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Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals looks back on a life of music

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Much of the timeless music by The Rascals, the soulful 1960s hit makers behind era-defining hits such as “Groovin’,” “A Beautiful Morning” and “People Got to be Free,” was created out of a fear of being forgotten, according to singer, songwriter and keyboardist Felix Cavaliere. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer tells The Maine Edge that his autobiography, “Memoir of a Rascal,” out this week, is his bid toward setting the record straight about his life in The Rascals and beyond.

Cavaliere says he felt compelled to write his book after the dust had settled from a reunion with his old bandmates that left him with mixed feelings. In 40 years, the original lineup of The Rascals had gotten together only for a few special events before famous fan Steven Van Zandt convinced them to sign on for “Once Upon a Dream” in 2012. The theatrical concert event saw Cavaliere reunited with vocalist and percussionist Eddie Brigati, guitarist and vocalist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli for a show that extended to Broadway followed by a national tour in 2013.

“When we held press conferences, I noticed we all had different answers to the same questions,” Cavaliere said with a laugh. “It threw me for a loop when everybody had a different story, even about how we got our name. I thought it would be a good idea to write something down because I could have sworn I was there.”

It’s no secret that the members of The Rascals have had their share of differences, but we didn’t hear it in the music they made together. From 1966-1969, the foursome scored a baker’s dozen of timeless hit singles – three of them chart-toppers – that were each marked with a tangible joy emanating from the grooves. A stunningly diverse musicality is on display in Rascals hits like the rocking abandon of “Good Lovin’,” the swinging soul of “A Girl Like You” and “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” the inspired bliss of “Groovin’,” the plea for tolerance in “People Got to be Free” and the refined sophistication of “How Can I Be Sure?”

Cavaliere comes from a family of medical professionals and says his father, a dentist, offered a piece of advice that drove him to keep creating.

“He told me he could be a doctor for as long as he wanted to practice, but I, on the other hand, had better keep making hit records. The thought of being a one-hit wonder in my 20s was terrifying to me.”

Seemingly out of nowhere, The Rascals delivered an impressive impactful string of original gems that Cavaliere says couldn’t have happened if The Beatles hadn’t first shown them the way.

“They opened the door and proved you could be prolific in multiple genres,” Cavaliere said. “You want to be on the charts? They set the bar. A lot of artists, especially today, write the same song over and over again.” Cavaliere credits The Beatles with giving him the drive to come up with songs worthy of reaching that bar and pushing him to deliver his best.

Cavaliere had the unique opportunity to witness Beatlemania in Germany and Sweden a year before America fell for the Fab Four.

In 1963, Cavaliere was a member of Joey Dee & The Starlighters of “Peppermint Twist” fame. The group performed on a bill with The Beatles in Germany and Sweden, giving the musician a preview of what was to come.

“When you see and hear a hysterical audience like that, it’s not difficult to figure out what’s going to happen,” Cavaliere said.

Cavaliere says he came to know The Beatles during those shows and attributes a later conversation with George Harrison for giving him the confidence to reach out for answers when he was feeling disillusioned with his place in the world. He says he knew there had to be more to life beyond the artifice of showbiz. As Harrison had embraced Indian religion and the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Cavaliere walked a parallel path with a like-minded teacher.

“The book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ was my introduction to a different world and a different way of thinking,” Cavaliere says of the road that led him to his spiritual guru, Swami Satchidananda. “Before I entered into practicing what he’d taught me, I asked George if it was for real, and he very simply said yes.”

Cavaliere says he continues to wholeheartedly embrace the teachings he first learned in the 1960s.

“I truly believe that the reason I’m able to do anything today: walk, run, work, travel, perform – it’s because of what he taught us then,” he said. “It involves physical yoga, mental yoga, a good diet and cleanliness. If you have that, you can’t lose.”

Cavaliere’s book was not available in full for review prior to publication with the exception of four excerpts sent to media last month. Chapters devoted to The Barge (a floating nightclub in The Hamptons where The Rascals got their start), anxiety surrounding the Vietnam war, Jimi Hendrix and his spiritual guru, are delivered in Cavaliere’s self-penned conversational style.

Cavaliere is scheduled to hit the road next month with his band on a tour with Micky Dolenz of The Monkees. For tickets and dates, visit www.FelixCavaliereMusic.com

Cavaliere’s first solo album in 12 years, “Then and Now,” is due in late summer 2022.

