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Cavaliere still gets ‘em groovin’ to the music

By : Eric Coker

Felix Cavaliere’s onstage mission hasn’t changed over the past 45 years.

“When we first began, our ‘job’ was to get people up and dancing, enjoying themselves and forgetting about what their problems were,” said the former lead singer and keyboardist for 1960s hitmakers The Rascals. “That’s still my goal. I like to make sure they get up and emote.

“In the old days, you weren’t asked back if you didn’t get them up singing and dancing.”

Cavaliere is just one of the acts who will have audience members singing and dancing to the classics when Hippiefest comes to Binghamton University at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 22.

The concert, which also features Flo and Eddie from the Turtles, Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night, Badfinger featuring Joey Molland, and Mountain featuring Leslie West and Corky Lang, kicks off the 25th anniversary celebration of the Anderson Center. Inside tickets are $55; lawn tickets, $27.50 (call 777-ARTS or go to Anderson.binghamton.edu).

With a mix of blue-eyed soul, rock and Cavaliere’s ever-present Hammond organ, The Rascals were one of rock’s pre-eminent and influential bands. The group scored three No. 1 singles (Good Lovin’, Groovin’ and People Got to Be Free) along with six other Top 20 hits (You Better Run, I’ve Been Lonely Too Long, It’s Wonderful, A Girl Like You, How Can I Be Sure? and A Beautiful Morning) before breaking up in 1972. Cavaliere went on to record four solo albums and had a hit in 1980 with Only a Lonely Heart Sees. The Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

One reason for the success of the songs, Cavaliere said, is that the band was able to make music in the renowned Atlantic Records studios.

“I can’t say enough about the ‘laboratory’ that Atlantic Records gave us to record in,” the 66-year-old said. “We had the most magnificent environment for making music that I’ve ever had. There was a happiness and joy in that room that is still on those songs. I think that’s what people hear: ‘Wow, these guys sound like they’re really having fun.’”

The fun jumps off Good Lovin’, which was originally a minor hit for The Olympics before The Rascals released their version in 1966. The song, with its manic melody and call-and-response chorus, has continued to reach new audiences, be it in The Big Chill and Moonlighting in the 1980s or in a version by Bruce Springsteen on his current tour.

 “From the first time we put that in the set — at the time basically just a club set — people got up and danced,” Cavaliere said. “It was amazing … and it still is.”

The Rascals brought social consciousness to rock’s forefront in the tumultuous summer of 1968 with People Got to Be Free. Written by Cavaliere and bandmate/songwriting partner Eddie Brigati, the song took on added significance after Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Cavaliere said he was dating a woman who was present when Kennedy was killed and “it really hit me quite hard.”

“It was a genuine, heartfelt emotion,” he said. “A lot of us were really involved in those days. It wasn’t just politics; it was trying to get the world somewhere we thought it should be. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get there. I still have those feelings and I think it’s important for the world to get along. That’s why I’m so proud of that song.”

The past year has been quite eventful for Cavaliere, who is now based in Nashville. In 2008, he collaborated with legendary Stax guitarist/producer Steve Cropper on a CD called Nudge It Up a Notch. The album earned critical acclaim and the duo even received a Grammy nomination for one of its instrumentals.

In June, Cavaliere and Brigati were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame with a class that included Crosby Stills and Nash and Jon Bon Jovi/Richie Sambora. Cavaliere and Brigati took the stage together for the first time in years, performing People Got to Be Free and How Can I Be Sure?

“It was such a great night,” Cavaliere said. “I’m really sorry they didn’t televise it because it was just amazing. It was a lot of fun and something I won’t forget.”

Cavaliere continues to tour regularly with a band of “A-session” Nashville musicians, a voice that still sounds like it’s 1968 and a body of work that has stood the test of time.

“Our generation in those days was really tuned into each other’s music,” he said. “The music was like the bond that the Internet is today for young kids. We listened and grew up and dated and married and divorced together with the music and songs. That’s what our lives were experiencing at the time. I think that’s a tremendous bond.”
 

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Last Updated: 10/14/08