Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Eddie Brigati is a singer/songwriter best known for his work with the ’60s band, The Rascals. Thanks to their R&B-inspired songs, The Rascals were the first all-white group signed to Atlantic Records. Between 1966 and 1968, Brigati and The Rascals made Billboard’s Top 20 with nine singles including “Good Lovin’,” “Groovin’,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “A Beautiful Morning,” and “People Got to be Free.”
Spotlight Central recently caught up with Brigati and asked him to tell us about his early years as a budding musician, to profile for us his rise to fame with The Rascals, and to explain what he’s been up to these days.
Spotlight Central: You were born and raised in Garfield, NJ. Did you grow up in a musical family?
Eddie Brigati: Not a family of professional musicians, but, yes, there was always music in and around my house. Kate Smith was on the radio, and my mom loved her, and we heard all the popular songs of the time — the Hit Parade, and stuff like that — and TV was new, too, with all the new stuff we heard there.
Also, we had our holidays, where there was always mandatory singing. And drum and bugle corps music was something we heard down the street, as well. During rehearsals, I remember racing down there just to get that feeling — you know, that influence? — from hearing them play.
And then, as singers — because basically that’s what we were in my family — my sister was in nursing school where she sang in a choir that did Gregorian chant. She was ten years older than me, so she was practically a teenager by the time I showed up. She would often bring her 78 records home with her, and the kind of music she played was called “race music” — songs like “Open the Door, Richard” and “Dance With Me, Henry.”
And my brother, David — who I have an incredible co-biography with — was influenced by rhythm and blues groups like The Flamingos, The Harptones, and The Velours. So, really, my sister and my brother were influences on me because you always try to copy your older siblings, right?
Spotlight Central: Isn’t it true that the term, “race music,” is what ended up being called “rhythm and blues”?
Eddie Brigati: Yes — and we kind of went that way because rhythm and blues had all those great harmonies, and they were spiritual harmonies. The songs were initially performed by a cappella groups but were re-arranged by the powers that be in the music industry. So the harmonies were beautiful but, also, the song topics were very deep and very loving and very spiritual.
Spotlight Central: You mentioned your brother, David. When you were young, David was the lead singer of The Hi-Fives, a doo-wop group that had a regional hit in 1958 with “Dorothy.” David began collaborating with Joey Dee — who sang back-up on some of the Hi-Five recordings — and Joey Dee recruited David to join his band, The Starliters, a group that had a major hit with “Peppermint Twist.” Tell us about David’s influence on you as an aspiring musician.
Eddie Brigati: David was five years older than me and, as an older brother, he was already establishing his own view of eternity. He helped bring me into the world of recording. I can remember seeing The Shirelles as they were recording “Boys.” I was there because they were a group in Passaic, NJ — that’s where Joey Dee was from — and that was the town across the Passaic River from us in Garfield.
So I got to see that recording going on and, right about that time, Joey Dee was recording, too — I think he ended up doing about seven albums — and I was allowed to sing first tenor on his recording of “What Kind of Love is This” when I was about 15 years old.
And speaking about growing up, when I was younger, I never knew my brother to be a singer but, all of a sudden, he was doing a performance at school in an assembly! It turns out he was in a study hall with all these other kids and someone said, “Who wants to be in the assembly?” and all the kids raised their hands, but by the time the assembly came up there were only a handful of people who lasted through all of the rehearsals.
So, for me, it was all about the influence of an older brother and a sister giving me information — tapping into what they were attracted to. And what I learned from them — and I’m still finding out more about this even now — is that there’s a big difference between hearing music and performing it and, also, that the next big thing involves creating it.
Spotlight Central: When you were in The Starliters, you and two of your bandmates, keyboardist Felix Cavaliere and guitarist Gene Cornish — along with drummer Dino Danelli — formed your own group, The Young Rascals. We’re told the quartet started as a bar band at The Choo Choo Club, which was just a few blocks from your home.
Eddie Brigati: That’s right.
Spotlight Central: How did you come up with the band’s name?
Eddie Brigati: Well, The Little Rascals’ comedies were very popular, and then there was also The Harmonica Rascals — a group of harmonica players — and they were something to look up to; they were a phenomenon.
