Everybody was detained three hours and finally released, but we were all pretty shaken by that point. Eventually, we got to our concert an hour-and-a-half late; the crew that was supposed to load and unload our equipment wasn’t there, and someone had left all of the equipment we shipped ahead of time out in the rain.
Bobby: Our equipment was on the tarmac covered in ice. At the college where we had to play later, none of the microphones worked so we had to borrow four from the drama department. It was ridiculous.
Larry: This is when our eyes really opened to what was going on. We later learned that airplane’s pilot never got checked out. All of this was due to our new management, and it kind of made us start looking at the fact that we were pretty vulnerable. John left the group after that. The way we were being handled showed us how quickly things can change.
Still though, things seemed to be going well, right?
Larry: Well, the new record did okay, but we were ready for an album. [Author’s note: “If It’s Alright With You” peaked at #95 on the Billboard pop charts in October 1971.] Over the years, I’ve had people ask if there’s an album out there, and I tell them yes, but it was never released.
Bobby: The flip-side of “If It’s Alright…” really should have been our second single release. It was a Mac Davis song called “You’re Good for Me.” I think it was a better song. As for the album, we all wrote songs and started recording them, and it was good stuff, and it was fun. But we never got to finish it, and it was never released.
Why wasn’t it finished? Why didn’t they release it?
Bobby: By that point, I don’t think Bang had the money to promote an album. They didn’t even have any singles left — they didn’t have the right financing. Believe it or not, we never saw one dime in royalties from “Can’t Find the Time,” and they wouldn’t even let us listen to the tracks we’d recorded for our album. [Author’s note: Bang Records was in turmoil and by 1971 and was indeed struggling. They had lost their two biggest acts — Neil Diamond and Van Morrison — and would eventually be bought by CBS Records.]
Larry: By then, there were starting to be a lot of other problems, too. Management wanted there to be a person who was the focus of the group, a front man. There really never was a focus of the group — we called Roe our group leader because he was organized, but there was not one leader. And they wanted Bobby to do more single artist things. They started getting involved in our careers, and there started to be some backbiting. They also brought in another guy named Bill Tillman who was an extraordinary reed player. We did a never-released cover of “Time of the Season” and he put a trill in there that will send you over the moon. Bill was really more of a Vegas-type entertainer. He was a big guy, and he had charisma, and the new management thought he’d be a good fit. The problem was that all that charisma was only onstage, and it was never offstage. He kept to himself a lot. He was an interesting study, but he never let you “in.” In the end, I was the first to leave the group and then Roe.
Bobby: Bill had played with Roy Orbison, and he was an unknowing plant in there by the management company to break us up. He didn’t join the band to do that, but that’s what happened. For whatever reason, the new management group didn’t think Larry and Roe were talented enough to take it to the next level, so they were trying to surround Mary and me with more talented musicians. Bill was talented, but he had a strong personality, and the others didn’t get along with him. Then, Larry and Roe ended up leaving. I’ll never forget the day it happened. It was one of the worst days of my life.
Roe: Our time together as RCG was priceless, but there came a point when I had to move on. I sold my two Les Pauls and a Marshall stack, got a haircut and a real job. I will always wonder if that was a mistake.
Bobby: Mary and I kept the band together a little while, but neither one of us really enjoyed playing after that, and we ended it.
I want to go back to something you just touched on. There’s a lot of erroneous information out there about your group, and in fact in many places I’ve seen Bill Tillman listed not only a founding member of the group, but also as the lead singer on “Can’t Find the Time.”
Roe: Larry, Bobby, Mary and I started Rose Colored Glass. Bill Tillman was an add-in after we recorded “Can’t Find the Time.” And Bobby was the lead singer on the record.
Larry: You know, Rick, this will allow you to right a wrong. I tried to correct this a while back but haven’t been able to get it out there as well as I wanted to. But no, Bill was not part of the group when we recorded or released “Can’t Find the Time”; he was added to the band after that.
Bobby: Bill didn’t join us until 1972, well after the record hit the charts. I’m not sure how he remembered it differently, but we went through two other fifth members before Bill even came along. I loved Bill and miss him, but this is how it happened.
I know after you left the group you all did different things.
Roe: I stayed in music a couple of years and then was a sales manager with a company representing manufacturers of automotive parts. For over 25 years, I was out of music and then I retired, as my parents and grandparents before me, to San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. After two years here, a local musician asked me to play and sing one afternoon. I did a few Kenny Loggins tunes, and my friend said, “Roe, why aren’t you playing and singing? You have the gift.” I auditioned at one of the popular steakhouses here and was hired alternating with other local Mexican singers. I love to cover Kenny Loggins, Kenny Rogers, the Eagles, Willie Nelson, and many more. So if you’re ever in San Miguel, look me up.
Larry: I was in a couple of bands after RCG, and actually ended up in L.A. under the management of Bob Eubanks of The Newlywed Game fame. I’ve met a lot of musicians over the years, including Alice Cooper, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Willie Nelson, Charley Pride and others. A member of one of the bands I was in became Eric Clapton’s road manager, and Eric has become a good friend of mine and [my wife] Jill’s. I have a full-blown music studio here at my house, and Eric did his first rendition of “Lay Down Sally” here. The Pointer Sisters, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and Ray Charles have recorded here as well. Bobby and I still play in a group called the Texas Rock Association. Roe sat in with us one night a while back and it was a great feeling.
Bobby: I moved to California and started writing country music, and Mary had a band called Texas Rose after we broke up. I eventually moved back to Texas. Maybe 15, 20 years ago, I told Larry we should play again and he agreed. That’s when we started the Texas Rock Association. We only play four or five times a year but it’s rock ‘n’ roll from the beginning to the end. And of course we play “Can’t Find the Time” every time we get together. We play to have fun now. When it quits being fun, I’ll quit.
I think a lot of people would envy the things RCG did as a group and as individuals and the success you all had. Any final thoughts?
Larry: Here’s the key: Whenever you have a recipe to anything that is successful, you don’t change even one ingredient. Because if you do, the chances of you capturing that magic — and that’s what RCG did, we produced magic — may be lost. Does that help you?