Gary James' Interview With Felix Cavaliere Of
The Rascals were one of the top groups in the 1960s. They had four number one hits, six top twenty singles and six top twenty albums.
Felix Cavaliere was the keyboardist and vocalist for The Rascals. He talked with us about his career in the group as well as his solo career.
Q - You're actually a legend in Syracuse. That's because of your connection with Syracuse University. You went to school there for a year?
A - Well, I spent two years. Left in my Soph (sophomore) year. Of course, I have great memories of it up there. It was really pretty cool.
Q - Really?
A - Yeah. It was really pretty cool up there. I enjoyed it. This was many years ago and I still have like a lot of friends up there. A lot of friends that I still see on the road, etc. etc. etc.
Q - You're not talking about other musicians?
A - Not necessarily musicians. People I was in school with. People that have grown up as Rascals fans. Obviously it's nice that we kept in touch through the years. So, I've got nothing but good things to say about it up there.
Q - While you were at Syracuse University, you put a band together?
A - Yeah. That's pretty much where all this started. It was up there. I put a band together. We did the fraternity parties. We left for the Summer to do the Catskills Mountains and actually the whole band left. (laughs) But, it ended up that most of 'em went back to school. Curiously, another guy in the band also had some success with The Blues Magoos. So, we had a pretty good team going there.
Q - What was the guy's name who was in school with you that had success with The Blues Magoos?
A - God, I can't remember his name. He was in my band and he left school with me. It was a long time ago. Mike something. Great guy too...bass player.
Q - Besides the frat parties, did you play any Syracuse bars?
A - Oh, yeah. We did that too. We had a really good time. Matter of fact, a little bit too much fun because we also had to study and you know how that is.
Q - You released a 45 of a song you wrote while you were here?
A - Yes, I did. Someone just mentioned to me the other day they had a copy of it. Somebody up there contacted me, like a local guy. I don't remember his name any more. He wanted me to make a record of a song I wrote called "The Syracuse". Then on the "B" side, I did a cover of a song called "I'm Saved". Lo and behold that thing surfaced years later and they called by "The Rascals". You know, it was one of those bootleg things.
Q - "The Syracuse"?
A - It was like in the days when they used to name all the cities and stuff like that in the songs. That was a long time ago.
Q - You joined up with Joey Dee and played Hamburg, Germany on the same stage as The Beatles?
A - I played all through Europe with him. And during that course of time, we ran into The Beatles.
Q - Who opened for who?
A - We would open for The Beatles if I remember correctly. It would be in certain places, like we did it in Scandinavia and as I say, in Germany. But, it was a madhouse. I remember it being like a real interesting scene, 'cause everybody was screaming and hollering. I didn't know what was going on. Come to find out later, that was The Beatles. They meant nothing to me then 'cause I never heard of them. So, it was pretty interesting.
Q - Did they have the long hair, the collarless jackets and Cuban high-heel boots?
A - Yeah. Everything was the same. To me, it was kind of new. I didn't know what was going on.
Q - Did you think to yourself, this is the future of Rock 'n' Roll?
A - No. I had no idea. All I can say is, people were making a big fuss out these guys and I didn't really know why. I was impressed with the music at the time. Also, I remember feeling kind of odd because everything was so crazy. Nothing made any sense. When they played their music it was very impressive. When they played 'our' music, meaning Chuck Berry, etc, etc, it was OK. It really didn't do anything for me. So, it kind of inspired me to say, well look, if these guys are getting all this success and at the time it was just over there, why can't I do that? So, it kind of made me feel like, wow! Let me go start a band when I get back to the States.
Q - Did you meet and hang-out with The Beatles?
A - It was basically an insane situation. It was like they couldn't even stop what they were doing. They pretty much had to run and hide all the time, which is what happened when they came over here. We did meet some of their crew and some of their staff and got to know them. The fella that was doing their sound. His name was Adrian Barber. He became a producer and a pretty well-known guy at Atlantic Records in the '60s. Joey Dee actually invited him to the States.
Q - Did you meet Brian Epstein?
A - Yeah. We met him at a number of places. I don't remember seeing him there. This was much later.
Q - What kind of guy did you find him to be?
