Posted June 2020
If you’re a baby boomer (or, at least, love the music that baby boomers love), then you’ve heard – and loved – the music of The Rascals. Songs like “Good Lovin’”, “Groovin’”, “A Beautiful Morning”, and “People Got To Be Free” jammed the airwaves back in the day. Even today, we’ll stop and turn up the radio just a tad whenever those phenomenal songs come on our radios and streaming gadgets.
The Rascals’ contribution to the soundtrack of our lives was rewarded in 1997 with their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. More about that in a moment.
These days, you can enjoy the spirit of The Rascals by catching their keyboardist, Felix Cavaliere, who is wonderfully and brilliantly keeping the band’s spirit alive with a healthy tour schedule. I saw Felix work his magic shortly after I launched Boomerocity back in 2009 during a stop of the traveling show, Hippiefest. He held the Dallas crowd in the palm of uber-talented hands. What a night and what a memory!
When I was recently given the opportunity to interview Felix by phone at his Nashville area home, I reached out to Boomerocity friend and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Greg Harris, for comment about Felix.
“They’re just the ultimate Jersey soul. It’s a different vibe. It's a party time, good-time vibe . . . fun-loving, but serious, rock and roll; with Felix driving that organ . . . without Felix Cavaliere and the Rascals, you don't have Bruce Springsteen, the E Street Band.”
Reaching Felix at his Nashville home recently, I rang him up just as he was finishing his regular morning workout. Commending him on doing something that I really should be doing (especially during this pandemic), Felix replied:
I have no choice, man. I'm used to working out pretty hard. I haven't been doing it. I'm feeling it. Let me tell you.”
The pandemic was a natural first topic of conversation with me asking how it has affected him.
“We need places to work, man, I tell you, we miss it like crazy. And it's not only us. I mean, you know, I've got a lot of friends in restaurant businesses. They're really taking a hit, you know, and, of course, like the athletes, you know, I don't know what kind of contracts they have, but everything's closed. The Olympics are closed. The French Open's been moved. The NBA's been shut down. It's pretty serious stuff. Really serious.”
Asking Cavaliere what his guess was on what's going to happen with the music as we kind of stick our toes back in the water, he replied:
“As far as with my business? We have really no idea. I mean, there's a lot of theories as to what we're going to do. So, what we've been doing is preparing our guidelines so that when we do get back to work, at least they know what we're going to do, what we're not going to do. I mean, and basically, it's an interesting thing, because I carry a band with me when I travel. Some of the guys are a little squeamish to go out so we've got to make sure that they feel safe. And then, of course, I've got to feel safe. So, my manager's running a thing that would be our new . . . Whaddaya call that? . . . your backup plan . . . (contract) riders. It means is that we can't do meet and greets anymore, which is a major part of our thing. I mean, we can't have too much backstage interplay with people. He wants me to get to the show just before I go onstage. I mean, it's kind of like we're trying to make it easy for them on their side, and, of course, safe for us.
“We don't know. We have no idea. Believe me, anybody that tells you they know what they're doing or what's going to happen . . . The only thing that's come up is this drive-in thing, which is pretty interesting. But as you know, down here (in the south), man, you'd better wear some rainboots 'cause the drive-in's going to get a little sloppy. It's really funny, man. Going backward.”
Then, still giving it all serious thought, Felix concluded:
“Well, I mean, they got to do something and, as I say, the impact on people financially is pretty serious. And, of course, being from New York, I've got a lot of friends in New York that have picked this (the COVID-19 virus) up and they have actually gone through this Corona thing. It's not funny. They live in apartments there, these people and basically, if the filtration system is carrying it, you're going to get it. Simple as that. It's kind of really an interesting phenomenon that we've never, never experienced in our lifetime.”
Then, commenting about the confusing and ever-corrected COVID-19 virus statistics, Cavaliere added:
“But I'll tell you, if anything, they're being understated. They're not being overstated, believe me. When you close down New York City . . . think about that. I don't know if you've ever been to New York City. You close down New York City? Are you kidding me? I mean, that's like billions of dollars every hour. This is serious. This is not a joke. And they want to play with numbers. Trust me, we don't know all the numbers. The numbers are lower than they are because, first of all, it's so obvious that this stuff is spreading like wildfire, you know?
“But let's see, 'cause now we're starting to go out. Tennessee's still a little strict, but I believe it's up to the individuals, you know what I'm saying? Like, my wife, she really doesn't want to go out. So, guess what? We're not going out, you know? But it's up to the individual because there's no national guidelines here.
“And frankly, the way the United States is acting. I think it's a disgrace. I mean, seriously, I mean, people are rioting about, like we want to keep you safe, so we're gonna show up with guns? I mean, come on! What kind of country do we have here? Do you want to die? Go out and die, but don't make me sick or my kids sick. I don't understand it.
