Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Still a Beautiful Morning: Felix Cavaliere Keeps the Hits Alive

Good Lovin.’” “A Beautiful Morning.” “(I’ve Been) Lonely Too Long.” “Mustang Sally.” “How Can I Be Sure.” And so many others. 

Going through the list of Felix Cavaliere’s hits with New Jersey ’60s giants The Rascals is a study of some of the finest moments in Rock ‘n’ Roll history. Still an active and inspiring musical force, Cavaliere is currently on the road with a four-piece backing band as Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals, an awe-inspiring group that pays respectful homage to the band’s legendary history while proving that great songs are truly timeless. New Hampshire fans have an opportunity to experience this can’t-miss show this Friday when Cavaliere and Co. hit the stage at the Tupelo Music Hall in Derry. (Tickets are available here.)

Based in Nashville these days, Cavaliere delivers a live production complete with videos and stories about the beloved songs that comprise his set list. While he has a considerable and eclectic back catalog he could use an inspiration for his current endeavor, he makes sure that crowds who attend his performances experience the songs that made him famous.

The audiences really want to hear the hits. If you want to put in things that they’re not that aware of, that becomes a problem sometimes. What I try to do that’s a little different is bring the audience together. Way back when we didn’t have internet, iPhones, Instagram and Facebook, our link together was the music. International people were listening to each other’s lives being foretold by the lyrics of their music. There’s a tremendous camaraderie and communication that these songs have with our audience.”

Cavaliere’s life as a hit songwriter kicked off with The Rascals’ second single, 1966’s immortal cover of ‘Good Lovin’’ (a song previously performed by The Olympics and Lemme B. Good). While the recording brought the band fame and glory, they initially found following up such a massive track a daunting task. It wasn’t until 1967’s “(I’ve Been) Lonely Too Long” that The Rascals scored another chart smash – and Cavaliere’s first home run as an original songwriter.

The way our career progressed was kind of weird. We were working in clubs; in those days, you had to do covers. We basically looked around on these obscure radio stations to find these great songs, and we did. We found ‘Good Lovin,’’ ‘Mustang Sally’ and some really cool things. It was kind of funny; we had to prove to the club owner that these were actually records. I used to go out and buy the records and show them, because they never heard of them. That worked to our advantage, because that’s how we found ‘Good Lovin.’’ All of a sudden when we got a record deal, we were kind of unprepared as writers because we hadn’t really had the opportunity. They put out ‘Good Lovin’ as our second record, and it becomes a #1 record. Now, things were a little different; we were in a more powerful position, and we tried to get our writing chops going. Well, it’s easier said than done. We had a couple of things out; we had a semi chart thing with ‘You Better Run’ and ‘Come On Up.’ When we finally hit with ‘Lonely Too Long,’ it charted fairly well. That really was an opening for us. If it hadn’t come along, who knows… Maybe the record company would have demanded that we go outside for songs. I really wanted to write our own; it’s just that we didn’t have the practice and experience yet.”

Following The Rascals’ breakup in the early ’70s, Cavaliere continued on with a variety of other musical endeavors that at one point put him in touch with an unlikely collaborator – future KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent. Then known as Vinnie Cusano, Vincent worked with Cavaliere under the band name Treasure; an eponymous album was released in 1977. The singer has fond memories of working with the acclaimed six-stringer.  

I was living in Bridgeport, Connecticut at the time, which I think was his hometown or close to it. I needed a guitarist kind of in a hurry. The person who owned the studio, Paul Leka, was well known in that area. He mentioned this guy, Vinnie Cusano, from Bridgeport. The kid came in the studio and was frickin’ unbelievable. He really, really had talent. After having him play on a couple of sessions, I had an idea. I said, ‘Look, why don’t we do an album?’ I wanted to have a real screaming guitar player; Boston was really happening at that time. That’s how that started.”

The two quickly formed a bond away from the studio as well.

Our wives were very friendly, and so were our kids. He had twins, and I had twins. My kids are still in touch with his kids. Our wives [from that period] are both deceased, and he’s kind of estranged. It’s a pretty strange story, but if you just stick to the fact that this guy really played his tail off and is really a great guitarist... He could play anything. The Metal part is what he’s known for, but when I saw him, he could play anything you put in front of him – whether it be Flamenco or Folk. He was a really talented guy. He was a country kid; he was not a big city kid.

Of course, the notoriously reclusive Vincent is best known these days for rumors (including unfounded and ridiculous talk of a sex change) and tabloid fodder regarding an arrest not too long ago in Connecticut. To his credit, Cavaliere shies away from commenting on his former musical partner’s personal life in great detail.

Once you come out of that country side and go into the big time, man, you better be prepared for it. Sometimes it really kicks you in the butt. The last I heard, he was living in Nashville.” (At press time, Vincent was set to make him first public appearance in several years this January at a KISS Expo in Atlanta.)

Unlike a growing number of other’60s-era hitmakers, the original four members of The Rascals are all still among the living. With that in mind, Cavaliere has been toying with the idea of bringing the original band out of retirement long enough to hit the stage in Hawaii in the not-too-distant future.

I know there are so many people out there who want to hear us, especially [there]. I approached the guys; I said, ‘You know, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a little vacation, go to Hawaii, play a show and get paid.’ So far, [guitarist] Gene [Cornish] is on board; he definitely wants to do something. [Percussionist/singer] Eddie Brigati is doing something with Steven Van Zandt, so he kind of passed. [Drummer] Dino [Danelli] is a little up in the air whether he wants to interrupt his life as a painter – which is what he does now – to go back and become a Rock ‘n’ Roller. We shall see.”

After nearly six decades in one of the most difficult industries in the world, Felix Cavaliere is still working, creating and giving people a live experience they will never forget. In his mind, the key to finding lasting and fulfilling success in the music business is simple:

I always try – no matter where I am and how many people are in the audience – to give a really, really good show, just in case that one person out there remembers that this guy really put it all out.”


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