A - Just a regular manager type of guy. Very serious about what he was doing. At that time he was a little angry at us.
Q - Why would that be?
A - We were at Shea Stadium at that time and basically they were doing their concert. We had on the sign "The Rascals Are Coming". He took exception to the fact that that was on the billboard the same time his band was onstage. So, it had to come off immediately. So, it's kind of tough to have a real friendly conversation with somebody that's really ticked off at you like that. Over the course of the years, I got to know Paul a little bit, George a little bit and I toured with Ringo. John, I used to see him from time to time on the streets of New York. It's tough to get to know a Beatle. You know what I'm saying? The guys that I knew the best were George and Ringo of course 'cause I did the tour. They're so isolated from everything and everyone. They're super, giant, monster stars you know. They really don't get any peace and quiet. I always felt happy to be invited to their homes and took advantage of the time I had there to talk about what I was interested in. In the case of George, I was talking to him about yoga because I was getting involved and of course they were involved. It was a great, great thing and they're very important people.
Q - Where'd you come up with the lyrics to the song "How Can I Be Sure"? I'm talking about: "How's the weather, whether or not we're together, Touch me but don't let me down. Maybe I'm just hanging around, with my head up, upside down."
A - That's very difficult to answer. There's nowhere you can describe where those thoughts come from. First of all, you need a situation where you need to rhyme. Second of all, you need to get a story across. Again I wrote that with my partner Eddie (Brigati). I think what we were trying to do is, rhyme weather and together with something. The whole tone of the thing...I was engaged to a woman at the time, a young girl. All the songs that were written at that time were written about that relationship; all of the joy that was experienced through that relationship. And at that time the relationship was starting to become a little question mark as to whether I was doing the right thing or not. Ultimately I ended up not marrying her and not being involved with her. That was kind of the signal, the warning sign, that song, that the relationship was over with..."How Can I Be Sure". Even though it really doesn't have a negative connotation, it really does, in that, that was it. So, these things happen. They pass through your life.
Q - Nobody writes lyrics like that. It's very strange.
A - Well, it is. If you met my partner you'd know why. He's a pretty strange guy. (laughs) It just has to do with thought sequences, thought patterns that go through your mind. What I usually did was write the title of the song, and the melody of the song. Then I sat down with him and kind of played it and sung it for him. Whatever kind of musical vibrations it set off in his mind, he tried to put a word to that. It's kind of like bouncing a ball against a wall. You know, sometimes it bounces up. Sometimes it bounces down. Wherever it goes, you use whatever creativity you have to express that. It's a very interesting process. That's what came out.
Q - So, you wrote what part in "How Can I Be Sure"?
A - I wrote basically like the choruses, the main theme to the song. Actually I understand Eddie's brother also collaborated on that. Whatever was going through their brain at that time, triggered those words. There's no way to describe how those things happen. That's what makes it so much fun writing.
Q - This girl you were seeing also inspired you to write "It's A Beautiful Morning" and "People Got To Be Free"?
A - Yeah. "People Got To Be Free" was a whole different thing. That's a real conscious effort to get a thought across.
Q - That song must've been inspired by what was going on around you politically?
A - Basically, I was working for the Robert Kennedy campaign. The sequence of events that took place, obviously the first was Martin Luther King's death. Second was Robert Kennedy's assassination. So there was a woman that got me involved with the whole Kennedy people. She was there when he was assassinated. As a matter of fact, I was in Jamaica on a vacation. She called me up and told me this and was hysterical. I don't think she's ever recovered from it. Everybody was so wrapped up in the moment and all of a sudden - Bang! Interesting that that event may have some bearing on what's happening in our world today. That (song) was a real conscious effort to get a point across that was burning inside of me. And again, I collaborated with Eddie on that. But on that one, the majority of the lyric is mine. You kind of mix and match. The statement was just burning inside and had to come out. A very important song.
Q - You said that what happened to Robert Kennedy has some bearing on what's going on today. How so?
A - Yeah, there's a lot of feelings as to that being the first terrorist attack on the United States of America in our modern times. After all, he was killed by a person of the Mid-East and who knows why. It was a terrorist attack as far as I was concerned. A lot of people mentioned that was really the beginning of it. That's when we started to have trouble.
