July 12, 2018 Interview – Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals
When looking at the wealth of talented artist that began their career in the 1960s, chances are atop any list would be The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys. Yet still, there are oh so many more to talk about, and one hard-pressed to omit would be The Rascals.
Early on known as The Young Rascals, between the years of 1966 and 1968 they would go on to reached the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 with nine singles, including three #1 songs. Highly influential, the style and sounds of The Rascals was uniquely their own with a diverse approach as vocalists, musicians, and songwriters.
A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1997, even to this day their music still resonates in the hearts of listeners. That in mind, wouldn’t it be nice to experience the sounds of The Rascals in concert again? Answering the call, founding member, Lead Vocalist, and key Songwriter Felix Cavaliere has reconnected with original Guitarist Gene Cornish to bring the magic of The Rascals music back on tour in 2018. Excellent to be a part of it all, Mr. Cavaliere graciously sat down to discuss the life and times of The Rascals, the philosophy behind the songwriting, celebrating over fifty years of their music, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – The Rascals attained a massive level of success during the 1960s, and to this day have some of the most recognized songs in Rock-n-Roll history. Looking back on everything, briefly tell us, what has this incredible life of music been like for you?
Felix Cavaliere – It’s been joyous, seriously. I started off as a young pianist, my mom wanted me to be a classical pianist. It culminated on June 22nd, playing my music with the Nashville Symphony. It’s really been a wonderful and joyous experience for me. Of course there have been ups and downs, mostly on a personal level with the group. Other than that, it’s just been fantastic!
CrypticRock.com – It has been a very long run. As mentioned, The Rascals music is easily recognized to this day. The band’s sound was smooth and mellow at times, yet rough and bluesy at others. As a strong singing group, was it important to the band to balance the two styles?
Felix Cavaliere – Yes. We were involved in an era where the competition was pretty high; it demanded we rise to the occasion and fortunately we were able to do that. My plan was to put a band together that could literally play anything and sing anything, we pretty much had that. We had good vocalists and good musicians, it worked.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly did. As you said, the competition was very stern. Rock-n-Roll was alive and well during the ’60s! You could do the bluesy, harder Rock and mellow tunes.
Felix Cavaliere – It’s been documented and also in a new book I am writing, but I went over to Germany with this band called Joey Dee & The Starliters. I was a college student and I was trying to make up my mind to stay in school or maybe think about pursuing a musical career, because I really enjoyed it. What happened was basically, before The Beatles came to the United States, they opened for Joey D in Germany and Sweden. I got a chance to see and hear first hand a phenomenon. I was overwhelmed by the audience’s response, it was hysterical. I said, “Man, this looks like a lot of fun, I should try this.” Listening to the music and vocals of The Beatles, I really felt they were more of a vocal group than an instrumental group. They were okay instrumentally, but vocally they were really strong. I said to myself, “How about if I combine the two if I find musicians and singers that are really excellent?” and it worked.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and the correlation with the bands, like many bands, like The Beatles, you started out covering tunes of others. That in mind, you developed into a very good songwriter. What was it like to develop as a songwriter?
Felix Cavaliere – Well it was difficult, but again, you have that model to follow. Between The Rolling Stones, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and The Beatles, they were writing their own songs, so we gave it a try. Because prior to our recording career, which was really only six months, we were only a band for six months before we got our deal. Prior to that we worked in clubs that demanded you do covers, they forbid you from doing new songs, there was no such thing really. That’s how we got a lot of the covers, and that turned out to be very fortunate as well.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and many of the songs you have covered are distinctive versions too. It was back in 2012 the band reunited for a fantastic show called Once Upon A Dream, a run that even made its way to Broadway. What was it like putting that together and experiencing it as you toured?
Felix Cavaliere – It was extremely interesting. The way it started was kind of unique: one of my daughters called me up and said, “Don’t you worry, but I think I have breast cancer.” I said, “Oh my god, are you kidding me?” Not even a week later, I get a call from Steve Van Zandt to do a cancer benefit for Ann Carr, the foundation he and Bruce (Springsteen) sponsor every year. I took that kind of like an omen. They asked us to reunite the group, and we hadn’t been together in quite awhile; I didn’t hesitate at all, I just said yes. I felt like it was really destined for that to happen.
After that, everybody wanted to continue, including Steve and the rest of the Rascals. Now it was a question of putting it together, it was not that easy, it was very difficult as a matter of fact for Steve as the producer. It did happen though. From that point on until the end, the only word I can use is it was interesting. First of all, being on Broadway was a real joy; being at the same theater as South Pacific and Oklahoma, that was fun! As far as the tour was concerned, it had its moments of good and moments of bad. For the most part, I am glad I did it.
CrypticRock.com – It was a great time. More than a concert, it was a story and that really helped the audience connect more. A lot of The Rascals’ music is very uplifting. As a key songwriter in many of the songs, do you have the same connection with them as the fans do?
