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Steve Caballero and Ray Barbee: interviewed

by Matt "Jedi" DeAngelis
   I swear the best moments in life happen on the toilet. It's the one time of the day where you can sit down and know you're not going to be bothered for at least a few minutes. I think I've read every skate mag I've ever owned on the toilet. On one fateful day this particular weekend my visit to the throne was a bit different. While flicking through a magazine I happened to notice a rather lack-luster ad for Vans. The name "Caballero" caught my eye and I read that Vans was doing a tour and coming through Edmonton. How'd I miss that?! Having talked to Steve briefly on email a few times, I dropped him a note asking if he'd indeed be coming through town and if I could do an interview with him and get a board signed. He said "No problem" and just like that, my career in journalism began.
   As I had not really noticed the ad in the magazine I guess I missed out on the flyers at the shops saying that they'd be doing autograph signings at the big mall-shop that day. DOH!!! I could have gotten my boards signed, said hello without having to crawl through a crowd of kids, and talked to him briefly there. I had no idea how I was going to get his attention at the park. I called out his name a few times but I was drowned out by kids yelling "Give me some stickers!" Eventually I went over to where he was trying to kickflip this big gap. While picking up his board from a failed attempt I called out "Hey Zen Soldier!", Steve's on-line pseudonym. I guess that caught his attention because he cocked his head and waved at me. He came by and shook my hand and said "Hey man! Nice to meet you!". I did not have my boards or anything on me and asked if he might be able to spare 10 minutes to do a quick interview about collecting and graphics. He said he was not sure if there would be time with all the kids and stuff, but he suggested "Just email me and I'll tell you where we're staying and maybe we can do it tonight".
    I walked away with a big grin on my face like I was 12 years old again. I just got to talk to Steve Caballero....*the* Steve Caballero!!!! This is the guy who's picture I had taped up in my locker in Grade 7. I didn't really think he'd call me up and tell me where he was staying, but it was cool to talk to him nonetheless. Wouldn't you know it though, later that night, true to his word, he gave me a call. As luck would have it they were staying just 5 blocks from my house. I quickly grabbed my tape recorder and box of boards and headed off.
    The following interview is just a brief...VERY BRIEF...sample of what we talked about. My tape recorder ran out of tape ½ an hour into it all but I ended up staying and talking with both he and Ray Barbee into the wee hours of the morning. I got my boards autographed, and more importantly, got to spend time talking to two of my childhood heroes.
*SC = Steve Caballero
*RB = Ray Barbee
*MD = Matt DeAngelis (interviewer)
MD: So when was the last time you 2 were on tour together?
RB: About 4 weeks ago.
MD: Really?!
SC: Yeah we were on a couple of Vans tours together.
MD: Oh OK. What about before that?
RB: Hmmm… gosh. I dunno. Way back. Were we ever on tour together?
SC: I think so...
MD: So we're going back to the old Powell Peralta tours then?
RB: Yeah. Like '89 I guess.

Ray and Matt
MD: You guys are both known for your loyalty that you've had with your sponsors. Steve, you've been on Powell now for over 20 years, and Ray, you've been on the Firm since it started. Where does that loyalty come from?
RB: For me, the Firm, that's just my buddy Lance. You know? So me being on there for so long, is that a byproduct of me skating with a friend? I dunno. To be honest I can't think of riding for anybody else. I was thinking "Man, if things fell apart where would I be?" You know, I don't know who I'd want to ride for. I don't know. It would be tough to re-create something that I've had that much involvement with.
MD: And you Steve? You and George [Powell] aren't buddies.
SC: We're a lot closer now than before. When Stacy [Peralta] was team manager I never talked to George at all. I think I was on Powell [skateboards] for 5 or 6 years without talking to him except maybe 3 or 4 times. I mostly dealt with Stacy. But then when Stacy left I started to talk more with George and get to know him a bit more. His personality is a little bit more…. It's different than Stacy's. He's more business, not as personal as Stacy. I think over the years George has mellowed out a little bit. He's kinda more casual about things, you know? But as far as sticking with Powell, you know… I feel it's such a great relationship with the company and people know of me on Powell and Powell Peralta. It just didn't seem like it would do anything better for my image or my career to just all of the sudden leave the company and try to start something new. I'd established something with this great company and I think it has a lot to show for my personality by sticking with them. I have something to be proud of by saying "Hey you know. I've been with this company for this amount of years." No one else will be able to say that or have that same relationship with the company. So that's something that's respected I guess. You know?