Q - Did you like David Cassidy's recording of "How Can I Be Sure"?
A - Yes. It was interesting how it kind of affected our career, because we sold our publishing at that time.
Q - I was referring to David Cassidy's recent recording of that song.
A - Oh, no, I didn't hear a recent one. I didn't know about that.
Q - You gave an interview in which you said "The tragedy of The Rascals is that we lost our dream. We were a very special group and we blew it. We had a dream there and we'll never regain a tenth of that." What was the dream of The Rascals that was lost?
A - We had four guys that got together and had success on a par with the English groups in terms of success for a long period of time. Of course, they're legendary, historical and still together and we're gone. The dream was basically, you're doing what you love; making music, writing and doing tours. On top of the world and all of a sudden it's gone. The reason it's gone is because one person decided to leave. He decided to leave at a moment when we were still a viable commodity in the music industry. The last time anybody did anything like that, they probably needed to get their head examined. It's very difficult to get back up a mountain. My whole point was, OK, if you lose popularity with the public then your career is over...let's split up, but not basically when you're still on top of the heap. So, it was a major blow. I kind of gave up trying to put words to their mouth as to what they wanted or didn't want. I knew what I wanted. I wanted to put the band together and be successful and be able to make records and get my thoughts across to people and that's what we did. That was my dream. I just assumed that was the dream of the others in the band. It may not have been.
Q - You obviously did not like stardom. You're on the record as having said "We were going so high up, we lost control. Everything was happening too quickly. The money. The parties. The women. The kids screaming. The constant pressure to produce. Orgies in the back seat. It was sickening. I was very disillusioned." Yet Gene Simmons of Kiss would have us believe that the only reason guys want to be in a band is to meet women.
A - (laughs) Well, it's true. I basically got that under control quite quickly. Some people never get it under control and lose their balance. They jump off a ship. Sure, you get caught up in that, but it ended quite quickly, all of that. For me, it ended way before the group ended. I got into a yoga type of life. I got into a type of life that took me away from all of that. I really didn't feel that was a problem for me. It's easy to fall down. It's hard to go up. It's easy to drop a rock from the 26th floor; to carry it up 26 flights is a little harder. So, I decided to go upwards with my conscience, so to speak. I don't really know what the other guys did 'cause we separated so abruptly...so permanently.
Q - I never quite understood how a group could create music if they spent all their time partying.
A - No, no, no. Basically with me it was discipline. With me it was an act of joy. It was an act of love. It was an act of, that's what I want to do, man. I didn't let anything get in the way of my love of music, which was to my detriment because a lot of our social lives are disastrous. I wasn't paying any attention to any kind of social life. That was totally secondary in my life. I didn't really care about that. I just wanted to make the music. I wanted to do what I was doing. I enjoyed every moment of it. With the recent passing of Arif Mardin, we made some great music together. I don't even know how to describe how much I enjoyed doing that. It was phenomenal. Fun is not a deep enough word to describe it. It was just completely awesome. As far as I was concerned, if I did that the rest of my life, I probably would've died with a smile on my face. What happened is, the group was interrupted in action by my ex-partner quitting. To this day, it's still a shock to me, 'cause I can't understand why anyone would leave a situation where we were accomplishing what we were accomplishing. I still haven't gotten a straight answer from him.
Q - After all these years?
A - Yeah. I think there are answers to it, because, I don't want to put words in his mouth but I think the way he was looking at the situation was entirely different. He was very kind of like conscious of the inequities, some of the funny business going on around us, in business. I don't know if I was oblivious to it, but it certainly didn't matter to me. I kind of looked at it as a given. The music industry is a corrupt industry and that's the way it is. That's how it is. It never really bothered me, but it certainly bothered him. So, I think that might have had something to do with it. He just couldn't take it anymore, knowing that somebody was robbing your piggy bank. What are you going to do? If you own a department store, there's always people shoplifting.
Q - You produced TV commercials featuring B.B. King, Aaron Neville, Take Six and The Four Tops. You also produced music for Northwest Airlines. Did you derive satisfaction from any of that, or all of that?
