Dennis Caldirola (born 1948) – better known to record collectors by the stage-name, Dennis The Fox – is an American singer, songwriter, and keyboardist who for many years has been most notable for his soulful compositions that were recorded by prominent jazz, soul, and disco artists such as Dee Dee Bridgewater (b. 1950) and Phyllis Hyman (1949–1995).
Active as a performing musician since the mid-1960s, Caldirola was initially a member of various teenage rock ‘n’ roll bands during the Pacific Northwest’s “Louie Louie” era. By the 1970s his songwriting talent was flourishing and various other artists began recording his songs. In an effort to score a record deal he cut an album’s worth of tunes that represented the full range of his abilities – songs that touched on the rock, psych, soul, funk, country and pop genres.
Released as an independent DIY project on an obscure Seattle-based label, his Mothertrucker LP was released in 1972 to no great fanfare, and basically sank without a trace. Meanwhile, Caldirola simply carried on with his life. He played in other bands, worked in the music biz as a professional song plugger, penned songs that were recorded by various artists, and held other entertainment industry management-level jobs.
In the meantime, whole new generations of music fans, vintage vinyl collectors – and eventually hip-hop DJs – discovered that old Mothertrucker album and found some of the funk grooves to be phat. In recent years the LP has gained a robust cult following and various songs on it have been sampled for other artists’ recordings, and included in a CD/book set (Enjoy The Experience – Homemade Records 1958-1992), as well as on numerous compilation discs. The original Mothertrucker album has become a valuable and highly sought-after collector’s item, and was finally reissued on vinyl by Modern Harmonic records in 2017.
Born in Miles City, Montana on March 22, 1948, to a native Italian father (Carlo Caldirola) and an Irish-American mother (Della Floyd). While an infant the Caldirola family moved to Seattle’s Italian-dominated neighborhood – “Garlic Gulch” – in the Rainier Valley area just east of Beacon Hill, young Dennis was raised bilingually, and the Caldirolas were warmly welcomed into the community.
Caldirola started learning piano in first grade, and later while in high school in the summer of 1964 he helped form a band, the Rum Runners, that played teen dances around town, and fabled rooms including Parker’s Ballroom and the Lake Hills Roller Rink. Their biggest gig was opening up for British rock group, the Yardbirds, at the Eagles Auditorium on July 30, 1967. The group broke up in September 1968 when Caldirola opted to move on from Seattle University and continue his college studies in Florence, Italy. Then, upon his return, Caldirola played the Hammond organ with HUGG, a band that had been around since 1968. He performed with them into 1971 when he committed himself to becoming a genuine rock star and began focusing on writing original material.
By 1971 Caldirola was associating with Dave Clark – a local businessman who began serving as his de facto manager. Together they concocted a plan aimed at scoring Caldirola a recording contract and setting him on the path to fame and fortune. The first step was dropping his mouthful-of-a-birth-name, and adopting the stage-name, “Dennis The Fox.” Next, they corralled a bunch of top Seattle musicians including: Robbie Straube (drums) from Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts; Toby Bowen (guitar) and Bobby Anderson (drums) from Bighorn; Fred Zeufeldt (drums) from the Viceroys, the Surprise Package, and Bighorn; Buddy Stewart (bass) from Bad Manners; and Dave Belzer from both HUGG and in an early iteration of the future superstar band, Heart.
These and additional players all gathered into a shuttered downtown menswear shop (Kalifornia Kreations) that Clark held the lease on. An audio engineer named John A. Peterson set up his gear and they proceeded (late at night after general traffic noise outside died down) to cut a batch of Caldirola’s songs – tunes selected to demonstrate the breadth of Caldirola’s compositional skills. As he once told Eothen “Egon” Alapatt of the Now-Again record company: “We were trying to get a record deal so we cut all of these tapes, of various songs, in various styles, to show how versatile I could be.”  Then in September 1972, Caldirola and Clark headed south to Hollywood and began hustling the tapes around to various record companies. “To our dismay,” the songwriter once recalled, “the record labels found the material ‘too versatile’ for their marketing purposes.”  Three months passed by, the guys ran out of money, and they necessarily returned home to Seattle. That’s when they decided to release it independently on John A. Peterson’s MusArt label – which had previously been used for releasing religious choir LPs, but now would be useful for issuing Caldirola’s album, Mothertrucker (MusArt 801).
They ordered 1,000 units from a pressing plant, and also arranged to have a similar number of cardboard jackets – which included this bold declaration: “If We Told You The Biggest Rockstar Of The Mid-70’s Would Be This Four-Eyed Italian From Seattle, Washington, You’d Laugh Your Ass Off. Start Laughing.”—printed up. Upon receiving the discs, alas, it was discovered that many were defective and had skips within the first tracks. So, Caldirola and Clark just decided to sit down in his parents’ living room and manually test all 1,000 of them on the family’s hi-fi. In the end they discarded about 400 units, and the remaining 600 were then placed into covers that the enterprising duo also had to glue together one-at-a-time by hand. Then they loaded the finished product into the trunk of a car and took the LPs around to several local record shops that accepted small quantities on a consignment basis.
Mothertrucker boasted eye-grabbing post-Psychedelic Era artwork created by Seattle’s Robert Barbarus and a dozen songs featuring lyrical themes that precluded any hope of being embraced by mainstream radio. Among the following dozen songs, Caldirola takes listeners on a mind-boggling tour of a landscape that includes vivid plotlines, sketchy characters including a mean man-eating truck-driving woman and plenty of pearls of worldly wisdom like: “When it comes to really livin’, you’re just somewhere in between, there’s a high-steppin’ side-steppin’ life outside, you ain’t never seen.” The songs that comprise Mothertrucker offer daring listeners an instructive glimpse into that very world.