WHEN 55,000 BEATLEMANIACS MOBBED SHEA Stadium to cheer the Fab Four in 1965, precious few had ever heard of the local bar band whose name kept flashing on the scoreboard—”The Rascals Are Coming!”—even before the music began. Furious that another group was being hyped, Beatles manager Brian Epstein threatened to cancel the show. The sign was turned off, but a victory had already been won. “The gimmick worked,” says former Rascals manager Sid Bernstein, who had access to the scoreboard because he promoted the concert at Shea. Immediately afterward, Bernstein was flooded with calls from record companies and curious kids. “The group,” he says with a mischievous grin, “had a fan club before anybody heard a note of their music.”
That fan club quickly grew into a mob. Within months the Rascals, a bunch from the New York City metropolitan area who wore modified mop-tops and knickers, scored a No. 1 hit with “Good Lovin’,” a rock classic that has sold 30 million copies to date. Countering the British Invasion with their blue-eyed soul, the group toured the U.S., made several appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and reeled off a string of hits including “Groovin’,” “How Can I Be Sure?” and “A Beautiful Morning.” “It was the days of the astronauts, and I remember feeling that same kind of exhilaration, like the rocket took off,” says Rascals organist Felix Cavaliere.
Eventually, though, the Rascals crash-landed, splitting in 1971 over creative differences. Later, former bandmates sued Cavaliere over copyright infringement and royalty disputes. But there may be a happy ending yet. On May 6 the Rascals—Cavaliere, 54, singer Eddie Brigati, 51, guitarist Gene Cornish, 52, and drummer Dino Danelli, 51—plan to play together for the first time in 26 years when they are inducted—along with Joni Mitchell; the Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills & Nash; the Bee Gees; Parliament-Funkadelic; and the Jackson 5—into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “It’s going to be great,” says Cornish. “All I want is for our hearts to beat as one.”
Cavaliere, however, pooh-poohs any ideas of a reunion album or tour. “I’m not going to play [with them] after that one night,” he says dismissively.
Things certainly seemed simpler back in 1965, when the group gathered in the basement of Cavaliere’s parents’ home in Pelham, N.Y. The classically trained keyboardist, who had been playing with Joey Dee and the Starlighters, jammed with New Jersey-born drummer Danelli and fellow ex-Starlighters Cornish, from Rochester, N.Y., and Brigati, another New Jersey native. The mix of talent “was something I had never heard before,” Cornish recalls. “Felix played organ like no one in the world, and Dino Danelli—forget about it, I’m still in awe of him 30 years later. And Eddie Brigati just sang so magically.”
Success was heady stuff, but the pressure took its toll. “I had a Rolls-Royce and a Jaguar and could never put any miles on them,” says Cornish, explaining that the group routinely worked six-day weeks. “I covered myself from head to foot with the whatever-you-want-to-call-it—the sins of life,” admits Cavaliere. As the harder-edged Hendrix era arrived, the band lost its way in search of a new sound. “Everybody wanted total freedom to create,” says Danelli. “Within our little structure, where there was a formula, it was hard to do that.”
When the group disbanded, “it was almost like a family breaking up,” says Cavaliere. “We were very close. Our families shared the holidays.” They were also bitter, taking potshots at one another’s integrity and talent. “I thought we were above this vicious behavior, but I was wrong,” says Cavaliere. Bad vibes surfaced in 1989 and again in ’91, when Cavaliere was sued by his ex-pals. They first accused him of appropriating the Rascals’ name for his own band and, later on, of mishandling royalties. Both suits were settled out of court, but animosity lingered; when Cornish had quadruple-bypass surgery in ’95, Cavaliere didn’t visit.
Today, Cornish, who lives with his girlfriend in Hudson County, N.J., and Danelli, who shares a Manhattan fiat with his girlfriend of 18 years, spend summers performing at small outdoor concerts with the New Rascals. Cavaliere lives near Nashville with his wife of 27 years, Theresa, and two of their children, and performs with the corporate-sponsored Northwest All-Star Band. Brigati, a Morris County, N.J., resident, appeared with his brother David, a former Rascals backup singer, in Donald Fagen’s New York Rock and Soul Revue.
While the sniping continues, all four Rascals look forward to the Hall of Fame bash. “I truly still love all these guys,” says Cornish. “Maybe the Hall of Fame will mature us to the point where we can go, ‘Hey, you were wrong, I was wrong. Shake, pal’ ”
NANCY MATSUMOTO in New York City