A - Yeah. That was a joy. To me, to be creative is to live. If you're not creative, then you got a real problem. You got all this energy that needs to come out in some way, shape or form. If it can come out in a creative way, it's a very peaceful thing for me. If it doesn't come out that way, I get really like, nuts. I'm sure if you speak to musicians, they'll tell you the same thing. They really need that in their lives. I met this fellow who became C.E.O. of Northwest Airlines, who adored music. He also adored R&B music. So, when he became the head of the department doing advertising, amongst other things that he was head of, we made a lot of commercials with B.B. King, Isaac Hayes, Four Tops, Aaron Neville. It was just a gas. The interesting thing about it was the way it was done was, it was very much like what we did in the old days because it happened so quickly. You see, in the old days when you made a product, it was usually out on the streets, oh, I'd say maybe a month. That's unheard of today. Today people wait a year, in some cases two years before the actual record comes out. The music is old by the time it hits the market place, certainly old to you. When you do a commercial it's almost the next day. You finish it. It's on the radio, the television the next day. A lot like what we used to do. You got to think quick, because the people from the company didn't give you much time to do it. They want it now. Most people look at it like, how dare you. They do because they can. So, it's pretty interesting.
Q - Didn't it make you happy to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1997?
A - Oh, of course. It was a great evening. I just wish that the band had been more in tune with one another, kind of aware of what we had accomplished. It's a shame when you're in partnership with people that, I don't know, just don't have the same wavelength that you're on. The nicest word I can think of is wavelength.
Q - It's funny, I used to think that guys who attained the kind of success The Rascals did, were guys who all were on the same wavelength.
A - I used to think that too.
Q - Everybody's head was in the same place.
A - I spoke to an old friend, Dion from Dion and the Belmonts. He told me, man that's an illusion. We all think the same thing, but the bottom line is, and these are his words, we, the leaders, the guys who start the band, are so powerfully tuned in to that direction for want of a better word and we don't even notice these people are coming along for the ride. They don't even know what you're talking about. The reason I can say that is because of their behavior over the last years. If they knew what was going on, the wouldn't be acting the way they are. We were very blessed is the only word I can say. To have achieved what we achieved, in the way we achieved, when we achieved...the whole thing was like a giant miracle. I kind of was aware of it from the early days, let me put it like that. I knew this was a very special thing happening in our lives; nothing to be taken lightly. I became very reverent of that. It never hit my ego. It more or less made me more and more spiritually connected to whatever force or source was giving us these blessings. Whatever you want to call that. I think my band thought I was kind of losing my mind a little bit.
Q - Did you like doing The Ed Sullivan Show?
A - In the beginning I liked it. But after awhile it kind of wore a little thin for me. Basically, it was a six day rehearsal. It was five days of rehearsal every morning at eight o'clock. We did a complete dress rehearsal in front of an audience. Sunday was of course the 'live' day, for what, approximately two minutes of air time? It was really exciting. It was chaotic. I can remember coming off stage after the two minutes and Eddie just destroying the room with all the charge he had built up. He didn't let any of his energy out. It was only two minutes. It was really very interesting. Very, very interesting.
Q - You have a 'live' CD out? Where was that recorded?
A - We recorded it, I think the version we used was recorded in Florida at an outdoor show, close to Ft. Lauderdale. There's a little race track down there we played. We recorded the show down there and it came out good. So, we kind of just fixed it up a little bit and got it on the CD.
Q - Does it give you any satisfaction to know that long after you're gone, people will still be singing and playing your songs?
A - (laughs) Of course. I'm very proud that they'll be singing the songs. That's what it's all about. I started off as a classical musician playing music of people who were long gone. Hundreds of years ago these guys wrote these pieces and I guess that's what I was trying to do...hundreds of years from now I'd like people to still be playing my music. It's an honor to be part of the world of music. It's something that I will always, always be grateful for, having the opportunity to do. I'm even more grateful that I can still do it!
Q - People still care enough to show up.
A - Yeah, and it's pretty amazing. This is a long time ago this story we're talking about right now. Long time ago. I'm just sorry that the rest of the guys in the band are not able to enjoy what I'm enjoying out here, which is this wonderful kind of like feedback for want of a better term, people that have really benefited and felt the energy coming out of that music.