Rascals: The Blackest White Group of All
The Rascals’ first number one song was “Good Lovin’.” It broke while they were working at the Whiskey A Go Go in Los Angeles. “We really didn’t want that record out,” Gene Cornish recalls. “I didn’t like the mix or the sound. Some of the fellows tried to deny that it was our record for the first couple of weeks because we were embarrassed. When it got to be number one, they didn’t deny it.”
The Rascals’ contemporaries in those days included the Vanilla Fudge (formerly known as the Pigeons whom they worked the Long Island and North Jersey clubs), the Vagrants and the Rich Kids. All four groups played a particularly funky music, influenced by the black and Spanish elements in New York City and completely different from the softer, more elaborately lyrical and country-tinged folk-rock that groups like the Lovin’ Spoonful were beginning to popularize. Today only the Rascals are left from what was tentatively called “The New York Sound.” The reason — –beyond the usual personality conflicts and money hassles — –has to do with the Rascals’ definition of “soul”:
“There’s a lot of things I do, I’m sure, that turn the other guys off. But we have to respect each other and allow each other to be. That’s really important; it’s like being married.” Felix scratches his beard. “We bend. We are like the difference between an Oriental and a Western person. An Oriental kind of bends with the wind, and a Western person meets it head on. So we kind of adopted a lot of this Oriental philosophy and attitudes towards each other.”
Two and a half years ago Felix had achieved what most pop musicians would consider “success.” The Rascals were making money, getting consistent Top 40 singles and high album sales, and they had a following in black and white audiences. And Felix was unhappy.
He’d begun reading Zen and Timothy Leary, and then someone gave him a book on Yoga. Felix was skeptical but, he says, the book stayed with him. During a rehearsal for a show he was going to do for Steve Paul, he spotted an old man with long robes and hair seated in a circle of about 150 people at Paul’s Scene, one of the first hip music clubs in New York. Felix says he “recognized” the man, Swami Satchidananda. He’s been a part-time pupil ever since.
“Sometimes you wonder how a person in the ghetto feels when he turns on a television. Someone is blaring at him to get something you know he can’t afford. It must be really frustrating. I have more than three-quarters of the people on the earth. Why? How come? Swami Satchidananda said it had to do with my sansara, my road. I learned what I know in another lifetime. I shouldn’t question it except to be aware of it. That’s all.”
Unlike some other “revolution”-talking pop stars however, Cavaliere has gone beyond the acceptance of a conventional wisdom. After playing a series of jobs in the South during a Dick Clark tour, he came home determined to do something:
“A lot of people forget that Florida is in the South. They get confused with the fact that Miami is Florida, but that’s like an extension of New York. We were doing Tampa and Orlando and places like that. We had a little Cortez–which is like a trailer–and everybody else on the tour was in a horrible bus.
“We would travel by ourselves with no Dick Clark representative and get there whenever we got there without anybody hammering over us. On this particular ride we happened to break down near a town by the name of Fort Pierce. It was a big mistake for us.
“A policeman came by and saw that we were broken down. We explained that we’d like to use the telephone and call ahead to tell them we couldn’t make it. Then we went to have dinner in a restaurant. These two men came over and one sat down and said: ‘You know I’m trying to figure out whether you’re a boy or a damn girl.’ We tried to be funny with him and say I’m not too sure myself’ and all, and then we realized that this cat is not fooling around. He says: ‘You know where we come from we chew on people like you. Let me see your draft card.’ I said, ‘What do you want to see my draft card for?’ He said, ‘Because I’m an ex-Marine myself.’ We were in for it now because the rest of the place was becoming aware of what was going on and they’re on his side. There’s a big rebel flag behind the counter. People were grabbing knives and forks because it’s going to happen, man, and you better be ready for it.
“Our road manager was going to get some Hertz cars and he called up, not knowing what was happening. We had our meals on the table. We put down the money plus at least $5 extra. We didn’t touch the food. We just kind of went toward the door. There was another man who was saying ‘Leave ’em alone,’ but the man didn’t want to hear it.
“The road manager arrived with the cars and we got out of there somehow, but then we realized we had to go back to the trailer and empty our stuff. In those days, it was everything we owned.
“We started to go to the trailer and we saw all these people following us. It had become a fun Saturday night thing to do for them. So I said, ‘Let’s go to the police station. We’re not going to fight them. They’ll kill us.’ But this guy in the police station wasn’t that interested in helping us. He didn’t even want us in his police station.
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