“We should all be together on this. We should be united and say, ‘Look, here's what we're going to do. Let's see if we can lick this thing. How can we do it?’ I don't know. And they don't know. But I know at least you know what we can do, and that's to wash your hands, put the mask on, and that's what we're doing.
“I just did a session yesterday for the first time with (in a while). What I've been doing during this time is an album. I figured might as well utilize my time somehow, so I've been doing a recording. And, of course, it's been pretty interesting because we're doing it on our own online, with computers. But I'm doing it. I'm having a great time, man, and I'm really enjoying it. And you got to do something, right?”
When asked if he was using Pro Tools, Felix answered:
“Yeah, basically. We all have different what they call DAWS - digital audio workstations. It always ends up on Pro Tools. But, you know, it's kind of amazing because, first of all, it's fun. I mean, I just can't believe how much I miss playing, man. I mean, I've been doing this all my life and it's just part of your life. You don't realize it when you take it away. And it's really a withdrawal, you know?”
I latched on to his earlier comment about how VIP ‘Meet & Greets’ and I commented on how that will be a big disappointment to fans since it’s a rare opportunity to meet icons like him.
“Absolutely, well, it's fun, you know? And there's nothing like human interaction, there's no doubt about it; they're never going to take the place of that. But right now, we always shake hands with everybody when they come to the table and all that. Sometimes, God forbid, we even hug them. So, what do we do? I don't know. I mean, I really have no idea. But I think we're going to be okay here. You know, it's just a question of when and how. In the meantime, just to keep yourself in front of the public, I think it's important because you can disappear into thin air.”
All of this led to the bourgeoning concept of ‘home concerts’. Felix had plenty to say about this change.
“You know, the concept's been thrown around for a long time. I don't know that anybody's actually done it. It's certainly xpossible. It's not very difficult to do if you have the proper . . . again you have to have proper audio or proper cameras. You can't do it on, like, an iPad, you know. I mean, if, you watch a lot of these things that all of the new stations are having … and that's expensive. In most cases, it's pretty bad. The connections that they get, the pictures that they get, the audios that they get . . . they're terrible. We’ve got to do better than that. We've got to sound better and look better than that. And that's not free. I mean, they're going to have to perfect that a little bit, but I hope it doesn't come to that. I really do. I hope we're able to go out because I've been doing this all my life. What I know is that people who - you know, my peers, etc. - we love going on stage, man. I mean, we just . . . it's a gas. Anybody who's a musician will tell you the same thing. We enjoy it as much as the people enjoy it. You really have a good time playing. And now, we don't know. We don't know, man. We don't know whether that's gonna be around anymore. For the time being, it's not so it's very difficult. You don't realize how much you miss it until it's gone, you know?”
We shifted our talk to the album he mentioned earlier that he’s been working on.
“It's fun, man. We came up with an idea last year. I said, ‘Look, you know what? Why don't we take five songs that influenced you, re-record those kinds of like as a tribute to people like Ray Charles and Ben E. King and then write five new songs that shows the thread of influence?"
“We're having a ball. I mean, I'm just really enjoying it because I moved to Nashville in 1988 - 89 to write. I love to write. I love to use that part of my brain - the creativity part. So, I get a chance to do that. I get a chance to play because, as I say, we started this before this all happened so we got a good jump on it. So that's the concept. I don't know what we're gonna do as far as selling the product because we were counting kind of on the meet and greets and all that. But I also have a book that's kind of hopefully waiting to come out. We were also hoping to do something with the bookstores as far as maybe include this in a package or something like that. But the whole thing is, seriously, is to keep busy mentally and physically right now is really important. I was talking to you earlier about my exercise program. I'm really used to working pretty hard in the gyms and stuff like that. That's taken its toll. Well, it's the same thing for your brain. You've got to keep your mind going. Got to keep it going. Otherwise, you go to sleep, man. I'm not quite ready. I still enjoy what I do, tremendously.”
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I saw Felix perform in the Dallas area during the Hippiefest tour which included his peers like Leslie West of Mountain, Chuck Negron, Flo and Eddy, and himself. When I mentioned Leslie’s name, Felix pounced on it. “I gotta give him a call. I hope he's all right. I haven't heard anything about him lately. He had the amputation a few years ago. He's such a character, I've known him since he was a kid. I'll reach out... I'm glad you mentioned his name. He’s a trip. I guarantee you that. There's not too many Leslie Wests. He's a character. He's a great guy. I've known him since he was a kid. He's such a character. Oh, my God, when he had the bottom part of his leg amputated...the next day he went on Howard Stern's show. He says, "Man, I got to put this to some advantage." The next day! You don't meet too many guys like that.”