But for our name, we had to add a prefix. We had these knickers we got down in the Village — this was our big theatrical costume attempt — they were 50 cents each, and we went and bought a big giant box of them and incorporated them into our act. And in addition to the knickers, we also made short ties to go with our round collars, and when we got our first gig — which was with Soupy Sales — he insisted that we wear the knickers and stuff when we did “The Mouse.”
Spotlight Central: The Young Rascals weren’t doing original songs yet so, in general, what kind of songs were you playing?
Eddie Brigati: Everything from The Righteous Brothers’ “You Lost That Lovin Feelin’” to “More”[sings] “than the greatest love the world has known,” to rhythm and blues songs like “Shotgun,” “Walking in the Rain,” “People Get Ready,” and “Can I Get a Witness.” Other songs on our playlist included stuff like “Ticket to Ride,” “Slow Down,” and “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” in addition to “Tell Her No,” “Woolly Bully,” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
As a group, we had the four of us: Felix was a rocker, Dino could play anything, I was a singer, and Gene was — I would say, conservatively — more country-oriented. So we all had our own perceptions of coming in and blending music, and I’ll harp on this forever, but the whole success of The Rascals was the cooperative aspect of it.
You know, it was like a four-ring circus: each of us had his own attraction and his own features and his own fans. Dino was a super visual drummer who created the heartbeats to all of our songs — he gave us alternatives and choices. He’d work on a song that we were putting together and he’d say, “We have this, we have that. We can push it this way, we can push it that way.” And Felix had his classical training from when he was a kid, Gene had his own thing going on, and he and I were front men because we played up in the front. So all of these things made for a little circus with different aspects of music involved.
But as far as the songs we were playing? You know, we’d do a rock song, and then we’d do a Tom Jones song like “It’s Not Unusual,” and then we would do other songs — including our cover versions of “Good Lovin’” and “Mustang Sally.”
Spotlight Central: It’s interesting because when the Young Rascals signed a recording contract with Atlantic Records, you were given complete artistic control. Whereas many up-and-coming bands might be happy with just any record deal, why was artistic freedom so important to you?
Eddie Brigati: We had come from Joey Dee’s band, and working as a part of his group was a less-liberal situation for us. We were just learning about the music business and, to be truthful, we were more involved in the musical aspect of it than the business aspect of it. So when it came time to go to Atlantic Records, we were insistent that we’d have that artistic freedom.
The Young Rascals was a very proficient group. We had a real variety of songs, and we had the ability to change things up. We were four people, and we took on anything that came at us, so we insisted on that creativity. The hidden, secret part of all of this is that we insisted on having our own writers and publishing — that was critical to us. And based on my experience, even now, when I teach young people about songwriting, I tell them they need to learn about law and accounting in addition to music in order to create that invisible harmonic that can help to balance those worlds.
Spotlight Central: Speaking about teaching youngsters songwriting, in the past, you not only referred to yourself as the “singer/storyteller of The Rascals,” but even once called yourself a “champion of the people.” As the primary lyricist of the group, what did you mean by that?
Eddie Brigati: Well, I’m untrained, right? I wasn’t trained musically or business-wise, and my perception was an average person’s perception. You know, I joke around: I say, “What I do rhymes with “babysitter,” because, you know, I’m a “bullshitter” — you know, a storyteller?
And this is personal — it’s the whole essence of what this conversation is about — but music has a personal purpose. There’s mobility to it. It’s comforting. It’s expressing oneself. It’s a process, and it’s cooperation. It’s unity — singing, expression, light, you know? It’s entertaining — and there’s dancing, too. It’s transformative. It’s storytelling; it’s a newsletter — circling, lifting, rising. It’s therapy, too, but it’s all based on the intention which is love.
Spotlight Central: The Young Rascals’ debut single, “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,” wasn’t written by you, and neither was the group’s second big hit, “Good Lovin’.” It wasn’t until 1966’s “You Better Run” that the group had a Top 20 song which you wrote yourselves. How did you go about creating that first hit?
Eddie Brigati: Everything is comprised of bits and pieces, right? We’d be waiting around, and Felix might come up with a riff. I mean, Felix was incredible — he had a talent for melodies, and he was very adept in terms of his ability as a classically-trained musician. He used to say that, as a kid, his mom wouldn’t let him go out to play unless he did his two hours of piano, even though sometimes he’d practically have his mitt on because he couldn’t wait to get outside. So he had a discipline to him, in addition to being an exceptional talent. He was really super creative, and so no two songs we ever wrote for The Rascals were alike.
