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It was the early sixties and The Peppermint Lounge in New York City was the place to be. Joey Dee and the Starliters were drawing huge crowds, as their hit single The Peppermint Twist was soaring up the charts. The famed nightspot was also a showcase for many other talented bands including Felix and the Escorts, a quartet assembled by classically trained musician Felix Cavaliere. Felix, a native of Pelham, New York, was on hiatus from his medical studies at Syracuse University when he decided to concentrate on music rather than medicine. One night while performing at The Peppermint Lounge, Felix met New Jersey native Eddie Brigati, a feisty, energetic young singer who, to everyone's delight, was often asked to get up on stage and unleash his powerful voice and infectious sense of humor. Shortly thereafter, The Escorts disbanded and Felix was asked to play keyboards for Joey Dee, who was currently on tour in Europe opening for The Beatles. Upon their return to the States, Eddie joined the Starliters as a vocalist, replacing his brother, veteran singer David Brigati. Another addition to the band was Ottawa-born guitarist Gene Cornish. He had come to New York City with his new band The Unbeatables, known for their Cornish-penned novelty single I Wanna Be A Beatle. Things did not work out in their favor, and the band went home while Gene stayed in New York to join forces with Joey Dee. Around this time, Felix met drummer Dino Danelli, another New Jersey native who had come up from New Orleans with a band called Ronnie Speakes and the Elrods. Dino was a seasoned veteran, having toured with Lionel Hampton and many r&b road shows.

By January 1965, Felix had left The Starliters and along with Dino, began playing Las Vegas Lounges with singer Sandu Scott, after which the desire to create their own band prompted them to contact Gene and Eddie back in New York. In February 1965, the four seasoned musicians met at Felix's home in Pelham and began hours of intense rehearsals, preparing about 25 songs that they could perform on stage. Shortly thereafter, The Rascals made their debut at The Choo Choo Club in Garfield, New Jersey and soon became the house band at The Barge in West Hampton, Long Island. The Barge had also been the launching pad for other promising bands like The Vanilla Fudge, The Hassles (with Billy Joel), and The Vagrants (featuring Leslie West of Mountain). The impact of The Rascals' live performances caught the attention of Sid Bernstein, the rock promoter who brought The Beatles to America in 1964. Bernstein wasted no time in signing them and set out to look for a recording contract. As a novelty, he had them dress in knickers, Jackie Cooper caps and Buster Brown collars, then booked them at Harlow's Discotheque in Manhattan.


     
 
Felix Cavaliere
 
Dino Danelli

On October 28, 1965, The Rascals opened at The Phone Booth, another popular Manhattan nightspot. After several offers by various record companies, Bernstein decided on Atlantic, a label that up until that time had focused primarily on jazz and r&b. Upon signing, the group officially changed its name to The Young Rascals, and their first single was the powerful Pam Sawyer/Lori Burton composition I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore. It peaked on the Billboard chart at number 52 in January 1966, with most of the record sales and airplay in the New York area. In March, The Young Rascals soared to the top of the charts with their first monster hit - a driving remake of The Olympics' Good Lovin'. Their respectable debut album, simply titled The Young Rascals, was released, and contained enthusiastic covers of classics like Mustang Sally, Slow Down, Like a Rolling Stone and In the Midnight Hour. Late 1966 saw the release of Collections, the second album by The Young Rascals. Collections contained six original songs, including the classic hit I've Been Lonely Too Long, the powerful rocker Come On Up, and the soul-drenched Love Is a Beautiful Thing. The group's popularity soared, and they hit the concert trail with extended tours of the United States, Canada, and Europe. After two successful albums they decided to expand their musical horizons, resulting in the release of their next number one single, Groovin'. Gone was the driving Hammond organ, replaced by a softer musical atmosphere with much more emphasis on vocal harmony. Groovin' was followed by A Girl Like You, and How Can I Be Sure, two more hits culled from the highly successful Groovin' album. The Young Rascals were now writing all of their own material and soon became America's number one band, making numerous appearances on television, including the ever-popular Ed Sullivan Show.

