Felix Cavaliere: The king of blue-eyed soul

Aimee Suzanne Kruse-Ross

aimee suzanne kruse-ross | felix cavaliere | may 2017

Felix Cavaliere needs little introduction. In the 1960s as a member of The Rascals, Cavaliere set the airwaves afire with hits like “Good Lovin'," “Groovin'" and “A Beautiful Morning." Such hits and others earned Cavaliere the reputation as the king of blue-eyed soul as well as a seat in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the accolades Cavaliere has received over his career.

On May 27, 2017, Felix Cavaliere's Rascals bring their 50th Anniversary Tour to the main stage during Celebrate De Pere.

Frankly Green Bay was fortunate enough to speak with the Hall of Famer via telphone from his home in Nashville, Tenn.

You've spent 50 years in the business and have gathered numerous accolades. When did you realize that you were living the dream, so to speak, or is it still surreal for you?

It's very interesting because I started by playing piano at five years old, at my mother's request. She noticed that I had some talent, I guess, so she signed my sister and I up with very good schools. We were in classes two, three times a week during the semester. It was a great education in music, so I have to thank her for seeing that in me.

At first I was part of a medical family so I was in search of a university and next thing I knew, I was a musician. I feel that I've been blessed since then. It was not my idea to play music. I think it was divine intervention. My life could have been very different.

Talk about your own rock 'n' roll roots; who or what inspired you musically?

I really can't pinpoint that, other than to say that I started out classically trained. And I had a friend in junior high school, he asked me if I liked rock 'n' roll. Frankly, I'd never heard of it, I didn't know what it was. After school I tried to find out what it was. We had the good fortune of WINS radio at home in New York and it was Alan Freed who brought the true beginning of rock 'n' roll to the air. I basically heard the true beginning of rock and roll, in the new style. And I was enamored by it. I heard all these phenomenal musicians and singers, these great piano players like Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino. I said, 'Man, I've gotta try this.'

The media categorizes your work as 'defining a generation.' From your perspective, what does this mean to you?

That period in time of American music is, what I believe, like what the renaissance was to art. The painters that came out during that time have endured the test of time since then. Prior to Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, people were not writing their own material, as a rule. They were going to publishing houses and they're getting music from others. But when you express yourself musically, lyrically, and you're also part of the generation that's listening, it's kind of like we're speaking to one another in the same language.

We did not have the internet, YouTube, and all those outlets. We did not have the unbelievable connection to music that we have now. The music itself was the connection. It's like we grew up together. We were happy together, we were unhappy together, we got in trouble together. We had our consciousness raised by either civil rights or politics or the Vietnam War. It's what happens when I play in front of people. That bond always comes back.

It's like going to a Packers game! Same thing, everybody's on the same page (laughs).

As I say, the only problem that I had with classical training was the fact that I was not allowed to change anything. That's when your creative juices start to flow, like wow, this music is written in stone. I rebelled against that, so it encouraged me to try my own thing. It's like anything else, if you're going to learn anything, you might as well learn to do it correctly. The classics gave me that, but they also encouraged me, in their own way, to be creative.

You've rubbed elbows with numerous big names in the business including a tour with Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band. Are there any collaborations with musicians that you've done that you feel standout from all the others?

I've had the good fortune of playing on stage with Billy Joel. I understand he's played 39 months of sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden. And he's asked me come out and sing. He has a great band and crew that is like family to me. It's been a while since I've played for crowds of 20,000 people and being at the Garden gives me some of that back. Playing with him certainly stands out as the most recent fun I've had.

After decades of writing and producing, what continues to inspire you?

If you have that creative type of spark that I've had since I was a boy playing classical, it's very difficult not to use it. You get kind of antsy and it has to be released. It's actually difficult if you don't use it; otherwise, you feel that you're missing something. It's why I moved to Nashville because this is the music haven for people who love to create.

A recent interview revealed that you really enjoy the creative process. Can you elaborate on why it's so important to you?

Having creativity is a direct channel that's remained open to me that I'm thankful to have and I like to continue to receive those messages. I've literally traveled all over the world. I traveled to Japan recently, and the way they receive the music, it's not necessarily with their mind but with their hearts. You see that. You feel that. And it's a wonderful bond. They may not even understand the language (although most of them do) and it's that bond that I don't want to let go of.

America really needs more of that spirit. There's only one Green Bay. It's unique. It has a team spirit and for the most part, that is disappearing around the country. Like, I don't understand how you guys play up there in the snow and in the cold! Man, I don't know how you do that.

I've got a Green Bay hat, and I wear that from time to time because even though I don't live there, I like to be part of that spirit.

Who would you still want to share the stage with and why?

Oh, I'd have to think about that for a minute. I've been on stage with Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and lots of others. I've been on stage with just about anybody that I'd want to share the stage with. Maybe Bruno Mars, he's certainly exciting enough and a young talent. I think some of the great musicians in jazz, but I don't know that I could play to that level anymore 'cause you really gotta keep your fingers going and your chops going. So that's a tough question. I just consider myself lucky to have played with so many great artists.

Would you tell us what audiences could expect when they visit you in De Pere?

The generations that show up to the shows really want to hear what they heard then. They really want to feel what they felt then. Not only do I bring in the great music, but I also bring in little vignettes and fun songs to the mix. I try to create that spirit again for one evening. When people start to sing, they really bond. It's good for everyone's soul; it's good for everyone's heart.

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