Tim Cappello is the legendary oiled-up sax man, most famous for his rendition of “I Still Believe” in the 1987 vampire film, The Lost Boys, as well as his electrifying performances onstage and in MTV videos with Tina Turner in the ‘80s. His iconic shirtless, cut, oiled physique, and pelvic grinding has been famously parodied by Jon Hamm on Saturday Night Live.
Jon Hamm as “Sergio,” parodying Tim Cappello as the sexual saxophone master
We had a chance to sit down for a chat with the surprisingly humble Mr. Cappello, to discuss his career, the parodies, and to find out if he still still believes.
Our pre-conceived notions (stupidly based on nothing more than a few minutes of mid-80’s screentime) of Cappello being a cocky meathead were instantly dashed upon meeting him. He was charmingly modest in discussing his career, from his tutelage under Lennie Tristano to his gigging with Peter Gabriel, Garland Jeffreys, Eric Carmen, and Carly Simon, to his leap into the spotlight with Tina Turner and his Lost Boys role. He was also an exceedingly good sport about being grilled on what exactly it is that he still believes in, because after all—the world needs to know this shit.
Cappello chalks most of his storied history up to the “dumb luck” of being in the right place at the right time. His career began shortly after he left the New England Conservatory to study under his idol, jazz legend, Lennie Tristano. Cappello cites “Turkish Mambo” as the life-changing track that pushed him to seek Tristano’s guidance. His first gig was playing piano behind Billy Crystal’s early stand-up comedy act, which he did for five years before picking up a road gig with Eric Carmen of The Raspberries. From there, Cappello played with Garland Jeffreys, until being brought by school-chum, Jerry Moratta, into Peter Gabriel’s band.
You can check out a young Tim Cappello playing with Gabriel at about fifteen minutes into THIS AMAZING VIDEO.
A sidelining heroin addiction led him unexpectedly to bodybuilding. Capello relates an incident on his 25th birthday, visiting his parents and having his niece run from the room crying due to his poor, drug-addled condition. A fateful walk down the street took the six foot, 135 pound, Cappello by “dumb luck” to a gym where he encountered “muscleheads” who looked “so strong and healthy” that his life was forever changed. Inspired by the determination of the athletes he saw in that gym, Cappello swapped heroin for protein shakes, got clean, and got totally ripped. With his new iron-bod, not only was his playing in demand, but also his hypersexual look.
“Through the pain and through the grief, I still believe.”
Carly Simon took the newly-buff Cappello out on tour until she was benched by acute stagefright, of all things. From there, he was picked up by Tina Turner, who at the time, according to Cappello, was playing “McDonalds conventions” in between “burger skits.” In the middle of this “convention and casino” tour, Turner’s single “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and Private Dancer LP exploded, putting the rock-hard horn-blower into the spotlight. Cappello credits much of his success to Turner’s eye and ear as a band leader and her understanding of both musical and visual presentation. Turner pushed Cappello to explore acting which led to an accidental “dumb luck” casting in The Lost Boys after losing a role in Beverly Hills Cop 2. That role secured a spot for the oiled-up sax man in the collective pop consciousness forever.
The Lost Boys shoot comprised two hours of Cappello’s life, which resulted in a couple of minutes of screen-time that have defined him ever since. Cappello maintains a sense of humor about it, and about the parodies of his signature look and moves, claiming that his original intention with the persona was always to “take it just a little too far” and “have an element of humor in it.”
Cappello: “I meant for it to be over the top and a little too much.”
Cappello takes the persona, and those who have poked fun at it, in stride. He has recently been selling a line of body oils (seriously!), and has done an updated recording of “I Still Believe.” So far that recording exists only as a CD single available from Cappello at shows, but it seems ripe for a vinyl issue by one of the current crop of horror soundtrack reissue labels—we’re looking at you Death Waltz and Waxwork Records!
As Cappello was willing to look back at his legacy with good humor, we decided to hone in on his signature tune, “I Still Believe,” and ask him what he believes in. We were quite surprised with some of his answers. When we asked “Do you believe you would win in a fight against Alice Cooper guitarist, “sexy axe man,” Kane Roberts?” Capello revealed that he and Roberts were good friends from school, and both had similarly used body-building to beat drug addictions. Who knew that the ‘80s two most notoriously muscular musicians grew up together and shared almost identical life stories?
Kane Roberts, the “sexy axe man” foil to Tim Cappello’s “saxy sex man.”
We were also taken aback by Cappello name-checking Noam Chomsky in his answer to the question “do you believe that burning jet fuel can melt steel beams?”
And if you want to know if Cappello believes in “sax on the first date,” or if he believes that “workers control the means of production”, or if he believes in “exfoliating before oiling”, or if he believes “the Illuminati is conspiring to form a one-world-government”, or if he believes that “I Still Believe” is a better song than “Don’t Stop Believin’,” then you’ll just have to watch the video:
And here’s the first part of our interview, which was originally just to get some background, but ended up being so thoughtful and insightful, we decided to share it too:
And you probably need this song stuck in your head all day:
Thank you to Mad Monster for making this interview possible.