Posts Tagged ‘young rascals’

The Felix Cavaliere Interview, Part 4

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Conclusion, continued from Part Three

Bill Kopp: I have to admit that – like a lot of people – I don’t actually own, and haven’t even heard the late-period Rascals albums Peaceful World [1971] and The Island of Real [1972]. What I have read about them, mostly in critical-reassessment-type reviews, is that they’re not at all like the earlier Rascals material, but that they’re underrated. It seems as if they might be seen as transitional albums, bridging from the Rascals of old to your solo career. How do you view those albums? Where do you see them fitting?

FC: I think that’s very well-put. The freedom we had, it sort of hit us in the face. And we got a little too carried away with some of the arrangements. Really lettin’ it out, man. But what I did…what we tried to do was…the group had split up. It was a really sad occurrence, because Dino was my partner, co-writer, my voice, the real Rascal. When Dino left, the whole thing got shifted to a kind of different entity. A different creation. We thought, “This is more of a business now.” Especially being on Columbia, [The Rascals left Atlantic for Columbia after their final LP for the former, 1971's Search and Nearness. – bk] which was all business.

Gene [Cornish] …a very very very strange circumstance of how we lost him from the group. Dino, really, at that time, did not want him to be around. Because he wasn’t pulling his weight. He had kind of let his guitar playing down. So it was down to just Dino and myself. So to supplement the band, I went out and had auditions. And I found some great people. I mean, oh my god. Buzzy Feiten on guitar, who is a legend. He was all strung out, though, so that was a problem. He was not on this planet very strongly. But he could play. We also had Bob Popwell, who ultimately went with the Jazz Crusaders, and was really good. He’s living down here [Nashville], and he’s a preacher now.

And instead of trying to emulate the male vocals part of it, I went and got females. How in the hell was that the best idea…I probably shouldn’t have done that. But anyway, we had all that freedom.

But we didn’t have Arif, now. That was a loss. A big loss. So I had to totally arrange things, get down to a different place. And I really pushed it toward a jazz world. Like what Santana was doing, like Chick Corea. I wanted to go that way. And when I pushed it, it freaked people out. Because there was also a lot of spirituality on the record. There was a lot of …maybe it was overdone. And at the time, we didn’t recognize where the line was, this imaginary line that we hadn’t discovered. We went from too-hip to too-square. We should have pulled it more to the center.

But that album – The Island of Real – in Japan, it was a smash! There was an opportunity [in Japan] when CDs first came out, to make any album that was analog into a CD. And they actually manufactured a CD of Peaceful World. Immaculate quality. It never really sold that well [Billboard #122 – bk], but it was a really good band, and I really think that album did us justice.

But many albums don’t make it, you know. The Island of Real [Billboard #180 – bk] wasn’t marketed well.

BK: sometimes a record is ahead or behind its time. A certain sound falls in or out of favor. There’s a lot of luck involved.

FC: Absolutely. I hear that word so much. You have to be at the right place at the right time. If it happens once in your life, you’re very fortunate.

BK: After many, many years not playing together, the original Rascals foursome has reunited. Can you tell me a little about the events that led up to that initial reunion, the April 2010 Tribeca Grill gig in New York?

FC: Well, I can only tell you from my point of view. It’s an interesting thing, how it happened. One of my children – and when I say “children,” I’m talking about adults, of course – developed breast cancer. I found out about this becoming a serious thing, and then three days later I got a call from Stevie Van Zandt asking me to take part in a Rascals reunion for a cancer benefit [for Kristen Ann Carr].

BK: Wow…

FC: Yeah. I know. And I said, “There’s no way I’m gonna say no to this.” And the benefit…how can I say this…I met so many wonderful people there. Bruce Springsteen. Some of the best contacts, the best musicians in the United States of America. Paul Shaffer played, Bob Clearmountain ran sound. So there was no way I wasn’t gonna do that.

BK: So between the four of you, did any fence-mending occur at that show?

FC: I think so. Especially in the case of Gene. Gene had been extremely ill; he’s a survivor. He had some really serious health issues over the last five years [prior to that show]. We’re very fortunate that he’s here; he’s had two heart bypasses, colon cancer…oh my god.

He’s taken a completely new lease on life. He’s a completely changed individual; he’s so thankful. And he’s got the same desire that most musicians have: he loves to play, and looks for any excuse to do it.

I think that show was a good thing for everyone. We rehearsed for three days; after all those years, we only had three days to put a whole show together, to play for an hour. And it was tedious; it took a lot out of me.

If you know anything about all the aggravation that’s gone on between us all these years, none of that mattered. And hopefully, the end of this story will be as good as the beginning.