We had a variety of everything, and we would touch on everything. There was nothing off-base for us, and for “Groovin’,” it was the same thing. We’d be back, you know, in a dressing room, or waiting to go on stage, and Felix would come up with a riff and a bass line, and then we’d work on it a little bit, and then when it was time to stop, we’d pick it up the next day. So we worked on songs in clusters. I couldn’t tell you where one album started and another one ended; it was all kind of like a five-year blur.
You have to remember: we were heavy-duty performers. We never missed any gigs. There was no bullshit, and there were no excuses. We went to work. There was a deep work ethic involved.
But there was an innocence there, too. There was an inner purity of being young and creative and spontaneous. That’s what the joy of The Rascals was.
Unfortunately, though, the business crept into it. If the business isn’t nurturing you, then it’s sapping you. So what happened was, there was no real nurturing. There was no time off. In those days, the music business — if you’ll excuse the expression — was a “bastard” industry. It wasn’t established yet; it wasn’t really legitimate, so to speak. But it was really in your face because it involved kids expressing themselves, and it just took the world over.
Spotlight Central: You just said that it was almost like a “five-year blur” of songwriting for you, but one of the songs we specifically wanted to ask you about is the Rascals’ song that you’re most associated with, “How Can I Be Sure,” which you wrote at the age of 19. You really bared your soul in that song. What was the inspiration for it, and what was it like recording it?
Eddie Brigati: When we first started recording “How Can I Be Sure,” there was no real melody to it. It was a pretty involved song with a whole different approach to it. First, it was a waltz. Then, there was a European flavor to it, with the accordion and stuff. So it was more of an evolved production and, you know, “How can I be sure?” was really what we felt about it!
Typically, I would trigger Felix to give me a sentence, or a lyric, or a title — and that’s how we developed our songwriting together. He’d say, “I can’t write lyrics” — I’d be waiting for him to give me a sense of something we could write and he’d say, “I don’t like to write lyrics,” and I’d say, “I do.”
And I really was kind of baring my 19-year-old soul on “How Can I Be Sure.” There was chaos, and there was Vietnam, and the assassinations and all that. It was really a “what the fuck” era, but, of course, you weren’t allowed to say that.
With “People Got to Be Free,” it was the same thing. It came out of the angst and the disbelief that some people were treating people like animals and killing other people — and unfortunately they still are. Of course, we didn’t stop what was going on with that song, but we led people to some insight into what was happening.
And with “How Can I Be Sure,” I had kind of like a breakdown, because we were supposed to finish it by Thursday, go in on Friday and record it, and go out on tour on Saturday. And I remember saying — as I was snapping my pencil in half — “I can’t do this!”
So my brother, David, came down and he helped put in some lyrics and he did a couple of other things and we finished it, and the next day we went in and kind of recorded it. During the session, it was like, “Where does this part go?” and, as we worked, you could hear me searching and trying to twist out a melody.
At the same time, the lyric was all about innocence. In all our works, I tried to create a “resolve” — I tried to write from my female side; I tried to write from the point of view of the mother, the grandmother — and with that perspective, you have to have it resolve. “How Can I Be Sure” is a perfect example of that, where the lyric is “How can I be sure?” and in the end, the resolve is, “I’ll be sure with you,” meaning, “We will cooperate together.” “We will do this.” “We’re in this together.” And that’s still appropriate today; these songs are all still applicable.
But, really, as a band, we weren’t marketed properly. We weren’t a household name. If you ask somebody about the group, probably only a few may remember who we were, but everyone can still remember the songs.
Spotlight Central: You left The Rascals in 1970, but reunited with your bandmates in 1997 when, along with such artists as The Jackson 5, The Bee Gees, and Crosby, Stills and Nash, you were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Given that type of recognition is a feat which is not achieved by just anyone, what are your feelings about being forever known as a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer?
Eddie Brigati: Let’s say this: It’s a recognition of that historical body of work, and, especially, an appreciation of our supporters — our fan base.
Plus, it’s also the recognition of a work ethic, and that’s important. It wasn’t like we were just farting around. I was envious of a lot of groups that had all kinds of liquor in their dressing rooms, and prostitutes and everything, and we had to ask, “May I have another towel, please?” you know? “May I have some water?”
