Ray Caddell: The (fireworks) show must go on

Ray Caddell is listening to a CD by Cab Calloway's granddaughter in his Century 21 office. That really doesn't come as a surprise, because when he's not the "Hard Working Nice Guy" real estate agent and broker, Caddell is front man for Big Ray and the Kool Kats.

On the Fourth of July, Caddell has another persona: the man who saved the fireworks at McIntire Park– twice.

The first time was in 2000 when he found out the Jaycees were not hosting the event. "That was difficult," he says. "We had only a week to figure out a way."

He thought lightning couldn't strike twice, but last year he discovered that once again, no big fireworks spectacle was planned for the hometown of the author of the Declaration of Independence.

At least he had six week's notice. Caddell, "an unabashed patriot," swung into action like a force of nature, rallied the community, and saw to it that Charlottesville had an explosive Fourth.

This year, the event is more organized, and the only real hitch, he says, is the fundraising. "If I say we're really in trouble and we're not having fireworks unless you give me $5, that's easy," he says. More challenging is raising money a year out for the community celebration.

"We'll get there," he says with the confidence of a man who's "never worked for anybody" and who has owned a bar and his own real estate company.

And who was on the road 15 years playing music. Caddell's love of trumpet and big band music started in elementary school– and has never waned. Even at a time when he was sitting in his room listening to Cream like his peers, his music teachers all had big bands, and Caddell played for them through school.

"When I was 12 years old, I had a little tux," he recalls.

He's played with Gladys Knight, of Pips fame, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, and with Vic Damone.

His musical career highlight? Playing in an orchestra that backed up Ol' Blue Eyes himself. "That doesn't mean we were buddies," says Caddell. "That doesn't even mean we shook hands." But performing on the same stage as Frank Sinatra was "by far" Caddell's biggest thrill.

He's still a working musician today, playing 90 gigs a year– including the Kennedy Center– with the Kool Kats. For a man with four kids and a business, that's plenty.

Caddell's band rarely practices, though their playlist is extensive. So what's the most requested song?

" 'Fly Me to the Moon', which is a fine piece of music," he says. "Then later in the evening, 'YMCA', which is not so fine. But we don't care what it is, we'll play it." Maybe that's why the Kool Kats get so many bookings.

Caddell admits there's one song that's so annoying that he'd be happy if he never had to play it again: the Electric Slide. "It's time for that one to go away," he says.

On the Fourth of July, he'll be blowing his horn like a patriotic Angel Gabriel on stage at McIntire Park.

Just do the man who saved the fireworks a favor: Don't request the Electric Slide.

Age: 50 on August 8

What brought you here? A real estate development opportunity in 1989

What's worst about living here? People who whine about the traffic

Favorite hangout? Anywhere Big Ray and the Kool Kats are

Most overrated virtue? Trying to get along with everybody. It's impossible.

What would people be surprised to know about you? I've performed in 40 states and a dozen foreign countries.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Patience. I'm working on it.

What accomplishment are you proudest of? I've helped literally hundreds of people buy their first home.

What do people find most annoying about you? I'm extremely opinionated and not at all shy about expressing those opinions.

Whom do you admire? Bill Tucker, attorney, partner, mentor, and friend. And Albemarle High School Band director Greg Thomas, and any other school teacher who brings the dedication and energy to their job that he does.

Favorite book? Trumpet Blues: The Life of Harry James

 What subject causes you to rant? Social programs that encourage people not to try and better their situation in life

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? Speed and ease of communication for business through the Internet

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? That one guy with a test tube or briefcase can cause such horrible damage

What do you drive? A Jeep Cherokee (my wife bought it for me)

What's in your car CD player right now? XM Satellite Radio, usually "Frank's Place"

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? Many years on the road as a musician... too many episodes, so little time

What do you regret? I should have worked a little less, spent a little more time with my older kids.

Favorite comfort food? Ritz Crackers (not the low-fat, low-salt version)

What's always in your refrigerator? Fresh-squeezed OJ, shrimp

Must-see TV? Amazing Race, Charlottesville City Council

Favorite cartoon? Top Cat

Describe a perfect day. Breakfast by the pool with my wife and kids, smooth day at work, Fridays After 5 performance with my band (September 10)

Walter Mitty fantasy? All my tenants pay their rent on time.

Who'd play you in the movie? Sean Connery (my wife digs him)

Most embarrassing moment? I introduced the father of the bride at a wedding performance by a name that bore no relation to his own.

Best advice you ever got? Find something you like doing, and figure out a way to make a living at it (from my dad).

Favorite bumper sticker? Why isn't "phonetic" spelled the way it sounds?

Ray Caddell