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In conversation with Felix Cavaliere

The Maine Edge: Fans have wanted you to write this book for many years. How does it feel now that it’s ready to go?

Felix Cavaliere: It’s a relief, I’ll tell you. I have a great respect for one of the residents in your area, Mr. Stephen King. I don’t know how he comes up with so many of these things (laughs). Years ago it was a rare thing for a musician to write a memoir but today people really seem to be interested in the stories behind the songs. My life as a Rascal was only about 5 or 6 years. There’s a lot more to the story that most people don’t know.

TME: You originally thought you were going to be a classical pianist but your life took a much different turn after you discovered rock and roll. How did that happen?

FC: My mom saw some talent and wanted me to be a classical pianist. My parents enrolled me in a school at age 5 where I took three lessons a week for 8 years. One day I was in junior high when this fellow sitting in front of me turned around and asked “Do you like rock and roll?” I hadn’t actually heard rock and roll at that point but I said yes because I wanted to fit in. That night, I went home and turned on the radio to hear Alan Freed (legendary disc jockey credited with bringing rock and roll from Cleveland to New York City during the early 1950s). I was amazed to hear incredible musicians like Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard playing the same instrument I was learning on but in a totally different way.

TME: You lost your mom when you were in your early teens. Did that loss send you deeper into music as an escape?

FC: In some ways when tragedy like that hits, it makes you a little stronger. It certainly made me a little angrier when my mother died. It also contributed to me seeking answers a little later in my life.

TME: The Rascals had a well known manager with Sid Bernstein (impresario known for booking The Beatles at Shea Stadium). Was he as important to The Rascals as Brian Epstein was to The Beatles?

FC: He was. Sid got us signed to Atlantic Records and as soon as we met him, our pay doubled at the Long Island nightclub we were working at (The Barge). It’s called the music business for a reason. You need some business acumen and most artists don’t have that.

TME: You had one of the all-time great record labels behind you. How important was Atlantic Records in The Rascals’ story?

FC: I owe my career to Atlantic Records and the families of (label founders) Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler. Atlantic was like a big family, there were no barriers. Other labels were interested but I had a desire to produce records and Atlantic gave me that opportunity. They also gave me two gentlemen to work with: Producer Arif Mardin (Queen, The Bee Gees, Hall & Oates) and engineer Tom Dowd (Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Cream, Aretha Franklin, Derek and the Dominos).

TME: What was the most important thing you learned from them?

FC: The one thing I learned from both was humility. They treated us like peers even though we were kids. That made an impression on me because we gave them a tough time (laughs).

TME: You recorded in the same studio as Otis Redding. Did your paths cross at Atlantic?

FC: God rest his soul, Otis Redding was a funny guy. We were recording one day when he opened the door to the studio, peeked inside and said “My God, they are wight!” (laughing) Unless you saw us on shows like Ed Sullivan or Hullabaloo, you might have thought we were a Black group, a lot of people did.

TME: Could you sum up what you learned from guru Swami Satchidananda, and do you still practice what he taught you?

FC: Yes, very much so. He saved my life. What he taught me philosophically was that I was fortunate to have figured out that the business I was in was a big joke. He didn’t use that language but that’s what he meant. He said I was very young to find out that most trades are unfulfilling. Your bank account might be full but that’s about it. His philosophy was to seek inner peace, to go inside. Don’t look for it in the material world because it isn’t there. He told me I’d found it out in my 20s instead of my 60s like a lot of other people.

TME: The Rascals’ “Once Upon a Dream” reunion shows were very well received but what was that experience like for you? Are you glad that you did it?

FC: I am glad that I did it but I thought it was a little too structured, I prefer a little more freedom of movement. We were locked into a script. I think this the best way to sum it up is with something I learned from the guru. Someone asked him ‘Could you describe good and bad?’ He said ‘Take electricity for example. If you plug your iron into it, it’s good. If you plug your finger into it, it’s bad.’ That’s kind of how ‘Once Upon a Dream’ was for me. It was good and it was bad.

TME: You will soon begin a tour with Micky Dolenz of The Monkees. What are you thinking about as those shows approach?

FC: I’m really looking forward to these shows. Micky is a funny guy, a happy guy, and this show is full of happy music. I think people really need that right now.

Last modified on Friday, 25 March 2022 23:12

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