Rock 'n' Roll's Rascals Reunite in Broadway's Once Upon a Dream

By Judy Samelson
18 Mar 2013

Felix Cavalliere on the back cover of their first LP for Atlantic Records, called "The Young Rascals."

The Rascals seem to have connected so viscerally to the '60s, the era when they achieved their greatest fame, which was a time of such turbulence and change. Do you think musicians are aware that they're writing something that will connect so powerfully to people at the time they're doing it?
SVZ: Well, this is where craft versus art plays in. Because it's just craft at that stage and you don't know. The nice thing about rock 'n' roll in the old school sense of being a performance art — you know, it is an art that I believe must be performed, although performance is one of the three or four essential components of the art form, composition certainly being one, arrangement being one and the record-making being one. But it all starts with performance. In the old days when you were performing for an audience and your job was to make them dance, it was very simple. Either they were dancing or they were not [laughs]. And whether it's a cover song or if it was one of your own original songs, they were responding to that, and even after people stopped dancing, they either would applaud or they would not. But you had some kind of feedback from an audience that said whether you were communicating or not. And I love that functionality. I miss that functionality.

Things got very esoteric, you know, the art form took over and all of a suddenly it becomes waiting for the muse and just expressing whatever it is that comes across your mind. And good things can come from that occasionally. But I much prefer writing a song that has a function. Whether that function is to make people dance, make people laugh or make people cry or express your own love for someone or sorrow that your love affair is over. Those all have very specific functions, and then truly tested in those days by whether it became a hit single or not.

There was a whole different way of measuring things back then. It was much more clear-cut. Much easier to understand. And on top of that, it was the only era in history that will ever be, I believe, when the best music being made was also the most commercial. We may never see that again. You had a very, very clear way of judging things — whether they were successful or not as craft and then satisfying or not as art. Those two things were much closer to each other in those days.

I guess it's only in hindsight that one can start to think about the impact of the band?
SVZ: Well that's for sure. That's without a doubt. You can't get any historical perspective without time. Everybody who was influencing us at that moment [the mid-'60s] — mostly coming from England — were white guys playing black music. [The Rascals] just happened to be the ones that were local. And by being local and by being American, it sort of was one stage or one generation closer to the source. You know, the English were not only white, but they were English [laughs]. So they were two stages from the source and creating something completely unique because of that. Where The Rascals were very much closer to a black band, in fact, and sounded much more like a black band and performed like a black band. Most white guys back then stood there and sang, Mick Jagger being the exception and before him Elvis Presley being the exception. But other than those two, there's not many others. Most of the other white guys just stood there and played and sang. And, you know, that's all we asked for. We didn't need more than that from them.

But The Rascals performed like a black band. Very, very, very exciting and a lot of movement, like they were coming right out of a gospel church. So they were very exciting. The most exciting live band that there was at the time. More exciting than The Stones. More exciting than anybody. And to this day, you can hear the influence of The Rascals on the E Street Band. That "roots of soul" is very, very much a big part of the E Street Band and my own solo work with the Jukes. All that, you could trace directly back to The Rascals.