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Members include Eddie Brigati, vocals; Felix Cavaliere, vocals, keyboards; Gene Cornish, guitar; Dino Danelli, drums.
The Rascals' songbook continues to be a staple of oldies and classic rock station play lists, and for good reason. The quartet released impeccably performed pop masterpieces that featured soulful singing, and songwriting that captured the essence of the most optimistic elements of 1960s youth culture. Such songs as "Groovin'" and "People Got to Be Free" escaped the prison of 1960s' cultural artifacts by benefit of the crisp musical arrangements and lack of pretension in the vocal performances, and have become true timeless pop classics that have been labeled as prime examples of "blue-eyed soul."
The group formed in New York in 1965. Drummer Dino Danelli was a teenage prodigy, having performed with Lionel Hampton and Little Willie John. Keyboardist Felix Cavaliere was a student of classical piano, and the only white member of the Stereos. While he was a student at Syracuse University, Cavaliere formed a doo-wop group known as the Escorts. Cavaliere moved to New York City, where he met Danelli. The duo traveled to Las Vegas to play in a casino house band, and then returned to New York, where Cavaliere accepted a job with "Peppermint Twist" singer Joey Dee's band the Starliters. Other members of the Starliters included singer Eddie Brigati and guitarist Gene Cornish. Cavaliere, Danelli, Cornish, and Brigati formed the Young Rascals shortly thereafter, releasing the 1965 single "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore," which was sung by Brigati. Cavaliere took over lead vocals on the group's follow-up single, "Good Lovin'," which was a remake of a song originally recorded by the Olympics. The song became one of the biggest hits of 1966. The early recordings of the Rascals were produced by future Eric Clapton and Allman Brothers' producer Tom Dowd. With Dowd, the group created a raucous, driving sound that emphasized Cavaliere's Hammond organ playing and rhythm-and-blues-influenced vocals. The group never hired a full-time bass player, relying instead on session and pickup players for studio and live performances.
Despite the band's American popularity, they were unable to crack the European market until the release of the 1967 single "Groovin.'" The song featured another classic Cavaliere vocal, but with a more jazz-influenced musical backing assisted by Atlantic Records producer Arif Mardin. By now known as the Rascals, the group registered other hits in 1967 with "How Can I Be Sure" and "Beautiful Morning." In Rock: The Rough Guide, critic Richie Unterberger assessed the group's string of hits: "All had a light, beautifully serene grace, perhaps reflecting Cavaliere's increasing infatuation with Eastern mysticism in general, and guru Swami Satchinanda in particular. This was soul music of a new sort, equal parts white and black, driven as much by soul-searching concerns as by romantic ones."
The year 1967 was to be the band's creative peak. The following year they released another stellar single, "People Got to Be Free," but alienated some audiences with a 1969 double album that featured the song Freedom Suite. Written by Cavaliere and Brigati, "People Got to Be Free" was reportedly inspired by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. The group did their best to emulate the social politics of King and Kennedy by insisting that they share all their billed performances with a black group. The move resulted in the band playing few if any dates in the South.
"People Got to Be Free" was the group's last hit single, as they began to focus on integrating jazz improvisers such as Alice Coltrane and Ron Carter on their subsequent recordings. Critics generally dismissed these efforts as pretentious. See, released in 1970, led critic Lenny Kaye to ponder whether the group wasn't better off recording singles rather than full-length albums. "Given the space of an entire album, the group seems to founder about, coming up with material that is in some cases good, but more often simply innocuous," wrote Kaye in Rolling Stone. The group employed such Eastern instruments as sitars and tablas to accompany the songs, which Kaye disparaged as "quasi-mystical ... reflecting itself in lyrics full of Significance and Cosmic Wonder." When the band stuck to their tried-and-true formula for rhythm-and-blues inflected pop, however, Kaye found them at the top of their game: "Both 'See' and 'Carry Me Back' rock like mad, spurred by the frenetically tight drumming of Dino Danelli and carried by those soaring voices that once sat solidly behind Joey Dee and the Starlighters." Kaye praised the songs as "full of fire and topped with a pair of great lyrics," and as "easily the equal of anything the Rascals have yet done, which is to say that they're very good indeed."
For the group's other 1970 release, Search and Nearness, they recruited the help of jazz artists Hubert Laws, Joe Farrell, and Ron Carter. The group left Atlantic Records and signed with Columbia. Before their label debut, however, Brigati left the group in 1970, and Cornish quit the following year. Cavaliere and Danelli recruited Buzzy Feiten from the Butterfield Blues Band, session player Robert Popwell, and singer Ann Sutton. The latter lineup left no music of lasting value, however, and Cavaliere and Brigati folded the Rascals' tent in 1972.
In 1988 Cornish, Cavaliere, and Danelli reunited for a tour that ended in acrimony, and in 1989 Cornish and Danelli sued Cavaliere to prohibit him from touring using the Rascals' name. The judge ruled that Cornish and Danelli could tour as the New Rascals, and that Cavaliere could promote his concert appearances as a former member of the Young Rascals. Through the years the various members of the band have surfaced in different projects. In the 1970s Cornish and Danelli were in the groups Bulldog and Fotomaker; the latter with Wally Bryson of the Raspberries. Brigati toured and recorded with his brother David, and the brothers were featured in the 1991 New York Rock and Soul Revue with Steely Dan member Donald Fagen. Cavaliere toured for a season with Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band. The Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
by Bruce Walker
The Rascals's Career
Released first hit single, "Good Lovin'," as the Young Rascals, 1966; dropped "Young" from name; released "I've Been Lonely Too Long," "Groovin'," "How Can I Be Sure," and "Beautiful Morning," 1967; released "People Got to Be Free," 1968; released double concept album Freedom Suite, 1969; Brigati departed band, 1970; group officially disbanded, 1972; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1997.
- Selected discography
- The Young Rascals Atlantic, 1966.
- Collections Atlantic, 1967.
- Groovin' Atlantic, 1968.
- Once Upon a Dream Atlantic, 1968.
- Time Peace Atlantic, 1968.
- Freedom Suite Atlantic, 1969.
- See Atlantic, 1970.
- Search and Nearness Atlantic, 1971.
- Peaceful World Columbia, 1972.
- The Island of Real Columbia, 1972.
- The Rascals Anthology (1965-1972) Rhino, 1992.
- Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, 1999.
- Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside, 2001.
- Rolling Stone, March 19, 1970; June 10, 1970.
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