It was a sunny, warm spring day in Buffalo in 1966. I was sitting in my buddy’s white Impala convertible, with the top down, driving home from high school. Suddenly, “Good Lovin’” by the Young Rascals came on the radio.
My buddy turned the volume up to full blast. The warm sun was in my eyes; the wind in my hair and rock and roll was in my soul. When you’re a teenager, life doesn’t get any better.
Fast forward 50 years to Saturday night in the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center. I’m sitting third row, center stage. Felix Cavaliere, singer, songwriter and organ player extraordinaire for the Rascals is standing about 15-feet away from me.
“One-two-three,” Felix shouts as he starts hitting the keyboard and singing with his band: “I was feelin’ so bad/I asked my family doctor just what I had/I said, “Doctor/Mr. M.D./Now can you tell me, tell me/What’s ailin’ me?”
“He said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah/Yes, indeed, all you really need. Is good lovin’/Gimme that good, good lovin/All I need is lovin’/Good lovin’, baby.”
Whew! Who says you can’t turn back time? It was almost like being 16 all over again.
The Rascals wrote and recorded some of the best music of the entire ‘60s’ era. But the original group, featuring Cavaliere with Eddie Brigati, Dino Danelli and Gene Cornish broke up in the early ‘70s.
Now, the music lives on with Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals, who played two shows at The Sharon.
“Back in the day, we didn’t have Facebook, iPhones and computers,” Cavaliere said during the concert. “All we had was music.”
Cavaliere and the Rascals possessed an abundance of blue-eyed soul, a nice way of saying they were white guys who sounded black. It didn’t take Cavaliere long to cross racial boundaries during the concert.
He opened with “In the Midnight Hour,” originally done by the late, great Wilson “the Wicked” Pickett. Cavaliere gave the song a slower, blues riff, but it still packed a punch. Then he started jamming in the middle of the number, mashing in Sly and the Family Stone’s ultra-funky “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” Then, for fun, he tossed in a little taste of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
It was so cool that the Baby Boomers in the house were singing right along with Cavaliere and his youthful band of backup musicians.
“These guys are from Nashville,” Cavaliere said. “I’m going to let them cut loose.”
Next up were some ‘60s love songs.
“You know, we used to have the summers of love back in the ‘60s,” Cavaliere said. “I was madly in love and here are some of the songs we did.”
He sang a couple of Motown-flavored numbers. The soft pop of “A Girl Like You” to harder-edged “Love Is A Beautiful Thing.”
“I remember, one time the Rascals were in Hawaii,” Cavaliere said. “We had a No. 1 and I was still madly in love with this woman. One day, I got up, looked out at the ocean and the sun and I wanted to write a song about it.”
He did and that’s how “It’s A Beautiful Morning Was Born.” All these years later, the tune still touches the heart and sets the kind of mood that makes you feel life is worth living.
Cavaliere talked about his former girlfriend and “the first time I saw her face.” He then started the all-time Rascals’ classic, “Groovin’” and just about turned the Sharon into a groovy lovefest. During the song, Cavaliere offered some short riffs on the Temptations’ “My Girl” and “Just My Imagination.”
Hey man, let’s not forget something important: the Rascals could rock. These were Jersey boys who grew up playing in Joey Dee’s band and they could twist the night away.
“We played in clubs to get people up and dancing,” Cavaliere said. It was vintage early Rascals with the nasty, “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” and “Come On Up.” “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” and it sounded straight out of Motown.
Then came a show stopper.
“Hey, somebody told me you people in The Villages like to line dance,” Cavaliere said. He got up from behind his keyboard, and did a little jig around the stage. “I’m not sure what line dancing is, but they tell me you like this song. And remember, we did it before Wilson Pickett.”
The band went into bluesy, rocking version of “Mustang Sally.”
“I don’t know if there’s enough room for you to line dance in here, but if not, just dance in your seats,” Cavaliere said. Then he got the crowd to loudly sing the chorus: “Ride, Sally ride.” It was a real happening, as they used to say in the days of flower power.
Finally, with 75-minute concert nearing its end, Cavaliere talked about “a song I’ve been singing all these years. I wish I didn’t have to sing it anymore but I do. Wouldn’t be great if we had love, peace and happiness all over the world? But we don’t.”
Cavaliere and the band went into “People Got to Be Free,” a song he created in 1968, after the deaths of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
For all the good times of the ‘60s, it was a decade filled with violence, war and turmoil.
But “People Got to Be Free,” is a song about hope for a better world. Cavaliere mashed in some riffs from “Oh Happy Day,” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
Then he closed the show with “Good Lovin’.”
“The band was tight, Felix was great and the songs still sounded the way I remember them,” said Villager George Dakin who attended the show with his wife, Geraldine.
“I liked ‘Mustang Sally’,” she said. “We always line dance to that song.”
“The Rascals were always fun and they are one of those groups where you know the words to all their songs,” said Villager Steve Westerlund, who came to the concert with Villager Judy Empey. “I didn’t know what to expect but Felix still puts on a great show. When he sang, ‘A Beautiful Morning,’ it brought back a lot or memories.”
Too many memories or maybe not enough for Judy Empey.
“I’m too young to remember those songs,” she said with a wink.