Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Rascals

I was 14 when I attended my first rock concert. It was 1968 and the venue was the Hollywood Bowl—back then, the only place in town to see large concerts. The headlining act was the Rascals, the #1 rock group at the time. My “date” was an older friend of the family, who I couldn’t stand. But he had a driver’s license and a car of his own, so I agreed to go with him. I was too young to see the Beatles play the Bowl in the early 1960s. I was not going to miss the Rascals.

Originally called the Young Rascals, the group started as an East Coast cover band that mostly played other people’s songs, like “Mustang Sally” and “Good Lovin’.” They also wore ridiculous Buster Brown outfits, for which they were probably most famous. (See Steven Van Zandt’s tribute below.) By the time I became a fan, the Rascals were singing their own songs and had abandoned their knickers.

The four band members—Eddie Brigati (vocals), Felix Cavaliere (keyboards), Gene Cornish (guitar), and Dino Danelli (drums)—went their separate ways in the early 1970s. Felix, in particular, achieved legendary status among rock aficionados who still mourned the loss of the Rascals, while Dino went on to become one of the greatest drummers in the history of rock-n-roll. Then, in 1988, everyone but Eddie reunited briefly for a national tour. Tim and I saw them at the old California Theater in San Diego. They played their hearts out, even though there were only about 100 people in the audience. Theirs was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.

Last year, the entire band got back together again for Once Upon a Dream, a “bioconcert” that incorporates film clips, a narrative, and live performances by the Rascals. After playing on Broadway, the show is now touring the U.S., with a stop later this week at L.A.’s Greek Theater. The Grammy Museum hosted a very special interview event with the group, Monday night. Needless to say, it was historic. The woman sitting in front us burst into tears as soon as the guys took the stage.

Bob Santelli, executive director of the museum, conducted the interview in the sold-out 200-seat Clive Davis theater. They talked about the New Jersey music scene in the 1960s and how the Rascals evolved into one of the best blues/rock bands of its time. At one point, Santelli mentioned their Hollywood Bowl appearance in 1968 and asked the audience if anyone had been there. I was the only person who raised her hand.

“Did anyone see the Rascals play the Hollywood Bowl?” he asked again, as the houselights went up.

“ME!” I yelled, waving my hand. “I SAW THEM AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL!”

“How was the concert?” Santelli then asked, as all four Rascals peered my way.

“I was 14 and they played with Eric Burdon and the Animals . . .” 

“And Tommy James and the Shondells!” Eddie Bigati interjected, nodding his head.

“Yes, and the Shondells!” I echoed, suddenly remembering the third group I saw 45 years ago! “YOU GUYS WERE WONDERFUL!!”

After all the talking ended, the band took the stage and played four songs, plus an encore. They sounded phenomenal (see snippet below). I can hardly wait to see them again on Thursday at the Greek Theater.

"It's a Beautiful Morning" at the Grammy Museum

P.S. It's now Friday morning and I have a rock-n-roll hangover. The concert at the Greek was fabulous. My head is swimming in Rascals music.

On the way to our seats, we ran into two separate sets of friends. "I knew it was going to be nothing but old people here tonight!" one friend (our age) said, laughing.

A week ago, we would have worn shorts and tanktops. Last night, it was all sweatshirts and wool scarves. But it didn't matter. We loved the Rascals and they loved us right back. Like the song says, the concert was absolutely WONDERFUL!

When you are happy
Every place feels like home
'Cuz you're never alone.
There's much to be said
But it's all in your head.

"It's Wonderful" (album cut) 

"How Can I be Sure?"—the show-stopper and the song
that made me a Rascals fan in 1968


Mark Edson said...

I was also at the Hollywood Bowl concert in 1968. I was 16. A night I will never forget. I spoke with Tommy James after a show a few years ago and he remembers it fondly.

Cyn said...

Happy to hear your story. Jealous that you got to meet Tommy James. The "Best of Tommy James & the Shondells" was the first CD I bought when we started migrating away from vinyl.