By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
By Derek Askey
Next month marks the 25th anniversary of Woodstock, but for Cavaliere it also marks the end of the music business as he knew and loved it.
"After that, the Wall Street people knew that there was real money to be made and they ruined the business. They ruined it. They took it from that little ma-and-pa, candy-store type of [operation]--We love music, so we're gonna be here'--to what it is today, which is corporation, business. . . . I heard a friend of mine, a songwriter from the old days, say, 'There's more deal and less feel today,' and that's what's happened."
If anyone knows how good the record industry used to be, it's Cavaliere. In 1965, Atlantic Records, determined to sign the Rascals to its R&B roster and break into the white-rock market, inked an unprecedented deal for the young Italian-American rockers.
Atlantic even beat out Phil Spector in a hotly contested bidding war, not by offering the most money, but by allowing the group complete artistic control. In those days, no group, let alone a new one, was allowed to produce itself, design the album covers and choose the singles. The Rascals' self-sufficiency paved the way for artists like Prince to call their own shots, but even the Purple One's deal didn't grant him unlimited recording-studio time, the way the Atlantic-Rascal arrangement did.
"We used to sleep there [Atlantic's New York recording facilities], but, unfortunately, a lot of the Atlantic artists really were ticked off by this--Wilson Pickett and them cats," Cavaliere says. "I mean, we were there forever. You had to literally ask us to leave. Could you imagine creating in a studio? Nowadays, it's unheard of, cause it's too expensive."
History has been slow in recognizing the Rascals' considerable contributions to rock. Perhaps this is because the group's catalogue, save for a greatest-hits album, was out of print for most of the Seventies and Eighties. Yet when you consider that the Byrds are still revered for uniting Dylan sensibilities and Beatles instrumentation, and the Beach Boys' mix of Four Freshmen, Chuck Berry and Spector still inspires awe, it's curious that the Rascals' revolutionary alchemy of Ray Charles, the Beatles and modern jazz is so undervalued. Nonetheless, it was a sound that caught everyone by surprise and spawned a host of imitators--complete with Hammond B3 organs--for years to come. After the Rascals went to No. 1 with "Good Lovin'," a song the band didn't write, Cavaliere began a fortuitous songwriting partnership with Rascal Eddie Brigati. The band worked its way back to No. 1 a second time with "Groovin'." The album of the same name, the third in little over a year, captures the band at the peak of its powers as a unit. The old Rascals/Hammond sound is downplayed and new, head-turning directions are added to the mix: the mystical jazz of "It's Love," the continental flavor of "How Can I Be Sure," the psychedelic/flamenco (!) sounds of "Sue–o" and the downright heavy-metalish "Find Somebody." "Groovin' was a big album for us," Cavaliere says. "That's when all cylinders were kicking in. In those days, they didn't take the time to produce or create and preproduce that they do now. What they did was just hurry you along because they wanted product out. That's why you see so many Beatle albums and Stones albums. We didn't get this year-or-two hiatus in between product that you get now.
"I really think what happened to my partner was he burnt himself out writing so much. Quick, quick, quick! Two albums a year, that's a lot of work." Not to mention the strain of having to go toe to toe with the Beatles every six months. When the Fabs released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Rascals abandoned their "Young" moniker and traded in their former R&B persona for a fistful of love beads. The band's next two releases closely mirrored what was happening in pop culture. Once Upon a Dream captured the Summer of Love and extolled the virtues of all things psychedelic, while Freedom Suite was a wake-up call to the politically charged climate of 1968. The combination of socially aware lyrics, sound effects and soul on the latter anticipates Marvin Gaye's What's Going On album by several years. One track, "Look Around," offers listeners the strange sonic opportunity of hearing the Rascals and Adolf Hitler at the same time! Although that album contained a third No. 1 single, "People Got to Be Free," it was the last in the chain of hit albums. It was followed by a sharp decline in popularity and sales for the group, a decline that seems hard to fathom in retrospect; Rhino's recent Rascals double CD Anthology 1965-72 makes a strong case for the overlooked latter half of the group's career and its forays into jazz. But beyond the lack of sales, internal tensions were also taking their toll.
"Naturally, when you're with creative people--and we were crazy to begin with--your [interests] jump around," explains Cavaliere. "We had guys becoming Jehovah Witnesses. Myself, I went into yoga. Some guys got involved with drugs. Anything you throw in that mixture comes out in the final product. . . . Guys who are smoking buddies, all of a sudden one guy quits, now you got a problem when he's around the other guy. The more volatile the personalities are, the more tension." But the irony of basic human situations clashing with the supposedly idyllic vibes of the hippie generation is not lost on Cavaliere. "The only thing I can tell you is I'm very embarrassed by what happened to us. We go around--especially Sixties people--talking about peace and love and harmony and getting along, and we don't even do it amongst ourselves. We failed as human beings, but we were successful as musicians. Okay, what's more important? Well, that's a good question. To me, losing a friend is a terrible thing."
Although three of the four original Rascals briefly reunited in 1988, it yielded no new music. "We did a little minitour. And it just didn't feel right. I'm curious to see what's gonna happen with the Eagles reuniting." After all these years, Cavaliere still betrays the hurt of the breakup, to the point of not even referring to his former bandmates by name. "We'll always be tied because of the past. That doesn't mean we have to sit down and play together. No, we do not get along. No, we do not speak, and I have no desire to speak to them anymore because of the things they have done to me.