Felix Cavaliere recalls decades ago when his band, The Rascals, would roll into town to play a gig and set up all the sound equipment themselves. That’s just the way rock ’n’ roll was in the 1960s. No big deal, no big production extravaganza, just music, plain and simple.
Then one day, a guy told him that perhaps next time, he could take care of their technical needs so they wouldn’t have to do it. Those were changing times, Cavaliere admits.
Now there are big companies that take charge of sound, lights, and stage setup, so the only thing band members have to be concerned with is getting up on stage and whipping fans into a musical frenzy.
“When we started, rock concerts were not in existence,” Cavaliere recalls. “The production now is the show. Now it’s like Las Vegas. It’s like an evolution. I mean, the U2 shows look like Star Wars. From four guys rockin’ on stage to that!”
Four guys rockin’ indeed. Cavaliere, who now resides in Nashville, Tenn., was once The Rascals’ vocalist and keyboardist during those heady years of 1965-72 when the band churned out hit after hit.
Perhaps you’ve heard a few of them: “Groovin’,” “A Beautiful Morning,” “How Can I Be Sure,” and “People Got to Be Free.”
They’re now celebrating 50 years of music during a time when what you heard on a record was what you heard in concert, up close and personal. No abracadabra technology to turn a singer’s voice into something unrecognizable.
Cavaliere began his musical passion in the classical vein. Born in Pelham, N.Y., Cavaliere had a mother who noticed his musical abilities and encouraged him to cultivate that part of his creativity.
“She’d interrupt my baseball games so I would practice,” Cavaliere tells me from his home in Nashville. “I practiced three times a week for eight years. When she passed, I was 13 years old.”
That diligence provided Cavaliere a great foundation in music, and while his love of classical music never waned, he was there to hear the beginnings of rock ’n’ roll—Fats Domino, The Platters, and other greats. That music seeped into his pores, and that’s how rock ’n’ roll became part of his world.
Cavaliere pursued college and was a pre-med student. A summer job in the Catskills opened him up even more to the music of the times and a turning point in his life’s path.
The group Joey Dee and the Starliters were about to go on a European tour when the organist quit. Dee remembered Cavaliere’s performance at the Catskill hotel and asked him to join the group on the tour.
Cavaliere made the decision to leave school and joined Dee’s band to go to Germany and Sweden. It was 1963, before the Beatles came to the United States, and Cavaliere recalls the irony that the four mop-headed Liverpool lads were the warm-up act at their performance.
“It’s amazing that even happened,” he says. “Good fortune has been part of my life.”
That good fortune continued when Cavaliere joined up with Eddie Brigati, Gene Cornish, and Dino Danelli to form The Young Rascals. Its first television appearance was on the program Hullabaloo in 1965, where they ultimately had modest success with the single “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore.”
That was followed up with “Good Lovin’,” a No. 1 single both in the United States and Canada.
Cavaliere and Brigati then began writing most of the group’s songs thereafter, with several having some success. But it was “Groovin’” in 1967 that was a chart topper for the group before they had a succession of hits, including “A Girl Like You,” “How Can I Be Sure?” and “A Beautiful Morning.”
After the song “It’s Wonderful,” The Young Rascals changed their name to The Rascals, and their place as blue-eyed soul and rock performers was cemented.
“Choosing a song as your favorite is like asking, ‘Who’s your favorite kid?’” Cavaliere muses. “But it’s the song ‘People Got to Be Free’ of which I am most proud. It was the late ’60s and the record company didn’t want to release it. When it was [released], it was played in South Africa and Berlin. The song went all over the world. We were motivated during that time. We had a vision of how we wanted the world to be.”
When “A Beautiful Morning” was written and hit the big time in music history, Cavaliere remembers it as a joyous time in his life.
The Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. Further accolades include 18 Top 40 hits, five Top 10 hits, and three No. 1 mega hits. To say that rock ’n’ roll has been kind to Cavaliere would be an understatement.
“I discovered that I couldn’t create as much with classical music,” he says.
But what he can create are songs of his own. Nowadays, Cavaliere continues to nurture his songwriting ways in Nashville, where he has formed a band and where, as he says, “I hope to spend my life writing.”
It is in Nashville’s vibrant music scene that Cavaliere feels right at home. Along with writing, he still goes out on the road playing music—30 to 50 shows a year—mainly on weekends, and he recently received the WhyHunger award.
“The WhyHunger organization is an integral part of our shows, especially the Christmas concerts,” he says. “We donate a portion of each show. It’s important because of the contribution that it makes to feeding the needy.”
Cavaliere is a scuba diver and a voracious reader, particularly books on the bestseller lists “and science fiction,” he adds.
“I like to keep the cells of the brain going,” he says.
Yes, good fortune has always seemed to find a place alongside Cavaliere’s musical path. A beautiful morning? Yes, indeed. )))