Felix Cavaliere, known for his group The Young Rascals, and a great number of classic songs we can’t help but sing along to—such as “Groovin,’” “A Girl Like You” and “People Got to Be Free”—will perform with his new group, simply called the Rascals, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on August 28. The singer took some time to speak with Dan’s Papers about his background in classical music and his journey to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Can you tell us what lead you to the art of singing and songwriting?
I have no idea how I got involved in this business. I come from a medical family. I was in pre-med at Syracuse University, but I’d started playing classical piano when I was fiver years old. My mom was the one who put an emphasis on me doing this. I studied for eight years, so I got a good musical education. I was fortunate to grow up near New York City…it enchanted me. I started to get involved in local bands and local groups, and then when I went to college the same thing happened. I was offered a job for the summer in the Catskill Mountains, and I fell in love with it. I enjoyed myself so much. I asked my dad if I could give this a shot, and he said yes.
How did The Young Rascals form?
In those days we had the draft hanging over us, so as soon as I left school I was susceptible to it. I was asked to go to Europe by Joey Dee and the Starliters. While I was over there we were working in Germany and Sweden with this group that no one knew about called the Beatles. I saw these guys, and I saw the audience’s reaction, and I said, “You know what? I think I can really do this.” So when I came back to the states I decided I was going to start a band. My premise behind the band was to take the best guys I could find as singers and as players and it worked.
What’s your songwriting process?
I always felt that this creative juice that we have, you’re born with it, and you have to nurture it, you have to utilize it. One problems with classical music is that when I would even think of doing something different from what was on the page, the professors would be angry because how dare I change something that Mozart wrote. I’ve always done this kind of riffing, and playing and disappearing into the atmosphere emotionally. With music you can let it all go. It’s a wonderful feeling! I moved to Nashville because I want to continue feeling that for the rest of my life.
What contemporary acts would you like to share the stage with?
I’ve shared the stage with some really cool people over the years—Billy Joel, Ringo Starr, Jimi Hendrix—but the new breed of people like Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, people like that: they’re great dancers. I wouldn’t mind getting a little of that in my act.
You’re currently working on your memoir. What can we look forward to reading about?
I’m co-writing it and I’m just trying to let people know what it’s like to start off in a small town. I come from Pelham, New York, and I had no idea all these years later people would still know my name. For an example, we went to Japan, and people knew every word of every song—that’s such a treat! I want people to know how it happened, how it can happen, and what I went through, both the positive and negative. I also talk about the many people that I’ve met over the years like Jimi Hendrix—he’s the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. He’d give you anything at a moment’s notice because he had a big heart. People don’t know that and I want to tell them my story.
What are you looking forward to at WHBPAC on August 28?
The Rascals started in the Hamptons. There was a place out there called The Barge, and that was where we were discovered. The Hamptons are a very special place. We enjoy playing for people, and they come out and have a good time.
Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals perform at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach, on Sunday, August 28, at 8 p.m. For more info visit whbpac.org or call 631-288-1500.