BK: Last question. How would you like The Rascals to be remembered?

FC: You mentioned earlier that when you saw us play, people in the audience had tears of joy. That’s how: tears of joy.

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The Felix Cavaliere Interview, Part 3

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Continued from Part Two

Bill Kopp: The song “Love is a Beautiful Thing” is one that has always really knocked me out. It has a really subtle yet powerful riff; those four chords. And it makes really effective use of the spaces between the notes. As far as the arranging of that and other songs, was it a collaborative process for the band, or did whoever wrote a particular song say, “Okay, guys: this is how we’re gonna do it?”

Felix Cavaliere: There wasn’t much collaboration, really. I wrote the songs and then pretty much brought them in, at first, to Arif. Then he and I would sit down and pretty much hash ‘em out.

That particular one was an exception, though. I had had that riff , and brought it in , and played it live in the studio. So it sort of evolved. But most of them, I wrote them at home and brought them to Arif. Because…you get to a point…there’s a very fine line in groups; you have to be very careful. This is where groups break up. You know what you want this thing to sound like. And when you get other people’s input on that, it gets very tricky. And the more you put in there, the farther it goes for the original thought. And sometimes you have to say [to yourself], “Okay, I’m not a solo artist. I’m part of a group. I’ve gotta be careful here, because I don’t want to offend people. But I sure as hell don’t want then treading on my territory!”

BK: I suppose if you’ve got in mind that a song’s supposed to be syncopated, and the drummer wants to play a straight 4/4, you might want to say, “No no no…that’s not what’s in my head.”

FC: You know exactly what I’m talking about. It becomes very difficult. I worked with an artist, Laura Nyro. I produced an album for her. Arif and I did Christmas and the Beads of Sweat [1970]. She was a dear friend of mine. But – ah! – you could not change one note of her music. We had to bargain with her; we had to con her into changing some things. She adored us so much that she would not offend us twice. So we always made sure that the second idea that we had was [roaring laughter] the one we really wanted!

No, seriously. She wouldn’t let you touch her music. So between that kind of eccentricity and obstinacy, and being in a group…that’s where I found myself. You gotta tap dance. I’m not tootin’ my own horn, but when I wrote a song, I knew how I wanted that thing to end up. Very close. And that’s where trouble starts in a band: how do you do that.

BK: I have a couple of bootleg recordings of The Rascals live. One is from the Hollywood Bowl in 1968, and another is from Honolulu in ’69. And one thing that amazes me is how closely you were able to hold to the sound and the arrangements – and the feel – of the studio versions. Even on these unofficial recording that were clearly not meant for release, there’s plenty of tone color in the performances. Especially the bottom end. Did you ever use bass player live, or was it always you on [organ] pedals?

FC: We never used bass players live; we just never got around to finding the right person. Our schedule was totally chaotic in those days; our success happened quite rapidly, and we were totally unprepared. And so we were never able to put that part of the thing together.

So we covered the bottom frequencies in two ways. Number one, I kept trying to make different electronic connection to make the bass notes come out separately from the organ. And number two, Dino’s bass drum. He tuned it a different way so that it would have more frequency that blended into that area. And it’s interesting – we worked together a few weeks ago – he still tunes his drum like that, even though now we have a bass. But it’s a booming sound on his bottom end. It’s really interesting how people’s ears hear things, you know?

BK: So those recordings I mentioned…are you familiar with those?

FC: No. No I’m not. I cringe when I hear us on live recordings! [laughs] I guess I’m getting too much into the let’s-make-it-perfect world.

BK: Some – not all, certainly – but some reviews I’ve read over the years sort of rag on the Freedom Suite [1969] album as being overlong and on the indulgent side. And I really, really don’t agree with that. First of all, it was 1969, and the Beatles had just a year earlier put out an album with “Revolution 9” on it. So from my standpoint, pushing the limits of what did and didn’t “belong” on an album was the order of the day. And I think the song “Cute” holds up really well.

FC: We happened at a time when there was a change taking place between AM radio and FM. The AM world has sort of returned now, which is so odd. But we used to agonize, to take a song that was over three minutes long and make it short enough for AM radio play. That’s what it used to be like; you had to get that [song's length] under a certain time, or they weren’t gonna play it. Number two, there was a limit to how much music would fit on a vinyl record. Add too much, and the volume started going down.

So as things changed, things became more and more open. And we wanted to stretch the time a little bit. And you might have a tendency, of course, to overdo it. I spoke to Paul McCartney a couple of years ago when he was on the road. And he said, “Y’know, man, do you realize how young we all were back when we were doing all that?” We were babies! Kids! We were kids in charge of a major – or at least a minor – corporation. What, are you kidding me?! [laughs] What the heck did we know? Nothing! We were wet behind the ears, but making decisions.

