Felix Cavaliere’s expertise on the Hammond organ gave a distinctive flavor to many of the ’60s hits by the Rascals, one of the first groups to which the term “blue-eyed soul” was applied.
Cavaliere was born Nov. 29, 1944, in Pelham, N.Y. In his youth, he studied
classical piano and landed a job in the Stereos, a band out of Westchester County,
N.Y. Cavaliere then attended Syracuse University, where he formed the doo-wop group the Escorts.
Following graduation, Cavaliere relocated to New York City, where he met R&B/jazz drummer Dino Danelli. After spending some time with Danelli in a Las Vegas casino band, Cavaliere joined Joey Dee and the Starlighters in Manhattan. Soon, Cavaliere quit the band and took with him singer Eddie Brigati and guitarist Gene Cornish to form the Young Rascals (after the Little Rascals of the “Our Gang” movie shorts) with Danelli.
The Young Rascals toured throughout the New York–New Jersey area and signed with Atlantic Records, yielding their first single, the Brigati-sung “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore.” When Cavaliere took over lead vocals for their 1966 cover of the Olympics’ R&B tune “Good Lovin’ ” (RealAudio excerpt), the Rascals had their first #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Cavaliere and Brigati began writing most of the band’s singles. In the next two years, the Rascals (who dropped “Young” in 1967) had hits with such songs as “You Better Run,” “(I’ve Been) Lonely Too Long,” the #1 “Groovin’,” “A Girl Like You” and the top-five hit “How Can I Be Sure.”
The Rascals became more jazz-oriented on Freedom Suite (1968). The Rascals’ last big hits were the #3 “A Beautiful Morning” in 1968 and the #1 “People Got to Be Free,” which Cavaliere and Brigati wrote following the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
With Search and Nearness (1970), the Rascals began making room on their albums for lengthy instrumental jazz solos and lost some popularity in the process. They already had popularity problems in the South, where their demand that a black act always appear on their bills met with opposition.
The Rascals signed with Columbia in 1971, but before they issued any albums, Brigati and Cornish quit. After a few records with session musicians, Cavaliere ended the band.
He next went the solo route (including LPs such as 1975’s Destiny), without much success, and produced records for artists such as Laura Nyro. In 1980 Cavaliere had a minor U.S. hit with “Only a Lonely Heart Sees.”
In 1988 the Rascals re-formed, without Brigati, for a U.S. tour. The next year, Cornish and Danelli sued Cavaliere to prevent him from using the Rascals name on his own. A judge ruled that he could advertise himself as “formerly of the Young Rascals,” while the others could call themselves the New Rascals.
The Rascals Anthology 1965–1972 was issued in 1992 on Rhino Records. Two years later, Cavaliere released Dreams in Motion on producer Don Was’ Karambalage Records.
The Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Cavaliere gigs on his own nearly every weekend in some part of the United States.
Other birthdays Monday: John Mayall, 66; Chuck Mangione, 59; Denny Doherty (Mamas and the Papas), 58; Barry Goudreau (Boston), 48; Michael Stephen Dempsey (the Cure), 41; Sally Timms (Mekons), 40; Greg Lisher (Camper Van Beethoven), 36; Wallis Buchanan (Jamiroquai), 34; Martin Carr (Boo Radleys), 31; Jon Knight (New Kids on the Block), 31; and Roger “Zapp” Troutman (Zapp/Roger) 1951–1999.