Elvis Costello remembers Clover bassist John Ciambotti
John Ciambotti, the bassist for the Bay Area ’70s rock band Clover, wasn’t a household name. More than 20 years ago he gave up the helter-skelter life of a touring musician, became a chiropractor working in the Los Angeles area and began devoting special attention to the kinds of injuries frequently experienced by musicians.
Ciambotti died last week, at age 67, apparently having suffered an abdominal aneurysm following surgery, and he’s remembered at length, and with great affection and wit, by Elvis Costello, whom he and other members of Clover backed on Costello’s breakthrough 1977 debut album, “My Aim Is True.”
“He was a wonderful bass player, songwriter, some-time manager, record producer and all-around great guy,” Costello writes on his website. “The fact that he had also latterly thrived in his second vocation as a chiropractor and in holistic medicine meant that he could jokingly claim to be ‘the Real Dr. John.’”
Costello recalls vividly connecting with Clover, whose modest-selling U.S. releases he had chased down and soaked up in the U.K., when they were visiting England trying to push their own career forward.
“Newly signed to Stiff Records, more as a songwriter than a recording artist, I soon found myself working with players whose records I had previously hunted down in those cut-out bins,” Costello recalled. “Musicians often speak with shorthand references before songs are fully remembered. I think it might have been John who first said, without out any apparent malice, ‘Let's do that one that sounds like The Byrds,’ referring to ‘(The Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes,’ while a novice songwriter was busy trying to cover his tracks.”
The album they made together, Costello writes, “transformed me from someone who recorded his songs in a bedroom to a pop singer with an odd name, who had the chance to appear on television and radio, perform on club and theatre stages and eventually make his way in the world.”
He also revisits their 2007 reunion for some benefit shows in San Francisco: “Time may have altered all our appearances slightly but the sound was instantly recognizable. Any doubt one might have had about ‘Dr. John’ no longer being a full-time player was quickly put away.
“Johnny had always established this great rolling motion when the music was moving the right way, with the player and his instrument making one big wheel and there it was again, after 30 years.”
The full text of Costello’s tribute to Ciambotti can be found on his website under the “news” section.
-- Randy Lewis
Photo: John Ciambotti. Credit: Glendale Chiro Care