Sure, The Rolling Stones are getting a lot of attention for their dates in the tri-state area this week. But another legendary band will also be playing New York, and it’s a more historic occasion than even a Stones show: The Rascals play their first public concerts in four decades at New York’s Capitol Theater as they kick off a six-night stand starting Thursday night (December 13th).
The man behind the reunion is the group’s biggest and most high-profile fan, Steven Van Zandt. A longtime fan, he campaigned for the group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1997, they were voted in, and Van Zandt gave an infamous speech that landed him his role on The Sopranos (series creator David Chase watched the broadcast of the ceremony on VH1, and decided to offer a role to the guitarist, even though he had no acting experience).
The four original members of the band — singer Eddie Brigati, keyboardist/singer Felix Cavaliere, guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli — reunited for the ceremony. But Little Steven tells CBS Local that he’d been trying to get them back together long before that, and he’s been trying for another reunion ever since.
“I was first called to reunite them in 1982 by a mutual friend,” he says. “They weren’t quite ready. Every five years I try to get them to do something!”
In 2010, they were a little more ready than usual: “People had been throwing money at the guys for many many years, they kept turning it down. Two years ago, my wife [Maureen Van Zandt] and I were being honored at the Kristen Ann Carr cancer benefit.” He requested that The Rascals get back together and perform at the private event.
“The benefit appealed to them,” he says. “They came together, they did an hour long set, and it was incredible. From that moment, I felt that it had to come together permanently in some more public fashion. The last two years, I spent figuring out how to do it. After all these years, 40 years, I thought that just a concert doesn’t feel like enough. Because people know the music, they know the 18 hits in five years, the three No. 1 hits, they know ‘Groovin’,’ ‘People Got To Be Free,’ ‘Good Lovin” and ‘Beautiful Morning,’ but do they really know the band? The answer is ‘no.'”
He told CBS Local that he decided to put together a multimedia show, which was partially crowd-funded via a Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising $100,000. In fact, it raised $123,300. (He notes that producing the show costs about a million dollars.)
But some music fans may ask, “Why?” What is it about The Rascals that inspired Van Zandt to go to bat for them, time and time again? He was more than happy to explain: “First of all, they’re one of the most exciting live bands in history. It meant a lot to be seeing them at a battle of the bands at the Keyport Roller Drome. It turns out Bruce Springsteen was at the same show. It was probably the first live band either one of us ever saw. If you picture those days, most white artists just stood there and played. Elvis Presley was an exception, Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones were an exception. But most white artists stood there and performed and that was fine. Most of the black artists, they were real performers, very exciting, and The Rascals performed like a black band. They were the first ‘blue-eyed soul’ band, which was very influential to us. Especially on this tour that we’re doing now [with the E Street Band]. They were very exciting live. People take that for granted now, but in those days it was unusual. That excitement when they played live influenced us in a way that we carry on to this day.”
Clearly the band has lots of fans who feel the same way. So why did it take 40 years for them to agree to a reunion?
“They’re four very interesting guys, they’re very much individuals,” Van Zandt says. “They’re an odd combination, you wouldn’t exactly pick the four of them to be in a band together. Those differences start to show after a few years. And unless there’s a strong management presence holding them together, then you’re gonna have a problem.” Back then, management companies weren’t always invested in a band’s long-term development. And money often became a point of contention, too.
“In the ’60s, you’d work, work, work and work, you’d get home from tour, and there’s nothing in your bank account,” Van Zandt says. “That was the story with everybody. It was a little more complicated than the record company being the bad guys and ripping off everybody. It’s not quite that simple. But regardless, you get disappointed when you work hard and have no money. If you’re not careful, that causes you to break up the band, which is exactly the wrong move!”
But of course, it’s the move the band took. Happily, Van Zandt has brought them back together, four decades later.
The Rascals play the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York on December 13,14,15, 20, 21 and 22. Go to the venue’s website for more information.
— Brian Ives, CBS Local