As 1964 turned to 1965, the British Invasion was in full swing, and along with the Soul/R&B sounds popular on the New York club scene frequented by the group, now dubbed The Young Rascals, The Beatles were a major influence. "We always admired The Beatles because they proved that you could write great songs as well as play and sing them," said Cornish. The Beatle connection didn't stop there, however. Sid Bernstein, the promoter who brought the Fab Four to Shea Stadium, added The Young Rascals to the bill at that famous concert after having signed on a few months earlier as the group's manager. In some accounts, Bernstein takes the blame for the schoolboy stage suits the group performed in at first, but Cornish remembers differently: "We had the outfits even before we had the name. Eddie came to the first rehearsal wearing it as a goof, joking around, and we said, 'What a great idea!' Before we had a hit record, before people remembered the name, they remembered the kids with knickers." The hit records and name recognition were soon to come though, after Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun saw the band at a Westhampton nightclub and offered them a contract.
Atlantic was the perfect label for this mixture of Black and White Rock, given its legendary roster of Soul performers and producers. "The Atlantic philosophy was a Jazz philosophy of capturing an energy and a moment," said Cavaliere. "The feelings in those early recording sessions will be there forever." Atlantic producer/engineer Tom Dowd recalled: "The Rascals were unusual. They were a macho band. Three of them could sing like birds, but they played aggressively, even on ballads. There was an energy to them, a positive energy. They put on a great show and they were fun. They were dedicated to their concept.
The concept to which The Rascals were dedicated was, in Felix Cavaliere's words, "Marvin Gaye's voice, Ray Charles' piano, Jimmy Smith's organ, Phil Spector's production and The Beatles' writing. Put them all together and you've got what I wanted to do." A White Rock band playing Black Soul music was a new idea for Pop in 1965. "The great thing about music in the 1960s was that people were discovering there was no color barrier in the business. We were respected by the Black groups we loved as much as we respected them," noted Cornish. The Rascals' music was dubbed blue-eyed Soul, a term Cavaliere never cared for. "I always hated the label because it created a separation between Black and White music. It was a marketing concept. As soon as you put a drum in music, it's R&B. I wish it wouldn't have been called blue-eyed Soul. My eyes aren't blue."
The band's first release for Atlantic was called "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" which rose to #52 in the U.S. in 1965, but it was their 1966 effort, "Good Lovin'" that made them Rock 'n' Roll stars. The song quickly rose to the number one spot on Billboard's Hot 100 and went Gold. They followed with two more Top 20 hits, "You Better Run" (#20) and "I've Been Lonely Too Long" (#16) later the same year.
The writing was a key component of the band's success, as sixteen of their eighteen chart records were written by Cavaliere alone or in tandem with frequent collaborator Eddie Brigati. As the song writing progressed, social commentary began to show up in the music. The group's growing ambition was reflected in the change from The Young Rascals to simply The Rascals. The word "young" had originally been inserted before the band's name for legal reasons. It seems there was a group named Johnny Pulleo & The Harmonica Rascals who claimed a proprietary interest. "We were embarrassed about that, 'cause we were trying to be a Soul band," said Cornish. "It wasn't The Silver Rascals or The Rockin' Rascals, it was The Young Rascals! And we had to live with it. By the time we got to Groovin', we said, 'Well, enough of this. We are The Rascals.'"
