Felix Cavaliere: Still Groovin’ After All These Years

Felix Cavaliere

Felix Cavaliere exploded onto the music scene with The Young Rascals, a band he founded in the mid-1960s. He, with bandmates Gene Cornish, Dino Danelli and Eddie Brigati, defined early rock ‘n’ roll and influenced generations of musicians to come.

“I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” “Groovin’,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “A Girl Like You,” and “People Got to Be Free” shot up the charts and their soulful sound earned them the label “blue-eyed soul.” In 1968, they became The Rascals with the release hit single A Beautiful Morning. The Young Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2005 and Cavaliere and Brigati were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009.

The original members got back together on and off through the years, most notably for their 2013 Broadway show and subsequent tour of The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream.

Cavaliere’s career continues to thrive. In 2023, he released his latest album, Then and Now, with a giant butterfly on the cover symbolizing the pure joy he has for performing. Felix Cavaliere and The Rascals continue to tour and recently stopped at Patchogue Theatre where enthusiastic fans got a high-octane concert. Next fall, they will perform at the Malt Shop Memories Cruise alongside celebrities from the ’50s and ’60s.

After all these years, Cavaliere still has boundless enthusiasm for music and performing.

Felix Cavaliere

Has Long Island played a role in the Young Rascals’ musical career?

There’s a kind of controversy as to where the group comes from because yes, we got discovered on Long Island and we started in New Jersey but we actually formed in New York. All of that’s fine because the tristate area to me is home.

Did the Young Rascals get their big break when Sid Bernstein, the promoter for The Beatles, discovered you at The Barge in the Hamptons?

Yes, we had just started not even two months before and this fellow who had a New York discotheque was opening a place in the Hamptons. He asked us to be the house band. I knew all about the Hamptons and told the guys famous people go out there. If we’re ever going to be discovered this is the place. That’s exactly what happened. Sid came out and signed us. Within six months, we were on Atlantic Records.

So stardom came swiftly?

It happened quickly. I got the best players and singers that I could find. At this time, there were a lot of groups who used session musicians. We were able to play our own instruments until we finally imported a bass player. Before that, I played the bass on the Hammond organ which is like an orchestra in itself.

When you toured with Joey Dee and the Starliters, wasn’t the opening act The Beatles?

Yes, funny story. I was in college and took a summer job in the Catskills which brought in headliners. One weekend Joey D and The Starliters, who had a big hit with Peppermint Twist, came and that was a turning point for me because I met David Brigati, Eddie’s brother, who was in the group. They went off to Europe and their organ player quit so they contacted me. I was going into my junior year in college studying pre-med. I told my dad I got to take this shot. I flew to Frankfurt Germany and there was hysteria. The Beatles were already known in Europe. I was able to peruse and ingest their music on that tour.

How do you keep your voice in such great shape?

I’m Italian! Basically, you have to keep your whole self in shape not just your voice. I think that is the secret to everything. If you want to smoke, drink and all those things, you’re going to have a problem. It’s also good genetic luck. In 2013 and ‘14, the Rascals did a Broadway show, Once Upon a Dream, and I asked Steven Van Zandt, who put that on, how am I going to sing all these songs every night? They sent me for voice lessons which were very enlightening because this voice coach showed me a lot of tricks.

How did you originally team up with Steven Van Zandt?

It started back in ‘97 with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Stevie and Bruce Springsteen were big fans of our group. Stevie was on the nomination board and he went out of his way along with Frankie Valli and Dion to get us on the ballot which ultimately got us into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You should Google his intro to our induction because it was brilliant and it was that induction speech that got him onto The Sopranos. So, then the story gets a little stranger. I have a daughter who owned a limousine company that drove Bruce and the band, U2, and Billy Joel. She called me one day and told me she had a little lump in her breast. Not even a week later, Stevie Van Zandt called me. He said Bruce and I do this Christian cancer benefit every year and we’d like to get the Rascals back together to do it. I said Stevie you cannot believe what you did because my daughter just told me she has this horrible disease. That’s what started it. We did the cancer benefit show and then he made that Broadway show happen.

How was it working with members of the original band again?

Very interesting, because it had been something like a divorce then we got back together. The good thing is there is a certain magic to groups that are successful, they have a chemistry that cannot be manufactured. After a short time of us playing together, it just clicked and was fantastic.

What was it like, going through all the emotions to write your 2022 autobiography, Felix Cavaliere: Memoir of a Rascal?

It was very cathartic. The idea for it started when we were doing a lot of press conferences around our Broadway show. I noticed that every member of the band had a different answer for the same question. We had a wonderful career but we also had a lot of bad things that happened to us and I had to decide if I wanted to write about that. I chose not to and the only time I kind of went back on that was when my manager asked how I felt when Eddie left the band? I was devastated. He said people want to know you’re human, put that in. I was very careful to keep it positive. In reality you need to be a rock ‘n’ roll maniac, leave your surroundings, your family and be able to live in different environments, hotels and countries. Eddie did not want to leave his family.

How did it happen that the cover for your autobiography is an original photograph taken by Linda McCartney?

Linda was a professional photographer. She came around when we were working at the clubs in New York. She put that photo in one of her coffee table books. I told her estate I would love to have that photo for the cover of my book and they allowed it.

Do you still enjoy being on the road?

Well, musicians say, “I don’t get paid to play, I get paid to get there.” It’s really hard traveling these days with all of the airline problems, the close calls, and the TSA [Transportation Security Administration]. But once I get there, I love it!

Felix Cavaliere