Photo by youngrascal.netHow much must it have sucked to be a maverick American rock & roll band in the mid-'60s? While such revolutionary groups as Love, the Blues Project, the Sonics and the Music Machine struggled to earn so much as a regional hit, a spacklage of frequently flyweight, U.K.-spawned stinkmongers sustained their dominance of radio, television and the press in the continuing British Invasion. There were, of course, exceptions—momentous Yanks whose brilliance couldn't or wouldn't be denied despite their lack of continental adorability—like the Byrds, the Lovin' Spoonful and the greatest of them all, the Rascals.
Swimming against a tide of unendurable Anglophile cuteness, these swarthy Eye-talian NYC greasers (three of the four first played together in Joey Dee & the Starlighters) managed to rack up 10 Top 20 hits—plus a couple of dozen more tunes that clearly should have been—in a career that lasted a scant eight years but eventually netted them a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, as well as unabashed worship from such fans as Bruce Springsteen, Willy DeVille and Los Lobos, all of whose existence without the Rascals' lead is unlikely-to-unthinkable.
Today, the Rascals are widely considered history's supreme blue-eyed soul act; they even bested illustrious black R&B artists at their own game with definitive (and untouchable) versions of "Good Lovin'" (originally by the Olympics), "Mickey's Monkey" (Smokey Robinson) and "Too Many Fish in the Sea" (the Marvelettes). Then there were such momentous originals as "Groovin'," "I've Been Lonely Too Long," "Come On Up," "What is the Reason" and "It's a Beautiful Morning," all of which were exceptional contributions to the great soul music canon by any standard.
Yet the Rascals were much more than just a genre band: they dabbled fruitfully in every style, from trashy proto-punk ("I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore") to nascent, guitar-driven psychedelia ("Find Somebody") to Dino-worthy goombah pop ("How Can I Be Sure") to soul-stirring gospel ("People Got to Be Free") to startlingly sophisticated jazz ("A Girl Like You"), concurrent with or even prior to such better-credited contemporaries as the Yardbirds, the Velvet Underground, and Blood Sweat & Tears.
And the Rascals were one of only two great rock & roll bands (the other being the Doors) that largely performed without the benefit of a bass player; prodigiously gifted singer/songwriter/organist Felix Cavaliere held up the bottom on the bass pedals of his Hammond B3, all while executing astonishing double-keyboard riffs and singing with the conviction and street authenticity of a Stax or Motown heavy, as if he had three separate brains working at once.
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Curiously, relatively little has been heard from Cavaliere and company (vocalist Eddie Brigati, guitarist/vocalist Gene Cornish and shit-hot drummer Dino Danelli) since the Rascals' depressingly slow and fractious dissolution in 1972. Cavaliere released a few artistically and commercially abortive solo albums, and there have been sporadic reunion showcases and tours that frequently occur sans original members.
One such assemblage, billed as "Felix Cavaliere's Rascals," plays the Fashion Island Concert Series on Wednesday night. The Rascals were very much a group effort with an exceptionally idiosyncratic sound, despite Cavaliere being the obvious genius of the fold and, arguably, the Rascals' sole irreplaceable member—so Felix singing and playing those great old tunes again probably mitigates any reservations. But wooden tit be luverly if the four original Rascals could get it together just long enough to record one more album and tour for us old-time fans? Guys, let your own tunes tell the story: "Come On Up" and "Look Around" for "The Real Thing." "Do You Feel It?" "It's Wonderful!" Is there "A Ray of Hope?" that you'll "Carry Me Back?" "I've Been Lonely Too Long," damn it!
Errrr, sorry. But you get the idea, right?
Felix Cavaliere's Rascals perform as part of the Fashion Island Concert Series, 401 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 721-2000. Wed., 7 p.m. Free; $20 preferred seating.