Just prior to my interview with Cavaliere, I also interviewed Carmine Appice, who I knew that Felix knows so I mentioned the chat with him.
“He's another guy that keeps busy, man. I mean, he doesn't stop and I think that's pretty cool. He's another old friend. I've known him for years. Matter of fact, we went out last summer to do a kind of like a, you know, sort of like a Rascals kind of tribute band. We had Gene in it, you know, and my guitar player, as you well know. He had a heart attack on stage and kind of interrupted that whole thing. It was September - I think it was the eleventh - and we were in Montana. Fortunately, he's still recuperating; still not doing that great. I got to give him a call also. So yeah, I was working with Carmine for a while and he's another character. I mean, there’s a lot of people around that should be in movies because they're so unique.”
When I mentioned that so many rockers, including my friend, Wild Cherry’s Rob Parissi, living in Florida, Felix piped in:
“Oh, yeah, I remember him, man. Wow, that was a long time ago. I met him when he just had his first hit record there – that ‘Play That Funky Music’ thing. I remember when he was lost in New York City. He was lost. I mean, he says, ‘I don't know what I'm doing here, man.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, you had a hit record, didn't you? And yet that's why you're here, right?’ He was a character. That was a long time ago. Tell him hello, man; tell him hello.”
I brought up the body of work that Felix - especially with the Rascals – and his peers have recorded and that it has clearly stood the test of time while, seemingly, the more recent music seems to quickly fade from memory. I asked him what he attributes that to. “Yeah, there's a lot of reasons for that. First of all, the era that we were in. I mean, you have to understand that our competition, for want of a better word, were some of the best that ever lived. I mean, you got the Beatles in there, man. You got Stones in there. You got people like the Kinks and the Lovin' Spoonful. The musical level, the creative ability, was very high. Kind of like in the art world during the Renaissance in France when you had all these great impressionist paintings. That's what we were experiencing. So, the level was way up there and the products were way up there. That's the first thing and the easiest answer I give you.
“The other answer I can give you is the fact that we were on Atlantic Records which, I'm very proud to say. I understand that everybody knows they had to make money, but they had a very, very high kind of bar also for quality. They had some of the finest minds in the engineering world, with Tom Dowd and these people that were behind the scenes. Of course, in the musical world, Ahmet Ertegun - I mean, the level there was pretty high, man.
“And, you know, it's so many of the records that were made in those days... Aretha, you know, us, they're all there still because they commanded it and demanded it. They provided us with an atmosphere like a laboratory that was, at that time, state of the art. So, I mean, you're doing quality with quality and, basically, it stands the test of time.
“Today, unfortunately . . . it changed. I always find it interesting that people are so enamored with Woodstock. Woodstock, Woodstock, Woodstock. Well, let me tell you something. That was the end, as far as I'm concerned, of our creativeness. Because what happened is, the Wall Street guys found out how much money there was to be made from our generation. They came into our business. It's just like, ‘You think you can write a song? You think a computer can write a song?’ Try it. It could be done, but it stinks. I mean, you have to have that human element.
“So, anyway, they put the business aspect - it used to be music business - it turned out to be business music. Unfortunately, that's pretty much what you have now. You've got a business and it's okay because there's always bolts of lightning coming into our business. There's always the John Legends and the Elton Johns and the Billy Joels. There's always people coming in. But for the most part, it's just product. It's just product, let's face it. You know, how do I advertise this product? Well, that's another whole subject. It's very easy. Seriously. Basically, it just takes money. You want to advertise something, you pay for it. And now it's in front of the public. So, therefore, it must be good because it's of the public, right? Not necessarily. It's a different world. And you know, it's okay because we had our day and, basically, our time. I'm very proud to have been part of it. Let me just leave it at that.”
I was curious what Felix thought the best and worst changes have been in the music industry.
“Well, as I say, it's the whole kind of like monetary . . . how should I put? I'm trying to find the right word. I feel like I'm writing a lyric. The emphasis is on making money rather than on making art. That's the biggest change. In the old days, for example, there was a label, I think it was the Red Label on Columbia Records. They had artists on there, they were never gonna sell any albums. Like Ornette Coleman, they would do Stravinsky. They would do people like composers. They knew they were not gonna sell two billion copies of that, but they had them on the label because it was a prestigious thing to allow talent of that ilk, that magnitude, to be heard. That's gone. That's totally gone.
“Now, it's like, if you can't sell records, then get out of here. If you can't sell a product, get out of here. I mean, if I can't take your publishing - and it's all right. That's what it is. It's all money. It's all capitalist. That's what it is and that's okay because, as I say, there will always be a star shining in the middle of that pond, like a lotus flower, that stands out. But it's just that there are so many people out there. It's just unbelievable how many people are now making records because you can do it in your home.
