In 1963, Felix Cavaliere was a student at Syracuse University, and a member of a popular campus group, Felix & The Escorts, when he was asked by Joey Dee & The Starliters, [well-known for their hit Peppermint Twist] to join them on a tour of Europe.
As a result, the young keyboardist met Eddie Brigati and Gene Cornish of the Starliters. After a few months of fretting as mere sidemen in the Joey Dee spotlight, the three left The Starliters and, with drummer friend, Dino Danelli, began rehearsing together in Cavaliere's basement. According to Gene Cornish, "All of a sudden we hit magic. We'd all been in bands before and we just looked at each other and went, 'whoah!' It was just amazing; I can't explain it. That day literally changed my whole life. I think we blasted through 30 or 40 songs at that rehearsal. We knew we belonged together."
The Young Rascals, musically influenced by the British invasion, in particular the Beatles, were soon signed to a management contract by promoter Sid Bernstein. As luck would have it, Sid promoted the Beatles appearance at Shea Stadium, and of course added his new clients to the bill. Unfortunately, the Rascals elected to appear in schoolboy uniforms, somewhat distracting attention away from their music, though Cornish believes people remembered them as the kids in the knickers.
Within a few months, the band appeared at a club in Westhampton, presumambly without the knickers, where they were scouted and signed by Atlantic's powerhouse president, Ahmet Ertegun.
The upstart, rhythm and blues-oriented Atlantic was the ideal home for the Rascal's mixture of black and white rock. "The Atlantic philosophy was a jazz philosophy of capturing an energy and a moment," says Cavaliere. "The feelings in those early recording sessions will be there forever."
Atlantic producer/engineer Tom Dowd recalls: "The Rascals were unusual. They were a macho band. Three of them could sing like birds, but they played aggressively, even on ballads. There was an energy to them, a positive energy. They put on a great show and they were fun. They were dedicated to their concept."
The concept was, in Felix Cavaliere's words, "Marvin Gaye's voice, Ray Charles' piano, Jimmy Smith's organ, Phil Spector's production and The Beatles' writing -- put them all together and you've got what I wanted to do." A white rock band playing soul music was a new idea for pop in 1965. "The great thing about music in the 1960s was that people were discovering there was no color barrier in the business. We were respected by the black groups we loved as much as we respected them," notes Cornish.
The Rascals' music was dubbed "blue-eyed soul," a term Cavaliere never cared for. "I always hated the label because it created a separation between black and white music. It was a marketing concept. As soon as you put a drum in music, it's R&B. I wish it wouldn't have been called blue-eyed soul. My eyes aren't blue."
The band's first release for Atlantic was called I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,which rose to a respectable number 52 in the U.S. in 1965, but it was their 1966 effort, Good Lovin' that made them rock and roll stars. The song quickly rose to the Number One spot on Billboard's Hot 100 and went gold. Later that same year, they followed with two more Top 20 hits, You Better Run and I've Been Lonely Too Long.
The songwriting was key to band's success. 16 of their 18 chart records were written by Cavaliere alone or with frequent collaborator Eddie Brigati. As the songwriting progressed, social commentary began to show up in the lyrics; the group's growing ambition was reflected in the change from "The Young Rascals" to simply "The Rascals."[The word "young" had originally been inserted before the band's name for legal reasons -- it seems there was a group named Johnny Pulleo & The Harmonica Rascals who claimed a proprietary interest.] "We were embarrassed about that, 'cause we were trying to be a soul band," says Cornish. "It wasn't The Silver Rascals or The Rockin' Rascals -- it was The Young Rascals! And we had to live with it. By the time we got to Groovin',' we said, 'Well, enough of this. We're The Rascals.'"
A high point for both Cornish and Cavaliere was 1968's #1 hit People Got To Be Free. "The message in songs like People Got To Be Free is as important now as it ever was," says Gene. It was written in reaction to the King and Kennedy assassinations that year - in fact, Cavaliere had
worked for the RFK campaign. "That the song was #1 in places like Berlin and South Africa meant a lot to me," says Felix.
Despite the initial resistance to the "political" nature of the record, it went on to become The Rascals' biggest-selling record. It was also their last Number One.
The jazz-tinged experimentation of later albums like Peaceful World and The Island Of Real (which Cavaliere once called "the best record I ever made") proved less commercial than the group's earlier pop soul.
Unfortunately, management was less than supportive of the direction the band was headed in, and a switch to Columbia in 1971 failed to provide the new life the band was hoping for. Interband friction reared its ugly head, and eventually Brigati and Cornish quit the band. They were replaced by Buzzy Feiten (from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band) and Ann Sutton, a respected singer with various soul and jazz groups in Philadelphia. By 1972, the Rascals called it quits.
In 1976, Eddie Brigati recorded a solo album with his brother, David. Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli started a new band called Bullfrog and later teamed up with former Raspberries guitarist, Wally Bryson in Fotomaker. In April 1980, Felix Cavaliere released a solo single called Only A Lonely Heart Sees, which climbed to #36 on the Billboard chart. In 1982, Dino Danelli joined E-Street's Steve Van Zandt's band, Little Steven.
Danelli, Cornish and Cavaliere reunited in 1988 for a U.S. tour, but they soon split up again, and were then involved in a bitter law suit over the use of the band's name. Cavaliere continued as a solo artist and a producer, releasing a new album in 1994, as well as playing keyboards for Ringo Starr's All-Star Band.
In 1997, The Young Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, but even here the tensions that tore the band apart, rose again. All four former members of the band appeared for the ceremony, but Brigatti refused to join the others, accepting his award on the opposite side of the stage.
The Young Rascal's Hit Records:
I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore (#52 - 1965)
Good Lovin'( #1 - 1966)
You Better Run (#20 - 1966)
I've Been Lonely Too Long (#16 - 1966)
Groovin'(#1 - 1967)
A Girl Like You (#10 - 1967)
How Can I Be Sure (#4 - 1967)
It's Wonderful (#20 - 1967)
A Beautiful Morning (#3 - 1968)
People Got To Be Free (#1 - 1968)
A Ray Of Hope (#24 - 1968)
Heaven (#39 - 1969)
See (#27 - 1969)
Carry Me Back (#26 - 1969)