A high point for both Cornish and Cavaliere was 1968's #1 hit "People Got To Be Free". "The message in songs like 'People Got To Be Free' is as important now as it ever was," said Gene. It was written in reaction to the King and Kennedy assassinations that year. In fact, Cavaliere had worked for the RFK campaign. "That the song was #1 in places like Berlin and South Africa meant a lot to me," said Felix. Despite the initial resistance to the political nature of the song, it went on to become The Rascals' biggest-selling record. It was also their last #1 hit. The Rascals followed with "A Ray Of Hope" (#24 in 1968), "Heaven" (#39 in 1969), "See" (#27 in 1969) and "Carry Me Back" (#26 in 1969). Two other 1970 releases, "Hold On" (#81) and "Glory Glory" (#71) failed to crack the Top 40, and a song called "Love Me" was a miserable flop when it peaked at #99 during a one week stay on the Hot 100 in the Summer of 1971. The Jazz-tinged experimentation of later albums like "Peaceful World" and "The Island Of Real" (which Cavaliere once called "The best record I ever made") proved less commercial than the group's earlier Garage Band Soul. Management was less than supportive of the new directions the band was headed in and a switch to the Columbia label in 1971 failed to provide the new life they were looking for. Personal frictions were on the rise too, and eventually Brigati and Cornish quit the band. They were replaced with Buzzy Feiten (from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band) and Ann Sutton, who had sung with various Soul and Jazz groups in Philadelphia. By 1972, The Rascals called it quits.
In 1974, Cavaliere began his solo career with the release of the album "Felix Cavaliere". Eddie Brigati recorded a solo album with his brother David in 1976. Cornish and Danelli started a new band called Bullfrog and later teamed up with former Raspberries guitarist, Wally Bryson in Fotomaker. In April, 1980, Felix Cavaliere released a solo single called "Only A Lonely Heart Sees", which climbed to #36 on the Billboard chart. In 1982, Danelli joined Steve Van Zandt's Little Steven. Danelli, Cornish and Cavaliere reunited in 1988 for a US tour at The Rascals, but split soon after and were involved in a nasty law suit over the use of the band's name. Cavaliere continued as a solo artist and a producer, releasing a new album in 1994 as well as playing keyboards for Ringo Starr's All-Star Band.
In 1997, The Young Rascals were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but even here, the tensions that tore the band apart, rose again. All four former members of the band appeared for the ceremony, but Eddie Brigatti refused to join the others, accepting his award from The E Street Band's Steven Van Zandt on the opposite side of the stage. It wasn't until April 24th, 2010, that all four original Rascals gathered again at the Kristen Ann Carr Fund gala in New York after being invited by Steven Van Zandt. Van Zandt and his wife Maureen were honored by the charity for all of the work they've done for the fund, which was founded in 1993 by Bruce Springsteen's co-manager Barbara Carr and her husband Dave Marsh in memory of their daughter who died from sarcoma. Hopes for a more permanent reunion were dashed by Gene Cornish, who said: "I speak on behalf of the band when I say all the money offers in the world could not entice the Rascals to reunite."
Surprisingly, in September, 2012, the group announced that The Rascals' original lineup of Felix Cavaliere, Gene Cornish, Eddie Brigati and Dino Danelli would reunite for the first time in over forty years with Once Upon A Dream, a combination concert / theatrical production, directed by Steven Van Zandt. In addition to playing some of their hits 'live', the show would contain news and archival footage of the band. A series of appearances began in December of that year and stretched into 2013, including shows on Broadway in April. Fifteen performances were added from April 15th to May 5th, 2013 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City. Near the end of the show's Broadway run, it was announced that Once Upon a Dream would hit the road, with appearances slated for various cities in North America from May to December, 2013. Following that tour, the show was expected to return to Broadway for a second three-week run that was later canceled. Felix Cavaliere started touring with a band he called Felix Cavaliere's Rascals and had a light series of shows booked into 2017. Eddie Brigati, Dino Danelli and Gene Cornish were all making separate appearances either solo or at other artist's shows in 2015, 2016 and 2017. A very brief mini-reunion occurred on March 3rd, 2017 when Billy Joel brought Felix Cavaliere and Gene Cornish on stage during one of his monthly concerts at Madison Square Garden. The pair proceeded to play their biggest hit, "Good Lovin'", with Cavaliere reprising his famous Hammond B-3 organ solo.
Be sure to read Gary James interview with
Rascals' leader Felix Cavaliere
and Rascals' drummer Dino Danelli