“So, the good part is I happen to like the technology. I think the technology has made wonderful changes. I was talking earlier about me doing a CD. I could do a lot of that out of my home. I love it. Now it's like anything else, it can be used against you. You know what I'm saying? People don't realize, but, you know, when you do a Microsoft Word program, for example, we have what's called spell check. Everybody knows what that is. You can't spell? Oh, well, that doesn't matter anymore, does it? I can spell for you. Unfortunately, it's the same thing with singing and it's the same thing with playing. You can't sing? I'll fix you up, don't worry about it. Just sing into this box. I'll put it through my programs and you'll be fine. We'll make you sound amazing.
“That's the part that's really interesting. It's kind of like when our parents heard Rock n Roll, they said, ‘What is this? This is nonsense.’ It's the same kind of thing but that's the way it is. So much easier now to make music and make records. You don't even have to know how to play anymore.
“It's like I said, you know, I used to study many years ago with a guru, Swami Satchidananda. He was the gentleman that opened up the Woodstock movie and they'd ask questions, and he would make an answer like this - this is a perfect answer to your question. ‘Electricity. Well, is it good or is it bad?’ He said, ‘Well, if you plug in your toaster, it's good. If you plug in your finger, it's bad.’ And that's the truth. So that's kind of how I look at the modern thing. It could be used for good; it could be used for bad.’”
When I mused that the world is still hungry for great, musical art, Cavaliere said:
“I think so. I'm glad to hear that. I hope so. I think that that's what mankind needs to survive all this, is that yearning. Because I don't know . . . I mean, for example, if you're watching TV, I mean, can you possibly have more commercials on than are on? I don't think it's impossible to say, "What commercial am I tuning into this half-hour?" It's gotten to where it's taken over everything in our lives; this capitalistic, monetary, corporate identity. People think they like it, but are you sure you like it? I mean, do you own the company or something? I don't think so.”
I asked Felix what he would do to fix the problems in the music business.
“Oh, wow! I'd have to go find a magic wand. Remember that song," If I Ruled the World"? Well, you know, that's the thing. I mean, like, say, I can remember having this amazing skull sessions with my bands and my friends, where we were a little high or something like that, and we just solved all the problems of the world . . . and then we went out the door. We’re not in charge of those things. Again, going back to my teacher, my guru, he would tell me, "Look, clean your house first and then worry about the rest of the city." Clean your house, take care of yourself. So that's what I'm trying to do - mentally, physically, spiritually - trying to stay healthy in all those aspects, as much as I can. Kind of be an example to my family, my kids, that, when you go through something of this manner - a pandemic - don't freak out. Just do your thing; concentrate on, basically, yourself, your health, your family, and your neighbors. What else can you do?”
Who would Felix like to work with, musically, that he hasn’t, so far?
“Well, god, I don't know. That's a really good question because I've worked with so many people over the years, that I've enjoyed every bit of it. I don't know. I guess, like if you're talking contemporary, probably Pharrell. I really like the stuff he does because he kind of relates back to, my time in a lot of his productions. Probably Pharrell.”
Are you reading this, Pharrell?
I asked Cavaliere what was on his radar for the year or so after the lockdown is lifted.
“Well, we had a number of shows booked. We had about 30, 35 shows that were supposed to have been played between January and now which have not been canceled, per se, but have been postponed. So, if, with the luck of God, we still can do those, I'll probably be glad to do those. They've postponed them. However, I think it's a little bit of wishful thinking, but we'll see. August, September are still on the books. As far as I know, the NFL is doing the same. I don't know that's going to happen. So, contractually, I'm still committed to doing those shows, if, in fact, they happen.
“Second of all, as I say, I'm just going to keep writing and doing some new work as much as I can. I really enjoy it. And I've got a band that . . . they enjoy playing. So, we were able to make product. And just, as I say, really, really make an attempt to keep my sanity. I’ve got to keep my brain on here, you know.
Wrapping up my chat with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, I concluded by asking Felix how he wants to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy is.
“Well, I mean, basically, I want to be remembered mostly as a musician and positive and positive messages, peaceful messages, civil rights messages; and as a good father and parent and husband. That's fine with me . . . as opposed to, you know, oh, that devil, you know. I mean, you make a contribution and all you really want is people to realize that this happened; you were part of it; enjoyed it. That's what I kind of leave around, you know.” And that he definitely does.
Keep up with Felix at his website, felixcavaliereandgenecornishsrascals.com, and, while you’re at it, why not update your listening library with his – and The Rascals’ – catalog of music?