Felix Cavaliere – Absolutely! Even more so because of the fact of the ‘spirit’ for the song is on a pretty personal level. This is what I say during my show, in those days, our peer group/audience, we didn’t have the internet, streaming, Facebook, and Instagram. Basically our Facebook was our music. That is how my generation spoke to one another, through our song. We knew what was going on, for example, in Paul McCartney’s life. If they were having difficulty, we kind of knew because they wrote songs to reflect it. That’s what I try and create when I go out to play live. I try to bring that bond of the music together. That’s really what made our generation special, I feel.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, conveying feelings through song. It almost makes you long for the days without social media where everyone’s lives are so out in the open for everyone to see.
Felix Cavaliere – Yeah, it’s kind of weird; I am really not a big fan of it. I think it’s come back to bite people the wrong way in many instances. I recently saw a blurb from Denzel Washington about the dangers of social media. He went out on a limb to say, “This is out of control.” And it is, it is out of control! There’s no question about it.
CrypticRock.com – It truly is. It has become way too much to process. It was recently announced yourself and Gene Cornish will be getting together for a summer/fall tour to bring The Rascals music to the fans once again. What lead to the decision to put this together?
Felix Cavaliere – Basically, I’ve been out on my own for quite a while. One of the places The Rascals were huge was Hawaii. I did two shows out there and the people, who are now adults, asked us, “Do you think you guys can come here one more time?” I said, “We’re in our 70s now, seriously. I don’t know if we’re going to have many opportunities to think about that, physically, and realistically speaking. It was a long time ago.” I said, “Why not?” I called everyone up and said the same thing, “Why not? We’ll do 3-4 shows, go to L.A., Hawaii, NY, and pick another city. We close the door on a real positive note.”
I called Eddie Brigati first, but he told me he was involved with Van Zandt with a solo project, so he would pass. I said okay, that’s cool, no problem. I tried Gene and he was really all about it. I tried Dino Danelli, and it didn’t work out too well; he said he is really more of a painter now than a musician. I said okay, we have what we have, let’s do it! In the interim, my manager said, “Why don’t you bring Carmine Appice from Vanilla Fudge with you? He’s a great drummer, and I think it will really help.” That’s how it happened, very simple.
CrypticRock.com – It should be an exciting show. You have a list of dates lined up for the East Coast.
Felix Cavaliere – We are starting the rehearsal and so far it sounds pretty darn good. It’s fresh. The people we have with us, they grew up as Rascals fans, so they are really elated to be doing this. I am hoping that mood comes through and permeates the environment. It’s hard to keep that enthusiastic attitude for 50 years, but I’ve been able to do it; I hope everybody in the band will be able to do it.
CrypticRock.com – It’s a good band you have put together. It is hard to keep the enthusiasm, as you said. You have kept very busy – touring solo, releasing new music, etc. What is your driving inspiration after all this time?
Felix Cavaliere – If you’re lucky enough to do this, I think you are pretty darn lucky. I know, especially the older guys, they love it. Even someone like Ringo Starr, who certainly doesn’t need any money, he just loves it; you have to tear him off the stage. He loves to be out on stage rocking and playing. I am sure a lot of people reading this, whether they are in the music business or not, they love it!
CrypticRock.com – Right, if you have a passion for something, keep it going. It is wonderful to sustain that.
Felix Cavaliere – The only problem today, and I hear this from everybody, is the travel. That’s the part people don’t like. (Laughs) As far as the playing, everybody loves it and they just have a good time. Especially the younger guys in the band, they have that enthusiasm; otherwise I don’t really want to work with them.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed, you want everyone to be as excited about it as you. Otherwise it does not translate in a live setting and it will lead to a let down.
Felix Cavaliere – Absolutely! That is completely true. I believe the audience can feel if you are interested and in it or you’re not. I think they can really feel that.
CrypticRock.com – A lot of people feel that with live performances.
Felix Cavaliere – I think so. We will be at Westbury on July 20th, it’s always fun there. Ronnie Spector is going to be there as well.
CrypticRock.com – That will be a great show! Last question. CrypticRock covers music as well as Horror and Sci-fi films. If you are a fan of either of those genres, do you have any favorites?
Felix Cavaliere – I’m a huge fan of Science Fiction. I have been reading Science Fiction ever since the ’60s. It was really popular, especially ever since we went to California. As far as the movies are concerned, it’s awful hard for them to reproduce a great book. One I think they never really captured was Dune; they can’t make a good movie of Dune, because that series of books was just magical.
With the technology today, it’s amazing. A lot of people I hang around with, they do not like the modern technology because they think, “What happened to Cary Grant and Ava Gardner?” But it’s pretty amazing what they do on screen now: I am a fan of it. A good one I saw recently was The Martian (2015). The book is good and the movie is good, so when you get both, you are doing okay.