MD: For the first time in your career, you're not skating Bones wheels. You're on Autobahn now. How'd that come about and did that affect things with you and Powell?
SC: I have always ridden Powell/Bones wheels and they have by far been the best wheel formula for the longest time. When Rob Washburn [Bones Wheel team manager] decided to take the wheel program over and do his own thing with it, I was hoping I was going to be a part of it, but I wasn't and stayed with Powell decks and wheels. Basically... I wasn't asked to be on the team. Then I heard that some of the other riders were able to ride for other wheel companies, so that's when I started to look for a different wheel sponsor. Someone that I could be stoked on and get some extra promotion for both myself and that company. So I found Autobahn and I loved their image and what they were doing so I followed through with getting sponsored by them. They are cool guys and they are doing a signature wheel with me as well. As for George, I believe he was bummed that I left his wheels to find a home somewhere else. I'm sure that he would have rather have me riding for Powell wheels, but I just feel that I didn't want to ride for a board company that made wheels as well. I want to ride for something completely different to add to my image and career. With Powell wheels, there's not much going on with promotion and image for that part of the company, at least autobahn is doing something exciting for me to be a part of.
MD: Being on a company for as long as you've been on Powell naturally builds up a history and with that comes all the things that the collectors love and all the different models you've had. Where did the inspiration for your first graphic come from?
SC: Now when you're talking first graphic do you mean the prototype?
MD: Yeah, the propeller-head.
SC: That one. I don't know where that came from <laughter>. Here I am riding a Ray 'Bones' Rodriquez Skull and Sword deck then all of the sudden Stacy goes "We're thinking about having this for your graphic." and it's a one-dimensional black skull and crossbones. And I'm like "I don't think so". <laughter> Why can't we get Court [artist for Powell at the time] to draw something more like Ray Bones' graphic? You know, 3 dimensional and make it look nice. This looked like it was just some silhouette art just pasted on. It looked like it didn't take very much time either. I really liked the Skull and Sword. That graphic has been around for a long time and it still looks cool to this day. They actually made about 6 of those decks… between 4 or 6. I know Tony Hawk had one of 'em and I had 2 or 3. I never saved one of those decks. The only thing I have to remember it is a picture of me doing an air in the corner of Uplands at that time. I told 'em "You know what? I would like Court to work on something else." And they asked me "Well what would you want?" I had a friend of mine who helped me come up with a dragon. I thought a dragon would be cool just because of the fact I was so into Bruce Lee and I was born in the year of the dragon. I thought that would be a cool icon that could represent me and my personality. So I drew a dragon and I then gave it to Court and he re-drew it a couple of times. It took about 3 or 4 sketches to get the one that was right. The one standing on the bearing. I actually showed those drawings to Sean Cliver and he took pictures of them for his book to show the evolution of what the dragon looked like.
MD: Oh that would be wicked!
SC: Yeah it's pretty cool.
MD: So now after 20 years of the dragon are you sick of it?
SC: Sick of using dragons?
MD: Sick of the dragon becoming synonymous with you.
SC: Yeah… I mean in the 90's I kinda wanted to change it up a little bit. I started picking different things. I started using things I was into as my graphics. I collect British motorcycles and had one with my dog and one with Bobba Fett because I was into Star Wars. Gundam, …some Japanese animation. Yeah I think Powell's kinda over done the Dragon thing a little bit. But you know, it's something that's stuck with me and it's kind of an icon that represents me. Here and there I'll introduce another dragon. I'm into dirt biking now so my new graphic that's coming out I had George get the artists to draw a dragon that's on a dirt bike.

Steve and Matt throw the Dragon claws
MD: How about you Ray? With your last name, you've got to basically run from the doll at some point. You even had a graphic with "The Death of the Doll". Are you ever able to escape the doll?