But it was a lot of fun. I’m so happy and proud to have been a part of that time period.

To be continued…

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The Felix Cavaliere Interview, Part 2

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: I find that it’s difficult for me to think of Rascals songs removed from their social and historical contexts. When I saw your band in, I think, 2002, many people in the audience had tears in their eyes during the show. I know that the word soulful is overused when describing Rascals music, but I think there’s something viscerally emotional, jubilant, celebratory about a lot of those songs. I know it’s silly to ask you if you set out back then to write classic songs, but was there any sort of underlying philosophy that you were trying to put across with the music?

Felix Cavaliere: Yes. An underlying philosophy, yes. But not attempts to mimic classic soul. It goes back to my earlier statement. We were given an opportunity to make music, and we used it to the fullest. Make the best song you can make from top to bottom. Rhythmically, musically. And as far as your personal take on it, that’s a very individual question. A lot of songwriters are from the school that says there’s a need for them to convey their messages and philosophies. Some people feel you’re better off if you just keep you thoughts to yourself, and then you have completely opposite people who spend their whole lives making sure people know their philosophies, where they’re coming from.

I was very involved at that time in yoga, in a spiritual quest with a guru – like a lot of my peers were at that time…

BK: Sure. Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin

FC: Right. And it’s just like anything else: I was so wrapped up in it that my every thought, every day, was pointed in that direction. So the music would naturally be in that direction.

There’s another thing, too. When you think of music, of, say gospel music, that’s got a joy to it; when you go into that church or temple, there’s a reason for that music to be played in that environment. There’s an uplifting, a sort of, “Let me help you out of this depression.” Like Sly Stone said, “I want to take you higher.” And that’s what I always thought we were supposed to do: take ‘em higher. “Come On Up.” And that’s more a personality thing than anything else; it’s how I am.

The negative part, I don’t know. I’ve never really wanted to sing about it. Some people do. I mean…balladeers in country music, oh my god! Sometimes I wonder. I went to a New Year’s Eve party [in Nashville] a couple years ago, and [the music] was so sad. I said, “We let it all go on New Years; we don’t focus on past break-ups and stuff.” But it’s just how I am, so it’s how it comes out in the music.

BK: A lot of people think of soul as the primary genre in which the Rascals worked. But on tracks like “More,” the band turned in a credible – thrilling, really – approximation of big band swing. To me, it sounds like you guys did and thought, “Hey, we can do anything we want to right now!”

FC: There’s a core of answers to that. First of all, you have to be capable of playing. I got my big band “head” from Dino [Danelli, Rascals drummer]. When I first met Dino, he was practicing to these LPs of big bands. And it was so cool: I said, “Aw, man! That stuff’s great!” Then, along came Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago. And we thought, “We can be a big band; we can do anything!” [laughs] And, you know, Arif…forget about it. He could do a chart in any genre you wanted. He loved big band stuff.

We had a wonderful career, as all the guys could tell you. Making records with The Rascals’ intent was a totally joyous occasion.

BK: That comes through in the music; there’s not a lot of angst in those records.

FC: Aw, no, man. The only angst we ever had was “You Better Run.” That was written because of a kind of failed romance that I had. When you did a Rascals session, everybody in the building – because Atlantic was all on one floor – was in that room listening. Because it was an event: “How ya doin’? How ya doin’?” And they spent a lot of money, too! [laughs]

But there’s a freedom that existed that doesn’t today. Now you’ve got to watch your budget, watch your time. We didn’t have that. We had free studio time; completely free. We slept there! Wilson Pickett used to get so angry: “I can never get in that damn room! The Rascals are always in there!”

I can’t even describe how great it was; are you kidding me? A professional studio at our disposal, at our beck and call.

BK: A musical laboratory…

FC: It was a laboratory.

BK: So Atlantic took a hands-off, don’t-mess-with-success sort of approach to The Rascals?

FC: Absolutely. They had their quote-unquote supervisors in the room, but those two guys – Arif and Tommy – they were growing at the same time we were growing. Arif was not yet a known entity at that time. I don’t think they had any idea of the depth and scope of this man’s talents. Oh my god, what a giant!

To be continued…

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The Felix Cavaliere Interview, Part 1

Monday, March 18th, 2013

In the Summer of 2010, Felix Cavaliere released an album in collaboration with Steve Cropper – their second together – called Midnight Flyer. In connection with that release, I interviewed both musicians for an in-depth feature. But Felix was kind enough to grant me a “part two” to my interview with him: we discussed the group for which he is most well-known, The (Young) Rascals. Formidable hit makers through the second half of the sixties, The Rascals made an indelible mark on the pop music landscape of that era and beyond, bridging styles (soul, r&b, rock) in a way few other acts could manage.

