Felix Cavaliere, the founder and frontman of the Rascals—known for hits like “Groovin’,” “Good Lovin’” and other songs whose titles don’t start with G—seemingly hasn’t stopped for a second since the 1960s.
He continues to tour—and is making a stop in Indio for a special night at the Rock Yard at Fantasy Springs on Saturday, June 5. During a fascinating phone interview, Cavaliere discussed some perks he managed to find within the pandemic.
“The good thing is that we can make music on computers now,” said Cavaliere, 78. “That’s really been a lifesaver for me, because I was in the midst of doing a new album when this happened. I was able to finish it, and that was a tremendous help.
“We (normally) travel all the time, so we never really have the time to learn some of the programs that we want to use. I’m doing tutorials and just trying to keep my mind active. If you don’t do that every day, it gets a little stale. Keyboard players, we have a little bit of an advantage, because we’re so used to reading manuals and doing electronic things because of the synth. I’ve been enjoying it, actually, because there’s so much to learn.”
After 60 years of touring, Cavaliere and his band experimented with virtual performances for the first time.
“There’s an organization that started up called Hellooo TV,” Cavaliere said. “Their premise is that they are going to film groups doing a virtual concert with no audience. We did that in October, and it was a big success as far as the feedback I got from the audio, and the video was phenomenal. It was really interesting for me, because without an audience, I was really tired after it—putting out without any feedback really drained me. After a long show, I really felt it, but it went over well. The band was elated to be playing, and everybody was really motivated.
“I did another thing for the St. Jude organization about a month ago where I just did a couple of songs. I’ve been trying to keep busy.”
Cavaliere said he and his band are excited that live shows are finally returning. He talked about one of the handful of shows his band has played in the last year, outdoors at a casino near San Diego last October.
“The weather was gorgeous. The place was beautiful, and my band just really, really, really enjoyed playing,” Cavaliere said. “You could tell, because the soundcheck never ended. … I (finally) said, ‘You guys have got to get dressed.’ They just barely had time to put on the stage clothes.
“People are starving for live stuff. I really think there’s going to be a tremendous boom; I think people are going to really rock out. After the last pandemic 100 years ago, the Roaring ’20s came out, and people really wreaked havoc. It should be really fun out there.”
Playing live is Cavaliere’s bread and butter, he said.
“You’ve got to play, man,” Cavaliere said. “It is one thing to make music inside of a computer, but you need to have interaction with other people, other musicians, and you certainly need interaction with audiences to tell you whether you’re good or not. When the Rascals started performing ‘Good Lovin’’ onstage, from the first day we played that song, people went crazy—jumped up and danced. We knew then that we had a hit. If you don’t have that, and just have a damn computer, and you get no reaction.”
After growing up in New York, Cavaliere now considers Nashville his music headquarters.
“There are a lot of really fine musicians down here in Nashville; it’s one of the nice things about this town,” said Cavaliere. “It really is like what L.A. is to the film industry; (Nashville) is the same thing to the music industry. It’s not just country, either.”
Over his long career, Cavaliere has enjoyed numerous experiences, including a mid-1990s stint with Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band.
“It was really interesting,” Cavaliere said. “He’s a really good guy, and he and his wife, Barbara, are so in love. He’s got a great family life. … We had Billy Preston, John Entwistle, Randy Bachman and Mark Farner. It was a gas. We’d all be talking, and all of a sudden, Ringo’s in the back of the room. Somebody would ask a question, and as soon as he started to talk, everybody stopped talking. They wanted to hear what he had to say, because there was a tremendous amount of respect for him.”
Cavaliere’s history with The Beatles goes back to when he saw the band play in Europe before it took the U.S. by storm.
“Before they came to the United States, I saw them with a group I was playing with in Germany called Joey Dee and the Starliters,” Cavaliere said. “It really made an impression on me, because everybody was screaming and hollering like crazy. The guys had long hair, and I had never seen anybody like that. It really kind of cemented the idea that I would be a musician, because prior to that, I was a pre-med student in Syracuse. I said, ‘Hey, I can do this. I see what they’re doing.’
“They opened up for us, believe it or not. When they played American music, they weren’t that good. … But when they played their music, that was it. I really thought they were more of a singing group than a band. They were very stiff white guys playing soul music. When they did their thing—wow. What you could hear over all the yelling and screaming, I thought was cool.”
I was curious whether Cavaliere ever felt the pressure of being a star and competing with the chart-topping giants of the 1960s.
“If you’re going to have a hit record in that climate of the ’60s, with the English Invasion, you’d better have a damn good record,” Cavaliere said. “The bar was way up there, so that pushed us all to survive and do better work.
“People don’t really realize the contribution that The Beatles made. … When they came out with a sound, or a new nuance, or a new genre, I was then able to do that. In other words, when they came out with ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Michelle,’ I came out with ‘How Can I Be Sure.’ … Today, the variety that existed in those days is nonexistent: Everybody does the same damn thing over and over and over. But those guys jumped around from different styles … and the radio stations were primed for it. It really helped us all to be more kind of rounded creators.”
Cavaliere expressed pride regarding the mark he’s made on music history.
“I do this as part of my stage shtick where I tell people that one of the reasons I love playing for everybody is because they know the songs, and they want to re-create that time in their life,” Cavaliere said. “What I do is I throw in pieces of other people’s songs. First of all, it stops them from going to sleep, and second of all, for 10 seconds, it stirs their memory to some really cool places that we used to go. I try to at least mix up the set. I know they want to hear the hits; I just make them kind of like new. Sometimes I take a little criticism for that, because some people are purists, and they want to hear it the way they heard it. I just try to have a good time out there, man.”
Cavaliere said the pandemic drove home the lesson that you don’t realize how much you love something until you stop doing it.
“It’s like when you go to your parents’ house, and everybody welcomes you with open arms and hugs,” he said. “That’s what it’s like playing for an audience that wants to see you—they give you this kind of feedback of joy and love. … It’s kind of euphoric and is kind of addictive. It was fun then, and it’s fun now.”
Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals will perform with Thank U Drive Thru at 7 p.m., Saturday, June 5, at the Rock Yard at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio. Admission is free and open to attendees 18 and older. For more information, call 800-827-2946, or visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com.