For decades following their 1972 break up, The Rascals represented one of the great, unfinished stories in the history of rock and roll.
The members of the pioneering North Jersey-based blue-eyed soul group never reunited, except for a joint appearance for their 1997 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band fame.
“When groups break up, it’s difficult to get them back together for a number of reasons,” says Rascals co-founder Felix Cavaliere and one of its main songwriters.
“You can fill in those blanks. There are all kinds of things that come between groups, especially when you put in decades of time.”
It took another 15 years for longtime fan Van Zandt to bring about a full-fledged reunion of the Rascals, who are best known for hits like “Good Lovin’,” “How Can I Be Sure” and “People Got to Be Free.”
The four original Rascals launched their comeback last spring on Broadway in “Once Upon a Dream,” and since then have hit the road, including a stop on Friday, Nov. 29, at the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City.
Theirs is no ordinary reunion concert, but a multi-media concept co-directed by Van Zandt that features archival clips, taped interviews with the band, filmed footage with actors playing The Rascals when they were young, and a live concert featuring the original members.
“It tells a great deal of our story — where we come from, the diversity of it,” says Eddie Brigati, who cowrote much of The Rascals’ songs with Cavaliere.
“We did a tremendous amount of work as kids. We did seven albums in five years and over 1,000 concerts.”
From their mid-‘60s beginnings, The Rascals stood out from their peers by being the first non-African-American group signed to Atlantic Records. It was the time of the British rock invasion, but there were few American groups of a similar ilk, according to Cavaliere. Singer Brigati, keyboardist Cavaliere and guitarist Gene Cornish had been in the group, Joey Dee and the Starliters. (The fourth member is Dino Danelli on drums.)
“It was a dream come true,” Cavaliere recalls of getting signed to Atlantic. “I wanted to produce the group ourselves. They were the only people who gave us the opportunity. It was huge.
“Throughout our career, we were completely in charge of our music. It was unusual, especially for a bunch of kids who had no track record.”
The Rascals would go on to record seven albums with the original line up, but the hits slowed by 1970 when Brigati left the group. Cavaliere tried to take The Rascals in a jazz direction in their last two albums before the group split in 1972.
Despite their decades apart, The Rascals didn’t have to repair any longtime rifts to prepare for the reunion. Brigati blames their inability to stay together to management issues, rather than internal conflicts.
“We’re cordial to each other,” he says. “If (a group’s) not really managed or nurtured or supported, it goes astray,” he says. “The body of work proves it.”
This incredible year for the band will come full circle next month, when the group returns to Broadway from Dec. 15 through Jan. 5. In the new year, Brigati and Cavaliere say they will determine whether and when to continue together.
For Cavaliere, who never stopped performing The Rascals’ music as a solo act, the title of the Broadway show, “Once Upon a Dream,” still rings true.
“It was a magical time in my life,” he says. “Those were great moments — you think about writing a song, taking it to a studio, having it recorded under professional conditions, going out and tour with it and having people buy it.
“It’s a flattering thing to see people still remember you after all these years.”
Rascals credit Van Zandt for reunion tour
The fifth member of The Rascals could almost be Steven Van Zandt, who helped convince band members to reunite and came up with the theatrical concept of celebrating the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers’ history.
The group first performed the multi-media reunion show on Broadway last spring and has since done five dozen dates around the country.
“I’m really at a loss for words as to what great lengths (he) went to, personally, psychologically and intellectually” to put together the reunion, says Felix Cavaliere, a co-founder and one of its main songwriters.
Adds another co-founder Eddie Brigati: “Steven gave us his integrity and credibility — he gave us his all, including a tremendous amount of money. He knows every note. He’s been a very purposeful ally and supporter and a dear friend — and he’s a Jersey boy.”
Cavaliere sees possibilities in adapting the format for the show, which was co-directed by Van Zandt and Marc Brickman, to other acts.
“He’s got a new idea here — it’s not just a band on stage,” he says. “We’ve been able to proceed to Broadway, which caught me totally off-guard, and it’s been received very well.”