RB: Well the doll didn't really come from the last name. I mean I don't really think it did. Maybe somewhat. I just felt with Powell and the death of the ragdoll … I was like, "How many times are you going to put this on a board?" You know? But you see with Powell, I wouldn't change my graphics very often, for maybe a year or something you know? My favorite graphic … well the first graphic with the ragdoll and the cards, 2nd was the ragdoll on the fire hydrant. Third one I did not like at ALL, with the tarot cards. But then there's the death of the ragdoll. That one's one of my favorites. All those three are equal with the exclusion of the tarot cards.
MD: And you're actually having that original Ragdoll with the cards graphic re-issued through Powell. How'd that happen?
RB: George just approached me and said he'd had some requests from fans and that it was probably a good time to re-issue that and wanted to know if I'd be interested. Vans is doing a 15 year anniversary shoe for me and it's an old-school high top with the ragdoll on the side. It's going to come out in October and George asked me if I wanted to do it. I thought yeah that would be cool to do that because of the shoe coming out. Then people would have sentimentality towards that. You know, there's a board that they could get also with the shoes. So that's how that came about. The cool thing is that Stacy is a part of it so it'll say "Powell Peralta". When they first asked me, it was just going to say Powell; but he's been working with Stacy so to have Peralta on the board too, that should be really cool.
SC: Yeah the re-issues of the decks over the last couple years have done really well. I think that's why Powell has been doing that. They've been selling really well. They keep releasing newer and newer ones. I think George and the whole company has seen that there's a good market there. So why stop at just my decks? Why not go to other decks too? So that's why they approached Ray and I think they've approached Steadham. I think they're doing Lance [Mountain] too. I just got an email from Stacy saying "Yeah I've been talking with George and things are looking really good with the reissue decks." I think the future reissue decks will probably say Powell Peralta.
RB: Not "probably"... I got an email from George and he said that "Peralta" WILL be on my board.
SC: Yeah, that should make all the future reissues that much more special.
RB: For me that makes it … cuz that's what it was. [Powell Peralta]
MD: : It seems today that when you go into a shop, all of the boards are the same. I mean, each company has their own concave or angle of the kick tail or wood or whatever it is; but they're all exactly the same shape. So what makes a board different from the next one?
RB: Who's name is on it
SC: Pretty much yeah.
MD: As a collector you know that keeping things in their original box makes them more valuable. Can the same be said of shrink wrap on a skateboard? Does that make a difference?"
SC: Anyone can shrink-wrap anything. I think it doesn't really matter as long as what's being kept is in good condition [in terms of] the value of the deck. I don't like [shrinkwrap] because it makes it hard to see the graphic in it's natural form. Doesn't matter to me I guess, but I'm not worried about the ones in my own collection. I think it's different when I comes to toys because packaging is all a part of the toys, as for decks, packaging isn't what sells the deck, the deck does.
MD: So of all of your own graphics, which one would you say is your favorite?
RB: I've had some favorites. Obviously the Powell graphics, especially the Death of the Doll with the black and silver. I've had some graphics that I've really dug that Lance has done.
MD: Actually what are you graphics now? Cuz from a distance…
RB: Lance drew the sticker of the ragdoll from my first Powell Peralta board.
MD: I thought that that's what it was. How about you Steve?
SC: I'd have to say my favorite graphic is probably my original one with the bearing. That graphic lasted for 6 years before they changed it. It's got a pretty strong image of where I came from and how I represented myself. Either that one, or the Dragon with the arm and the bats in the background. That's a pretty famous one too. That one sold a lot and touched a lot of people. It's a toss up of those two. I think people recognize the bat with bones more than my original one.
MD: Any graphic that you wish you could take back? Of course other than that one that Stecyk drew.
RB: I have one. The tarot cards.
SC: The one that Stecyk drew never came out.
MD: Where did that come from?
SC: I don't know! <laughter> As far as graphics go I don't have one I'd take back. If that was the case it would never have come out. It's funny about graphics because a lot of pros, I consider myself there too… You get so excited "Oh I'm going to get a pro model. I'm going to get my own graphic. I'm going to get a signature board". But when it comes down to it you're like "Man…. What do I want?" You end up not knowing what you want.