The Rascals-focused part of our conversation lasted well over an hour, and was originally intended as part of a larger project that went unrealized. But now, with the Rascals reunited and mounting a string of live dates in 2013 – the time is right to share this interview. In a four-part series that will run this week, I proudly present my interview with Felix Cavaliere. – bk


Bill Kopp: One of the things that really impresses me is the jump that The Rascals made between the first and second albums. On the first album [The Young Rascals, 1966], you were pretty much a cover band. A great one, yes…but still a cover band, with the odd original thrown in. Yet, less than a year later you came roaring back with Collections [1967], half – the better half, I’d say – of which were original compositions. And not only that, it’s not as if there was just one of you writing and singing leads; three of you were writing. And…only six more months later, you released Groovin’ [1967], featuring all originals save one.

So tell me: did you have a backlog of originals from the beginning, and you were somehow kept from using them on the first LP, or did you guys just sort of flower creatively overnight, as it were?

Felix Cavaliere: I think it’s more the second than the first. You see, the scene in the New York / New Jersey / Long Island area – where we were really based – was covers-only. When you played as a band, [the audience] wasn’t interested in the slightest in any kind of creative thing you might have. You either played music that got people on the dance floor, or you didn’t play. Simple as that. And if you put something else in – for example, “Good Lovin’” – it was an arrangement of something people had already heard on the radio. So we knew we could get away with that. But people didn’t want to know anything about individuality or anything like that. So that’s what we did. And we had a very short nightclub career, because it was relatively fast that we got our record deal. But through it all, that’s the group that they signed: a cover band.

Now, the words luck and good fortune come into my life very much, you know. One of the main things that I really wanted was to produce the group. I didn’t want outside influences; I had an idea, I had a sound, I chose the people, and I really had a lot of nerve thinking that I could do it! But I didn’t want anyone coming in and telling us what to do, like Phil Spector would do [with other acts], for example. I adored what he did, but I knew if we worked with him, we’d be a Phil Spector band, not a Rascals band. So I was really able to assert my determination to our producer, internally.

And that’s where the good luck came in. What Atlantic did was not only to give us free reign and control over our product – which we still have today – but they put into the room two people who are legendary. And they were called “supervisors.” And those two people were Tom Dowd (in the beginning) and Arif Mardin. So, a luckier break could not have happened to anybody. Once I was able to come into the musical aura of Arif Mardin, I could do anything. Anything. There was no place musically you could go where that mas was not totally capable of arranging, co-producing…it was the same thing that The Beatles had with George Martin.

BK: And then a little bit later, you did turn back and done one cover, the wonderful rendition of “A Place in the Sun,” you created a recording that, for me, rivals Stevie Wonder‘s version.

FC: That was part of our stage show in the old days. Part of our set. We did another one: “Too Many Fish in the Sea.”

BK: I was three years old when Groovin’ came out [Cavaliere chuckles], so when I was young, I made the assumption – as did many people of my age, I suspect – that The Rascals were an African American soul group. And you enjoyed one of the era’s relatively few crossover successes with “People Got to Be Free.” Was it your intention – or goal, or even hope or wish – to sort of break through across genres as you did? Or did it just happen?

FC: It just happened. In much the same way as when we have a conversation now, you can determine I’m a New Yorker by my accent. It’s a very natural thing. I may think I’m saying something – or singing something – that sounds like an Englishman. But I’m not. I mean, “Cheerio!” No, I’m still from The Bronx. [laughs]

But there is a total joy and love for that type of music, for r&b and soul. That’s pretty much the whole thing for us. That’s what I listened to, that’s what I grew up on, that’s what I emulate and admire. So it was a very natural thing for me.

BK: I don’t think that sort of crossover experience could happen for a band today, with market segmentation being what it is.

FC: Right. That all happened after Woodstock, when music became a business. Before that, I think there was a lot more art interest than business interest. And then after Woodstock, the music scene changed around to become more of a corporate entity. And today it’s absurd: it’s gone completely that way.

BK: People figured out that they could make lots of money off of the musicians…

FC: It’s a shame when – with all due respect – a Grammy Award winner can’t sing. That’s just a total slap in all of our faces. You just get enough money, and an attractive enough girl, and turn her into a number one artist. That just shows you what’s going on.

BK: There’s always been some sort of manufactured teen idol sort of thing around, but now it seems the rule rather than the exception. In the commercial marketplace, at least.

FC: Now it all has to do with marketing and money. If you don’t have those behind you, you’re not going to make it.

To be continued…

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