Their next LP, Once Upon A Dream was a complete departure from anything the band had done up to that point. With a cover and photo booklet designed by Dino, the album featured an impressive array of studio musicians, plus the most elaborate brass and string arrangements ever heard on any Rascals album to date. Highlights included the beautiful pop masterpieces Silly Girl, Rainy Day, and My Hawaii. Eddie's brother David also made a contribution to the album, singing lead on the beautiful title track, Once Upon A Dream. At this point, the group dropped the "Young" from their name and were now officially known as The Rascals. In the Spring of 1968, The Rascals reached the Top 10 once again with A Beautiful Morning, a light pop classic that peaked at number 3 on the Billboard singles chart. Also in 1968, they became the first American rock band to perform with an orchestra. Appearing before a capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York City, The Rascals were backed by 40 musicians under the direction of Atlantic Records music director Arif Mardin.


     
eddie
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Eddie Brigati
 
Gene Cornish

The next album release, Time Peace, The Rascals' Greatest Hits, was their biggest seller and the only Rascals album to reach number one. The Rascals were at the peak of their popularity, and the music was beginning to reflect their beliefs and opinions about political and social issues. People Got To Be Free, their next single, contained a very strong statement about freedom and equality. Climbing all the way to number one, it was to be their very last chart-topping record. The next album, Freedom Suite, was an ambitious two-record set with one disk containing their usual brand of pop and r&b and the other containing three lengthy instrumental cuts. With the inclusion of People Got To Be Free, the album was certified gold two weeks before it hit the record stores. When Freedom Suite was released, The Rascals issued a statement that they would not perform on any live show that did not contain a 50% black billing. The group wanted its audiences to be integrated, but unfortunately the move was a financial disaster, virtually banning it from touring in the South. The group also decided that it did not want to perform on any "establishment TV shows". As admirable as these moves might have been in principle, they unfortunately marked the end of The Rascals as a truly powerful American rock and roll band.

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In late 1969, The Rascals' See album was released and contained some fine material, including the Top 40 hit Carry Me Back. Unfortunately, their record-selling days were just about over, and the album did not fare very well on the charts. Search and Nearness, their final album for Atlantic, was released in 1971, thus ending an impressive 5-year run resulting in 13 Top 40 singles and 7 Top 40 albums. Although the group had just been offered a new contract with Columbia Records, Eddie Brigati and Gene Cornish had both decided to depart just prior to signing. Felix and Dino reorganized the band and the “new” Rascals recorded their first Columbia release, an impressive 2-record set entitled Peaceful World. The album was a trip back into mellow, soulful jazz with guest soloists Alice Coltrane, Hubert Laws, Joe Farrell, Ron Carter and others. As ambitious as it was, the album made very little impact and had only one single, the funky, gospel-flavored Love Me, which charted at 95. The Island of Real appeared in 1972 and was the final Rascals album, barely making a dent on the record charts. Shortly thereafter, The Rascals called it quits. Dino contacted Gene and the two joined Bulldog, participating in a string of reasonably successful rock and roll albums. In the late 70s the pair moved to Fotomaker, with ex-Raspberry Wally Bryson. As for Felix, he went on to record several highly acclaimed solo albums, while Eddie kept a low profile over the years, making occasional album appearances with the likes of The Average White Band, Jackie Lomax, Danny O'Keefe and Gordon Haskell. Along with his brother David, he also recorded the album Lost In The Wilderness, which featured a remake of The Young Rascals' classic hit, Groovin'. In the late 80s, The Rascals reunited briefly, sans Brigati, to do a series of highly successful concert tours and TV appearances. 1997 marked the year that The Rascals were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Steven Van Zandt did the honors and The Rascals’ performance that evening reunited the original 4 members for the first time in over 25 years. It was a very special event and an honor so richly deserved.

Although the original band is no longer active, the Rascals sound is still alive and well. Felix currently tours with his band "Felix Cavaliere's Rascals", and Dino & Gene are reunited once again in "The New Rascals". For information about tour itineraries, log onto Pollstar.com.



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