But we were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Steven Van Zandt, and that was very important to me.
Spotlight Central: You’ve called Steven Van Zandt your “mentor” and your “champion.” Why is that?
Eddie Brigati: He’s a champion and an advocate for the underdog. He proudly wears the moniker of “renegade.” That might not have a wonderful connotation to the establishment, but he has a true spirit about him. He’s a gentle man — although he can be irate and he can go off when it’s appropriate, but I admire that of him.
And Steven is a super Rascals fan. I think when he and Bruce Springsteen attended their first concert, they each came to see a Rascals’ concert — and this was before they even knew each other — and that is like an accolade to me.
Steven brought my soul up because I had been ostracized in the press, where Felix sort of wound up becoming The Rascals, and that worked on me for years. So Steven came along and he leveled the playing field. He took all of my songs out of the hamper for me, addressed everything fairly, and did the best presentation ever of that many Rascals’ songs.
Spotlight Central: You’re talking about when he produced the band’s 2013 reunion show, The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream, right?
Eddie Brigati: Yes.
Spotlight Central: But then, later, along with his wife, Maureen, he worked on your 2018 cabaret show, as well.
Eddie Brigati: Yes, that was called After The Rascals. That was Steven rehabilitating me, because I’ve always felt that I’m a “unit” person in a group — I don’t look at myself as a “star.” I’m a team player, so it was awkward for me to be out in front all by myself, but at the same time, we went toward including a lot of ballads in After the Rascals, with me still being in the healing mode in terms of the business part of this industry.
As a singer, I’d always admired Johnny Mathis, along with all the harmony singers of my youth, and other legitimate singers — and I think Steven is the master as far as arranging love songs and things like that are concerned. So Steven was accommodating me, and I think Maureen — who added the Broadway songs for me to sing —was too, and, at first, I said things like, “I can’t, I shouldn’t, I…” and then I finally said, “Let me just cooperate,” and I did the show.
Spotlight Central: Which turned out great!
Eddie Brigati: To me, it was — I say it was very vindicating and validating, and at the same time, it was like a healing to me, even though it was 50 years later! But it’s still feels good to me, and it serves as proof there’s a divine cosmic consciousness out there.
Spotlight Central: In recent years, you’ve worked with the Rockit! Live Foundation, a non-profit organization associated with Brookdale College in Lincroft, NJ which teaches young people about rock and roll music. What prompted you to get involved with that group?
Eddie Brigati: Steven’s concert. Steven did a concert down at the Count Basie Theater and, outside, they had this group of kids set up to perform. I went out there and I bumped into Bruce Gallipani, and, at the time, I didn’t realize that Steven and Maureen were supporting his project. And I said, “Wow!” — you know, I saw about ten kids playing on stage and they were so precise, and they were so strong in their presentation — and as I was getting hooked into their music, they turned around and did one of my songs, and I said, “This is a set-up!”
And, in fact, it was. Bruce said, “We heard you might be coming.” Bruce is an incredibly hard worker — you know, diligent, and a very powerful teacher. And once I got involved with the organization, he said, “Would you come and speak here?” and I said, “I’d be honored to.”
From that point on, I started working with these kids from eight to 18 years of age, and it gave me something to pour myself into, but I really felt they were honoring me — they presented the situation as if I was going to be the teacher with all this inspiration, but it was really more of a mutual situation.
We did a concert a few weeks ago at Brookdale College. There was no audience, but it was live, and it was more fulfilling than ever because these kids grew six inches in five months, you know? There was a genuine family/unity/professional feeling to it and, for me, it’s just the right thing to do. The program, which involves working with small groups of kids, would be a great role model for what’s happening today in our school systems — and maybe this pandemic that’s happening now can help to redress that — but really it’s about the passion and the compassion about education we bring to it.
Spotlight Central: You once said that, in your life, you “accomplished more” than you “ever set out to.” That said, with everything that’s going on in the world these days, what else do you feel needs to be accomplished?
Eddie Brigati: Just cooperation. It’s an ongoing thing. Cooperation is in your family. It’s in your workplace. It’s in your business. It’s in your church. I mean, cooperation is a basic essential essence of coexistence, and that couldn’t be better expressed than using the vehicle of music. It’s like I always say — music is the medicine!
To learn more about Eddie Brigati, please go to facebook.com/ebeedbee.
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