Nearly all bands and solo artists who’ve achieved fame can recall regularly playing at a specific venue or two where they honed their chops, polished their material, perfected their stage show and attracted music-industry interest.
For Felix Cavaliere and fellow Rascals members Eddie Brigati, Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli, one such place was The Barge in East Quogue, New York, part of the seaside-resort stretch of Long Island known as the Hamptons. But as Cavaliere details in his forthcoming book, an unfortunate incident involving fellow singer Brigati came very close to derailing the blossoming band’s plans to play there in summer 1965.
The story about The Barge was among the excerpts from Cavaliere’s Memoir of a Rascal: From Pelham, NY to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that were made available to the media. If these excerpts are a true reflection of the full autobiography, then Memoir of a Rascal — due March 22 (order here) — should prove to be as colorful and soulful as the cream of the Rascals’ catalog.
Cavaliere is sure to give that catalog a workout while on tour this year, with Monkees singer Micky Dolenz joining him on select dates in the spring. And by the end of the summer, Cavaliere’s solo catalog will expand with the arrival of the album Then & Now.
GOLDMINE: Is Memoir of a Rascal a project born from the pandemic, as was the case with some other recent musician memoirs, or were you already working on the book before COVID-19 hit?
FELIX CAVALIERE: I was already working on the book. I’ve got a very simple explanation for you. In 2013, the original crew, the Rascal guys, we did a Broadway show called Once Upon a Dream. And during that time, we were doing publicity events to promote the show. We would do sort of press conferences, you know: There would be the four of us sitting, and the press would ask us questions. And I noticed every single person had a different answer for the same question (laughs). … I wanted to make sure I got my viewpoints and my recollections down, and that’s really how it started.
GM: In what ways was writing this book similar to writing an album of new material?
FC: Oh, no, I’d rather do [an] album of new material (laughs). Writing a book, I really learned a lot of respect for people like Stephen King and John Grisham. … If [my book] was like a novel rather than an autobiography, it might be more fun. But when you’re talking about yourself for hours, you know all these stories, you know what I’m saying? You’re just going back into your subconscious. If you’ve read the book Dune, you just created a new world; that’s got to be pretty exciting to come up with those ideas. But [writing a book] is a different thing, and I learned a lot — I really did.
GM: So was there no attempt at a rhythmic feel to the way you wanted the words to appear on the page, and as people would read them, they’d have that flowing through their mind, like there’s a pace, a rhythm or even a melody to what you were writing?
FC: Oh, I wish I’d done that. I really didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I started writing with someone; he was a journalist. And I realized that I didn’t want this to sound like an article; I want this to sound like a narration.
GM: What parts of your personal life were the most difficult for you to revisit and write about?
FC: I’m sure in most people’s lives there’s tragedy, like somebody passes away, and in my case, my mom [died] when I was very young. That was very difficult. And the second difficult part was about the glorious Rascals (laughs). … I came to a realization: “Do people really wanna hear about [our turmoil]?” So I kinda left a lot of that out.
GM: In writing about what playing at the New York venue The Barge meant to The Rascals, you say about Eddie, who is a year younger, “It was like a big brother-little brother relationship.” Did he see things that way then, and was he OK with that dynamic?
FC: I have no idea. Basically, the most interesting part of that question is that when we started, we got this job at The Barge. Before we ever did our first show at The Barge, Eddie had an automobile accident, and it was a bad one. He was very fortunate to have been in the back seat sleeping, otherwise it might be a different story here. This is in the book: I had to go to his mom, who may have been the sweetest lady I ever met in my life, and literally tell her that this is very important to our career for us to do this show, to do this job. I knew that when we did The Barge, we were going to get noticed. As you know, the Hamptons are the place. And I knew we were good; somebody [in the music business] is going to see us.
So I asked his mom: “Do you think he can make it?” Because he was pretty shaken up physically and mentally; it was a bad accident. So I promised her that I would watch him like a big brother. Now whether he accepted that, I will never know. But I felt very close to him as a brother.
GM: Bandmates with brotherly relationships: They have their ups and downs like true blood brothers. Were there any parts of the book that you handled with extra care so as to not reignite any past differences with Eddie — or any you have had with Gene and Dino, for that matter?
FC: That is the understatement of the day (laughs). I guess people don’t realize the amount of litigation that has taken place between them and me. You’re darn right I had to be careful. … I really held my tongue. It’s really a sad situation. My heart was broken in 1972 when he left the band, Eddie, and my heart is broken in 2022 when we’re still acting like children. It’s really a very difficult thing for me, I must say.
GM: Your Jimi Hendrix memories focus on his shy and generous nature. He once gave you his watch. So how fancy was this watch, and whatever became of it?
FC: Unfortunately, I had a fire, and I lost it in the fire at my home. But it wasn’t fancy. That’s how he was. He was a really giving guy, a trusting guy. I think that what was really a problem for him in life were all of the “gimme” people that were around him: all of the contracts that he signed that he shouldn’t have signed, and all of the things that he probably promised that he shouldn’t have promised.
You know, a lot of artists are really like that; a lot of entertainers are like that. There’s a fundamental desire to be liked. You want the applause, and you overdo that to the point of where you’re taken advantage of. … Jimi was a good guy; he was a nice guy. I don’t know: I think probably his early life was not that pleasant. From what I’ve been reading he probably had not as nice a family life as I had. I think he appreciated when people liked him, you know, and we did like him.
GM: In the Hendrix section, you mention Micky Dolenz, who will be your tour mate this year. But while your old band is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his is not. So, do you think The Monkees deserve to be inducted?
FC: That’s a really good question. Do you think Dolly Parton needs to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
GM: I do — yes.
FC: Well, there you go — they should, too. … I’m sure that the Oscars and all of these things are like this: You’ve got to be nominated to be in it. It’s got really nothing to do in the long run with whether you deserve to be in it.
[With the Rock Hall] you get nominated by people who are on the board, and they put your name up. In our case, we had some really tremendous help. We had of course Steve Van Zandt. Phil Spector really helped us, Dion helped us, Frankie Valli helped us, and I’m sure there’s other people who really went out of their way to say, “Put The Rascals in the Hall of Fame.”
GM: In terms of credentials, the Billboard numbers for both bands are nearly identical over roughly the same amount of time: The Rascals had 18 entries on the Hot 100 chart, with three of them hitting No. 1 — and that’s the same as The Monkees. They had one more Top 5 hit than The Rascals did.
GM: But since then, their catalog has picked up new fans and influenced other musicians.
FC: Oh, absolutely.
GM: But something has to be keeping them out, and it can’t be the “Oh, they were actors, not a real band” thing that plagued them at the start.
FC: Yeah, but it probably is that. And not only that, you’ve got to have mentions, you’ve got to have people helping you out with the nomination. If they don’t mention you, you can’t get in. There are so many people deserving to be there.
GM: Is there any chance you and Micky will perform some songs together on these tour dates?
FC: Yes, yes. I really think that should happen. I think that’s very important that people see that. I’ve already started talking about that.
GM: What can fans expect from your forthcoming album, Then & Now?
FC: The concept is this: My manager actually said, “Why don’t you do some songs that influenced you?” So I chose five songs that influenced me, and I wrote five new songs that showed that influenced. [For example, I did] Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem,” which was not easy because he was one of the finest I ever heard, and I wrote a song that kind of showed that influence. … In some cases I did songs that people may not be familiar with, you know, because they were personal favorites. But that’s what it’s about: then and now.
Photo of Felix Cavaliere by Leon Volskis