RB: Cuz there's so much stuff that you can have.
SC: It's a hard decision to decide what you're getting.
RB: I love the way mine evolved though. That evolved really great. Sean Cliver is an awesome artist.
MD: Yeah your graphic was actually the first Cliver graphic to get published. Who would you say is your favorite skateboard graphic artist?
SC: Definitely Court Johnson, the original Powell Peralta artist, he was amazing!
MD: What's your favorite graphic of all time …other than one of your own?
SC: Ray Bones Rodriguez Skull and Sword. I love that one. Cliver's really good. I don't like the one that he did for Bucky [Lasek]. I have Bucky's first one. The one with everybody from the whole company. I mean it was cool but it doesn't stand the test of time. That's not like something you look at and say "That's Bucky's first board". If I was Bucky I'd have been "I don't know about that".
MD: What do you think of the graphics being put out today compared to the late 80's and early 90's?"
SC: I think some are good, but they change too quickly and the public never really gets to see many of the good ones that are released. I think a graphic should be like a logo that represents the skater in some way and then just go from there as a series and let the graphic become a strong one that's recognizable.
RB: But with Bucky's board, that was around the time with the World Industries stuff and it was all cartoony.
MD: Speaking of World Industries; there's this monstrous controversy about the outsourcing of boards to China. Do you guys have any opinions about that?
RB: I dunno. They're being strong armed. If you wanna stay in business there's not much you can do so you've gotta be a part of it. I haven't skated 'em so I don't know how the wood is or anything. I just feel that it's obviously going to go that route.
SC: For me I don't really care to tell you the truth.. The thing that bugs me about that whole controversy is… the bottom line is people want to sell skateboards. People don't like when other companies are doing something that help them out-sell the others. So if you're sourcing is not from China or wherever else, you're going to work hard to knock that down because you're not doing it. Maybe they have their own reasons for why they don't want to do it. The fact is that other companies get their boards made [in China] and their pro riders ride them. If Powell were to do the same, I would support them and ride decks made from China if it was helping the company stay in business. The problem is the other factories lie to the public and tell them that their boards are US made when they're actually made in China. They don't pass on the savings in manufacturing to the customer and they keep the profits for themselves. I don't think that's right. If Powell were to make boards in China, they would state it on the packaging to let the public know what they are buying. Plus isn't that the law to state that it's "Made in China"? George is helping Andy MacDonald with boards and those boards are made in China to reduce costs and sell them to kids through Costco at a reduced price. The actual Powell brand boards and mini-logo stuff is still made in Santa Barbara. The Andy Mac stuff is just as good as World Industries boards but they keep saying it's shit. It's so hypocritical. Powell could make a lot more money if they moved production to China but George wont do that because he wants to be able to maintain quality control, and they can't do that being so far away from China. But I mean, how many things in this whole world are made in China? Do we care about it? So why should we care about it that it's skateboards? I mean, all of the shoes are made in China and Korea but no one's making a big deal about that!
RB: Well they did at first but now everybody has gotten fairly used to it. So this is how this'll be.
SC: Now that decks are being made there. I don't know how that makes a difference. It's just something else for someone to gripe about.
RB: Well it's taken away from the States. They're not going to make boards no more! It'd be cool if in the States everybody banded together… Say "No, we're going to keep it here". I think that'd be cool. The thing is we're being strong armed. How do you compete against those guys like World Industries? Their wood is cheaper now. They're going to be able to sell their boards to the stores for way less. So you can have a World board for X amount of dollars… or you can have this guy who's hanging in there, but it's going to be $10 dollars more. So how are you going to stay in business?

custom griptape art
Steve Caballero
MD: As a collector, how do you feel about re-issues in general? Other than the business aspect of it. If you had … I dunno… say a vintage Jason Jessee Sungod, and now Santa Cruz has just recently reissued it. Any feelings on that?
SC: I think everybody collects for different reasons. I think people who collect for just the monetary value, I think they're the ones that are bummed out. But sentimental value, I don't think it really matters.
