Backstage with Ron Onesti :
Felix Cavaliere … Still a ‘grooving’ Rascal
Who doesn’t loooooooove great Rascal’s music? Well I sure do! And having this music back at The Arcada will be another night to remember. Let me tell you about my “uncle” Felix:
As the British “invaded” America’s rock ‘n’ roll scene from 1964-1967, many American bands emulated the “moptop” style of music just to keep up. But when I asked Felix Cavaliere why his Young Rascals really didn’t have that style mixed in their repertoire, his answer was quite interesting.
“If you really look at it, the guys from England were trying to be American,” he said. “The Stones and the Beatles have both said they were really influenced by American blues, especially by the hometown boys of the blues by you in Chicago. They were also influenced by early American R&B and even gospel, as well. We WERE American. Why should we copy ourselves?”
For me, talking to Felix is like talking to an uncle. Although he lives in Nashville, still writing and recording, his somewhat raspy, Jersey-boy accent is still quite prevalent. He is the kind of “neighborhood” guy who would look quite comfortable with a big plate of mama’s meatballs in front of him.
The Young Rascals, consisting of Cavaliere, Dino Danelli, Gene Cornish and Eddie Brigati, was part of that early “New Jersey Sound,” much like that of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. “We tried to be bit more rock than pop at the time,” Felix said. “Until (Jimi) Hendrix came out, then we found out what rock music really was!”
With a slew of hits that have stood the test of time. The most popular were “Groovin’,” “It’s a Beautiful Morning,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” “Good Lovin’ ” and “People Got to Be Free.” It’s so hard to choose, but I think my personal favorite is “Groovin’.” I had to ask him where the song came from.
“Well, many of the songs I wrote back then were about a particular girl. But ‘groovin on a Sunday afternoon’ referred to the fact that, as a musician, the “Saturday date nights” most people had were Sundays for us. We were always working on Saturdays, so Sunday afternoons was our ‘grooooovin’ time!”
A day does not go by when somewhere in America at least one of those songs is being sung. How many groups can actually say that? “When we started, we never thought 50 years later we would still be around performing,” Cavaliere said. “We had our bumps (more like potholes) in the road, but now, I am really enjoying life, still sharing music. How much better can it get?”
The group eventually disbanded and Felix, Gene and Dino all did their own “Rascals” thing, and Eddie went out with his brother David, who was actually the “fifth Rascal,” as he cowrote and sang harmonies on many of the Rascals’ recordings.
Twenty-five million records later, on May 6, 1997, THE magical moment finally arrived. Steven Van Zandt, the bandana-wearing guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band (who also played Silvio in “The Sopranos” TV show) inducted the Rascals into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Van Zandt, a fellow Jersey boy and also a Hall of Fame inductee, was a huge fan of the group and a natural to be the one to induct them. He asked the guys to not only appear all together, but asked if they would perform together that night? They did and the result was as magical as the night itself.
It was a slow process, but Van Zandt’s dream of getting the guys together to perform as a group again became a reality in 2013. He produced a multimedia, biographical musical about, and starring, the original Rascals called “Once Upon A Dream.” The guys agreed to reunite and it was a smash success around the country, proving their music and stories are definitely timeless.
The run ended on a positive note, fostering their music by sharing it with a new generation. But will it happen again? Probably not for a long, long time.
After performing as the original band for the first time in 40 years, I asked how the reunion was, behind the scenes. “It really felt good to be with the other guys again. All of us have our quirky personalities, but when the music started, you can see us all shut our eyes and go back to those times. See, it’s not just the audience that goes back to their memorable times when they hear the music. We join them in the journey back ourselves as we sing the tunes.”
With a book of memoirs being penned, a line of wine bearing the names of Rascals’ songs, the regular touring and being in the recording studio almost on a daily basis, Felix Cavaliere shows no signs of slowing down. But his fatherly smile reveals he has many stories yet to tell, and many songs to sing.
For Cavaliere, every morning is “A Beautiful Morning.” And thanks to him and the rest of the Rascals (including David), us rock ‘n’ roll fans have great stuff to belt out to as we are driving with the top down and the radio blasting.
Felix Cavaliere appears Friday, Sept. 30, at The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles with special guests Jay & The Americans (Cara Mia, This Magic Moment). Great seats are still available, www.oshows.com.
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.