Ron Onesti: Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals saves the day

 
 
Posted4/13/2018 6:00 AM
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  • The Arcada Theatre owner Ron Onesti, right, has worked so much with Felix Cavaliere of the Young Rascals that he refers to him as "Uncle Felix."

    The Arcada Theatre owner Ron Onesti, right, has worked so much with Felix Cavaliere of the Young Rascals that he refers to him as "Uncle Felix." Courtesy of Onesti Entertainment Corp.

This Sunday at The Arcada was to be a fabulous concert with East Coast rock music icons Bobby Rydell and Lou Christie. The teen idols were all set to bring their electrifying shows back to the place that regularly hosts entertainment legends from all eras, but in particular, as many '50s and '60s acts as it can get its proverbial hands on.

All set, that is, until Bobby fell ill and canceled his appearance just a few days before this weekend's performance.

What do I do? Do I cancel the show and disappoint a bunch of people, or add somebody in Bobby's place so that pop/rock fans of the '60s still have a great night out?

After speaking with his agent, we went down a slew of names from the era who may replace the "Volare" man. Then it came to me. "I'll call my 'Uncle Felix'," I thought.

I was referring to Felix Cavaliere from the Young Rascals. I call him "Uncle" just because of the many years we have been doing shows together.

As soon as we called him, he said: "Anything you need, Ron," and in an instant, the music of the Young Rascals will join another incredible performer, Lou Christie ("Lightening Strikes") and give what will surely be a superb musical experience. Yes, the show WILL go on!

And who doesn't loooooooove great Rascal's music? Well I sure do! And having this music back at The Arcada will be another night to remember. Let me tell you about my "Uncle" Felix.

As the British "invaded" America's rock 'n' roll scene from 1964-1967, many American bands emulated the moptop style of music just to keep up. But when I asked Felix Cavaliere why his Young Rascals really didn't have that style mixed in with their repertoire, his answer was quite interesting.

"If you really look at it, the guys from England were trying to be American," he said. "The Stones and the Beatles have both said they were really influenced by American blues, especially by the hometown boys of the blues by you in Chicago. They were also influenced by early American R&B and even gospel, as well. We were American. Why should we copy ourselves?"

For me, talking to Felix is like talking to an uncle. Although he lives in Nashville, still writing and recording, his somewhat raspy, Jersey boy accent is still quite prevalent. He is the kind of "neighborhood" guy who would look quite comfortable with a big plate of mama's meatballs in front of him.

The Young Rascals, consisting of Cavaliere, Dino Danelli, Gene Cornish and Eddie Brigati, was part of that early "New Jersey Sound," much like that of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. "We tried to be bit more rock than pop at the time," Felix said. "Until Hendrix came out; then we found out what rock music really was!"

With a slew of hits that have stood the test of time, the most popular were "Groovin'," "It's A Beautiful Morning," "How Can I Be Sure," "I've Been Lonely Too Long," "Good Lovin'" and "People Got To Be Free."

It's so hard to choose, but I think my personal favorite is "Groovin'." I had to ask him where the song came from. "Well, many of the songs I wrote back then were about a particular girl. But 'Groovin' on a Sunday afternoon' referred to the fact that as a musician, the Saturday date nights most people had were Sundays for us. We were always working on Saturdays, so Sunday afternoons was our 'grooooovin' time!' "

A day does not go by when, somewhere in America, someone is singing along with one of those songs. How many groups can actually say that? "When we started, we never thought 50 years later we would still be around performing," Cavaliere said. "We had our bumps (more like potholes) in the road, but now, I am really enjoying life, still sharing music. How much better can it get?"

The group eventually disbanded and, Felix, Gene and Dino all did their own "Rascals" thing, and Eddie went out with his brother, David, who was actually the "fifth Rascal," as he co-wrote and sang harmonies on many of the Rascals' recordings.

Twenty-five million records later, on May 6, 1997, THE magical moment had finally arrived. Steven Van Zandt, the bandana-wearing guitarist in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band (who also played Silvio in "The Sopranos,") introduced the Rascals for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Van Zandt, a fellow Jersey boy and also a Hall of Fame inductee, was a huge fan of the group and a natural to be the one to present them.

He asked the original guys to not only appear together, but would they all perform together that night? They did and the result was as magical as the moment itself.

It was a slow process, but Van Zandt's dream of getting the guys together to perform as a group again became a reality in 2013. He produced a multimedia, biographical musical about and starring the original Rascals, entitled "Once Upon A Dream." The guys agreed to reunite and it was a smash success around the country, proving their music, and their stories, are definitely timeless. The run ended on a positive note, fostering their music by sharing it with a new generation. But will it happen again? Probably not for a long, long time.

After performing as the original band for the first time in 40 years, I asked how the reunion was, behind the scenes.

"It really felt good to be with the other guys again. All of us have our quirky personalities but when the music started, you can see us all shut our eyes and go back to those times," Cavaliere said. "See, it's not just the audience that goes back to their memorable times when they hear the music. We join them in the journey back ourselves as we sing the tunes!"

With a memoir being penned, a line of wine being sold bearing the names of Rascals' songs, his regular touring and being in the recording studio on a relatively daily basis, Felix Cavaliere shows no signs of slowing down. But that fatherly smile has many stories yet to tell, and many songs to sing. For Felix Cavaliere, every morning is "A Beautiful Morning."

And thanks to him and the rest of the Rascals (including David), us rock 'n' roll fans have great stuff to belt out to as we are driving with the top down and the radio blasting.

Felix Cavaliere will appear Sunday, April 15, with Lou Christie at The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Great seats are still available. Visit www.oshows.com or call (630) 962-7000.

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email ron@oshows.com.

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