The Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere on Michael Jackson, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and More
With The Rascals’ reputation of creating some of the most wondrous blue-eyed soul classics in rock history, it may not be too surprising which concert was Felix Cavaliere’s all-time favorite.
“Just forget about it,” The Rascals’ keyboard player and singer exclaims, pointing to Michael Jackson’s show at the Hartford Civic Center in the early 1980s.
“In the old days, a rock concert was a band playing and jamming,” he explains. “I have never been a fan of people jamming and blues-ing you for two to three hours with fast licks. I don’t find that exciting.
“I’m a song guy. Michael Jackson sang his tail off and danced his tail off. Not too many people can entertain like that.”
Cavaliere, who formed the Young Rascals with Eddie Brigati, Gene Cornish, and Dino Danelli in 1965, idolized soul men Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Marvin Gaye. He incorporated some of their soul into The Young Rascals, who later became The Rascals, and covers Gaye and Sly Stone songs in his solo shows.
Cavaliere’s second-best concert featured Prince, another artist influenced by Gaye and Sly Stone. The show was at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2011.
“The guy is a freaking genius – unbelievable,” Cavaliere says. “He’s a brilliant guitarist. His songs speak for themselves, and he has a flamboyance that captures the whole place.”
Chuck Berry “was one of the finest entertainers we ever had,” though he often played with a weak band, says Cavliere, whose Rascals entertained the Baby Boomer generation with a long string of hits, including “Groovin’,” “A Beautiful Morning,” “Good Lovin’,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” and “A Girl Like You.”
“Chuck Berry came out and kicked from the first song.”
Bo Diddley was “phenomenal on stage,” he adds, remembering a historic 1959 show he saw at Brooklyn’s Fox Theatre.
Cavliere and his fellow Rascals attended a more historic show six years later at Shea Stadium – the home of the New York Mets baseball team – in Flushing, New York. It was August 15, 1965, and there were 55,000 fans waiting for the Beatles to hit the stage.
“Our manager put on the show, and we attended as guests,” Cavaliere recalls. “It was a totally chaotic situation. We were in the dugout prior to the Beatles coming out, and Brian Epstein (the Beatles manager) freaked out when the scoreboard said “The Rascals Are Coming.” Epstein said if those words didn’t come down, the Beatles were not going on. Fifty thousand people were screaming, and it was a very strange experience.”
It wasn’t the first time Cavaliere had experienced Beatlemania. Prior to The Young Rascals, he was a substitute organ player for Joey Dee &The Starlighters, a New Jersey vocal group headlining clubs in Germany and Sweden. The Beatles were their warm-up act in Germany.
“I was just out of college,” Cavaliere recalls. “I got to see Europe from the ground up, and I learned a lot. The British were way ahead of us with sound, and we hired the Beatles sound guy. They opened for Joey Dee & The Starlighters, and the girls were screaming out of control the minute they opened the door of the club.”
Like so many musicians, Cavaliere was influenced by the early Beatles.
“Their music was interesting to me,” he says. “They played American songs decently, and, when they did their own songs, they were brilliant.”
Bands then were usually forbidden from playing their own songs in the European clubs, Cavaliere says.
“The Beatles were the first people I ever heard other than Dylan who wrote their own songs,” he says. “I got to know George [Harrison], and I later toured with Ringo in his All-Star Band.”
Cavaliere also fondly remembers another rock icon, Jimi Hendrix.
Hendrix came back stage to visit the musicians who were performing at a Martin Luther King tribute concert at Madison Square Garden in 1968. Aretha Franklin was the headliner, and other top acts, including Sam & Dave, Joe Tex, Sonny & Cher, and The Rascals performed before 21,000 concert goers at the newly constructed arena.
“It was the last time I saw Hendrix,” Cavaliere recalls. “He was pretty stoned, and he grabbed my arm and said he had to chill. It was a brilliant show. Nobody can follow Sam & Dave. They tore that place apart. Jimi was a sweetheart, a really good guy. Inside, he was soft, tender and giving.”
There’s always been a tender side of Cavaliere that comes out on stage, spilling warmth and happiness to his audience. Last year he spread some holiday mirth by releasing Christmas Joy, his first Christmas CD.
Rascals fans got an even bigger Christmas gift in 2012, when The Rascals—after much prodding from Steven Van Zandt—reunited for their first public performances in 40 years.
They performed Once Upon A Dream, a rock concert and theatrical show that recounted the history of the band. The shows were a critical success and made a limited Broadway run.
“I am glad we were able to get together for a year and do that,” Cavaliere says. “Once Upon A Dream was a healing of old wounds. When the band originally broke up, it was not a pleasant situation—and it bothered me for years.
“Our would is so filled with hype and publicity hype. Our music has endured without the hype.”