The Boston Globe
July 10, 2003, Thursday THIRD EDITION
GLOBE NORTHWEST 1;
A GROOVIN’ REUNION WITH A RASCAL – AND A HERO
BYLINE: By Joyce Pellino Crane, Globe Correspondent
SECTION: GLOBE NORTHWEST; Pg. 6
LENGTH: 1039 words
He was the hometown boy who made good. I was the preadolescent watching for him from my parents’ sunporch windows in Pelham, N.Y., more than 30 years ago. But it wasn’t until last Saturday in Lowell that I came face-to-face with Felix Cavaliere, the soulful lead singer of the rock group the Rascals.
As Italian-Americans growing up in Westchester County during the 1960s, we viewed Cavaliere’s success as representing more than a brush with fame. He was one of us. His Italian-speaking father was my grandmother’s dentist. We were the have-nots in a WASPy town where a chosen elite were groomed for and presented to society at age 18. The path he was blazing meant anything was possible, even for us.
My older sister was a rock visionary at 15. The record album collection I appropriated from her when she left for college contained several Beatles albums, a Janis Joplin disk, and the Doors’ “Soft Parade” album. But her sights were set mainly on the Rascals in those years.
My sister and I had a direct line of vision to the Cavaliere house on Colonial Avenue. In between was the Pelham Memorial High School campus, and several houses away from the Cavalieres were the houses of grandparents and several other relatives. Often I’d find her spying on his house with my father’s World War II binoculars.
Then one hot spring day around 1967, Cavaliere really did show up. My sister watched as the rock superstar, then about 25years old, parked his sports car in his father’s driveway and walked across Colonial Avenue onto the high school grounds. He was coming to pick up Adrienne Buccheri, a goddess in our eyes. The two were engaged to be married, even though she had not yet graduated from high school.
Running behind, I followed my sister as she ran out the front door, down our front steps, and intercepted the long-haired Cavaliere, garbed in an ankle-length coat, as he approached the high school. Too shy to speak, I listened as my bold sister engaged him in conversation about his music.
Fast forward to last Saturday, and Cavaliere was appearing at Boarding House Park for the Lowell Summer Music Series. He was working with a different band called Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals. Center stage was his trademark organ. A classically trained pianist, Cavaliere wrote the music to most of the Rascals’ hits.
With his direction and lead vocals, the new band was indistinguishable from the old group of Eddie Brigati, Gene Cornish, and Dino Danelli.
“Groovin’,” “A Beautiful Morning,” and “Good Lovin’ ” had the middle-aged fans and their children hopping on this warm summer evening. Having my sons, ages 10 and 12, there, bridged them to my past, to my hometown, and to my ethnicity, which I, in many ways, had left behind.
After the concert, a still energetic Cavaliere brought me to a nearby room, where the concert organizers had laid out a buffet for the group. There visiting was Cavaliere’s childhood friend Phyllis Jefferson Walder, whose backyard had abutted his. Walder, now of Maine, had come to Lowell with her daughter and two granddaughters to hear Cavaliere.
“We had a log cabin in our backyard,” Walder recalled. “Felix used to hide back there when his mother came out looking for him to practice his piano.”
Cavaliere admitted it was a grind to practice so intensely at such a young age, but acknowledged it paid off for him. His mother, he said, recognized his talent and arranged for piano lessons three times a week. But her guidance ended when she died of cancer when he was 13. It was his defining moment, he said, and what drove him to make music his career and later to follow the teachings of peace from the late yoga master, the Reverend Sri Swami Satchidananda.
“My mother was in church seven days a week,” he said. “But when I went to the priests for answers about why she died, they couldn’t help me.”
“That’s why I ended up going to this swami,” he continued. “I needed an answer why. People are afraid to talk about death. I searched and searched until I found someone [who could].”
The answer, when it finally came, brought resolution. He said he learned that we are all on earth for a reason.
“This is the place where you work things out,” Cavaliere said.
As we talked later in the lobby of the Tewksbury Holiday Inn, where he was staying that evening, I realized how far he had grown beyond the New York City suburb of our youth. He had visited George Harrison at his home, sung with Laura Nyro, and followed Satchidananda across continents since 1967.
The Rascals had four No. 1 hits, six Top 20 singles, and six Top 20 albums during the course of their meteoric rise – which lasted only from about 1965 to the early 1970s. In 1997, the Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
When the superstardom ended, Cavaliere said, he was devastated. Infighting among the original group members eventually led to three court battles over the use of the band’s name.
“The group officially broke up in 1972,” he said. “The remnants of the rest was trying to keep the business together. First of all, my partner quit. Eddie [Brigati] left with a $2 million contract with Columbia Records sitting on the table. He just went home.”
Brigati had written the lyrics for many of the group’s hits. Even though Cavaliere signed the Columbia deal and recorded two more albums, without Brigati, the group’s magic was lost.
Cavaliere, who has five grown children by two women, never married Buccheri, and she passed away a few years ago, after marrying a close friend of Cavaliere.
While they were engaged, Cavaliere said he awoke one morning and asked himself why he was going to marry someone so young. “Groovin’,” “A Girl Like You,” “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” and “How Can I Be Sure” had all been written for her at a time when he was seeking inspiration to begin writing his own music.
“I believe she was divinely sent for the purpose of inspiring my creativity,” he said.
When Cavaliere left me at my car in the hotel parking lot, I sat behind the wheel and marveled at how a twist of fate had allowed me to connect with him in Lowell after all these years. I wanted to call my sister.
Joyce Pellino Crane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.