The Hippo


Jun 26, 2019








Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals 50th Anniversary Tour

When: Friday, Nov. 10, 8 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
Tickets: $45 - $65 at

Groovin’ time
Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals hit Tupelo

By Michael Witthaus

 From “Good Lovin’” to “Groovin’” to “It’s a Beautiful Morning,” the Rascals had a stunning string of hits in the mid-1960s. None was bigger than “People Got To Be Free,” which topped the Billboard charts for five weeks in the turbulent summer of 1968. Though the song was an optimistic call to world harmony, wrapped with a bright, buoyant melody, its origins were much darker. 

Rascals lead singer and keyboard player Felix Cavaliere was responding to the assassination of Martin Luther King when he wrote the song with bandmate Eddie Brigati, and it was colored by other events. Around the same time, their tour bus broke down in Florida, and the band was threatened by a group of locals offended by their long hair. Tragically, between the time they recorded the song and its release, Robert F. Kennedy was also killed.
RFK’s death hit Cavaliere hard, as he’d been a volunteer in his campaign — one of the many ways he combined music and activism. As a band, the Rascals routinely backed their words with deeds, playing benefits and speaking out on important issues of the day. After the Florida incident, the Rascals updated their performing contract to stipulate that a black act be on every bill. It was an expensive requirement, especially in the South, and many shows were canceled as a result.
In a recent phone interview, Cavaliere lamented what he perceives as an indifference to social justice in the current music scene. 
“I don’t think there’s anyone out there making statements. ... Everyone is trying to sell records,” he said. “There are a lot of females trying to educate younger girls about what not to do in their relationships, but that’s about as far as it goes.”
Granted, the impulse is stronger in social media. 
“In those days, we didn’t have Instagram, Facebook and iPhones,” he said. “Everyone connected through the music and that’s how our generation spoke to one another. ... In some ways it was a guiding light. I always tried to at least put my political and cosmic and civil rights opinions into songs. I think a lot of other artists did that as well, which I don’t really see today — except in protests.”
The spirit of the ’60s is alive and well at Cavaliere’s shows, however. While Rascals hits dominate, there are also bits of  other songs from the decade, such as a snippet of “My Girl” woven into “Groovin.’” He uses that technique to give context. The Rascals covered many R&B songs in their career; they were the first non-black group signed to Atlantic Records.  Audience singalongs also feature prominently. 
“They love it,” he said. “It’s part of what’s in their memory banks of romances and fun, and it takes them back. That’s the feedback I get when I speak to the people after the show.”
His longtime band will join him at an upcoming Tupelo Music Hall appearance, billed as Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals. 
“The Rascals were together for five years,” he said. “I’ve been with these guys 16 to 17 years — they’re just magnificent.” 
The original Rascals split in 1972, reuniting for a one-off show in 2010. Two years later, the retrospective Once Upon a Dream ran on Broadway and toured nationally. 
Cavaliere recently reached out to his former bandmates about possibly doing a brief tour, but only Gene Cornish expressed interest. 
“Eddie’s doing a project with Steve Van Zandt [the E Street guitarist who engineered past reunion shows] and Dino [Danelli] ... seems to be more interested in being a painter,” Cavaliere said.
The inspiration for a another tour came during a pair of shows Cavaliere did in Hawaii early this year. 
“The outpouring of love that we got out there was amazing,” he said. “So I just wanted to say, why not do it one more time? But if it’s not accepted with that kind of feeling, universally, then the hell with it.”
There are plenty of other projects to keep the energetic 75-year-old busy. Next June, Cavaliere and his band will perform orchestrated versions of the Rascals catalog with the 70-member Nashville Symphony. 
“Since I studied classical music in college, this is almost like a complete circle,” he said. “We have to prepare charts for all of these instruments, an expensive and time-consuming process, [and] we are just about there. Of course, I can use those musical sheets for other symphonies. It’s a big endeavor, and I’m really excited about it.”
He’s also completing a biography. 
“It’s my story, the way I see it,” he said. 
He addresses Brigati’s abrupt departure from the Rascals in 1970, but Cavaliere still isn’t certain about his former cowriter’s reasons. 
“When we did Once Upon a Dream, the way Steve Van Zandt treated it was like, ‘I screwed up’ — that’s the way he said it. But you know, that’s no answer; we don’t really know the answer.”
Brigati’s decision came as the band was changing record labels, another blow. 
“You can’t figure it out; it’s a shame,” Cavaliere said. “It’s one thing to abandon ship when your career is finished, but it’s another to do it right in the middle ... when you’re in your 20s. Where do you go from here? Not to say the burden placed on the rest of us.” 

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