RB: I think it helps with the original. I'm only talking from a guitar perspective. I have a reissue '52 Telecaster made in the '80's. Man I love that thing. But when I see a real '52, man, it's like "Whoah!". It makes me aware of the originals even more. When I see a real '52 and I have a reissue… It makes me want a real '52 even more. It depends on what it is. Guitars maybe more. I think like the Death of the Ragdoll… if I had a reissue but saw an original <eyes open up big>. You know what I mean?! There's gotta be something… something's gotta be a little bit different [about having an original vs a reproduction]. I don't know what.
SC: It's going to be harder for it to be different just because of the fact that the graphic isn't changed that much. Maybe the concave of the deck? Coming from a collector's point of view, I can see how people who collect skateboard decks... I mean… I'm not really a collector of skateboard decks. I was never really that into it. I just collected some of the ones I liked. But being a toy collector, I got kinda bummed out actually when I heard they made new "Nightmare Before Christmas" stuff that were reissues of the original stuff. It kinda bummed me out. Even though I say "Yeah I collect it for sentimental value" there still is a monetary value on that and it just kinda bums you out. It kinda brings down the value.
RB: Does it bring it down?
SC: I dunno. I think it kinda does. It kinda bummed me out. I dunno …man now anyone can get this thing.
MD: Yeah it sorta dilutes down the value.
SC: You know what it does? It brings down the value of the actual original one. It's still up there you know but… maybe not as much.
RB: Now people won't work as hard to get the original cuz they can get a reissue.
MD: I think if you've got the original and it's a priceless thing to you and you can go down the street and look into a shop and there's 5 of them on the wall. It's like "Uggh… now anybody can get one." That priceless thing you have is now available to anybody. One of the new things with the reissues is they're actually going back to the old shapes rather than just reissuing the graphic. Nowadays if you go to a shop all you see are popsicle shaped decks. Things are sorta changing now and there's an older school market now.
RB: That's why these re-issues are happening.
MD: Do you see the return of shapes to boards or do you like the way they are now?
SC: I actually changed mine. Where's my deck? <Matt grabs Cab's board> Do you see that? The nose and the tail are more pointed.
MD: Ray?
RB: Ummm… maybe if some of the newer guys who are under the influence of the older guys embrace it, then it can catch on that way. Does that make sense?
SC: I don't think there's a need for it.
RB: I don't think there's too much room for it really. I dunno. The boards are already small…
SC: Right. The way the boards are made now they're perfect for what the street skaters want to do with the tricks and stuff. As far as shapes go… shapes on a street board? It's not really necessary. It's just like a graphic is not necessary. It's just something to catch the eye of the person that buys the deck. Bottom line is it's going to be scratched off.
MD: So do graphics mean anything anymore?
RB: I disagree with the graphics man. I think that's so much a part of the experience with skateboarding. You look down the wall [of boards displayed in a skate shop] and that's the identity of the pro. It's through the graphics. WE'RE talking about graphics right?
SC: I'm talking about the function of the deck. It really doesn't matter what's on it. Presentation yeah!
RB: I just think graphics are so much a part of the experience. I mean, we're talking about how much those old graphics affected US. But shape wise? Skaters now; they don't care. It's the older guys who grew up with shapes. Gonz! He messes around with shapes.
MD: We're probably running out of tape. So where do you see skating is going for yourself personally and in general?
SC: I dunno. I'm just trying to keep doing the things I've been doing my whole career. Just skating for fun.
   At that point the tape ran out. I wish I'd brought more because we talked about all sorts of stuff for hours. It was great getting to spend time with these guys I'd looked up to since I was a kid. Even more; they were really cool guys. So often you hear about people finally meeting their heroes; only to be disappointed because they'd put them up on a pedestal. Not only were these guys really personable, but they were real, down to Earth, and had intelligent things to say and talk about. I wish I had brought more tape!!!
   The next day Steve called me up to say good-bye and to let me know he'd left me a present. Waiting for me at the concierge desk at the hotel was the board and shoes he had been skating at the demo. On top of the grip tape where he'd drawn his own grip-tape-art was "To Matt. Skate for Fun. Steve Caballero. Vans tour '04". It doesn't get much better than that.
a gift from Steve Caballero to Matt

personal autograph from Cab

Ray leaves a souvenir autograph too
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