The Felix Cavaliere Interview, Part 2

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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