It was a beautiful morning until something went haywire.
That’s the way Felix Cavaliere remembers the ’60s and golden hour of the Rascals, the band for which he co-wrote and sang hits such as “Groovin,'” “A Girl Like You,” “How Can I Be Sure” and “A Beautiful Morning.”
Following those came the song of which Cavaliere is most proud: “People Got To Be Free,” which spent five weeks at No. 1 in the late summer of 1968.
“I worked on Bobby Kennedy’s campaign and when he was assassinated, something snapped,” Cavaliere said in a phone call from his Nashville home. The death of Kennedy in June 1968, following closely after the assassination in April of Martin Luther King, Jr., seemed to signal the end of so many hopes and dreams of the ’60s.
“After that, I thought if people are going to listen to us, we should tell them something,” Cavaliere said. So he sat down and wrote “People Got to Be Free,” a call for peace and brotherhood that became a worldwide hit.
The song will obviously be a part of the concert repertoire when Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals (he’s the only original member) take the stage to open the 2014 Down by the Riverside season Sunday at Mayo Park.
The Rascals, who were first known as the Young Rascals, formed in the mid-’60s in New Jersey, and went straight to the top in 1966 with their first single, “Good Lovin.'” The band’s mix of blue-eyed soul and British Invasion pop proved to be a winning formula.
By 1970, though, the Rascals had run their course. Offshoots and solo careers followed, until finally the original four members — Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati, Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli — reunited last year for a Broadway show “Once Upon a Dream.”
Cavaliere, now 71, talked in advance of his upcoming Rochester concert:
What does it feel like to have people still in love with these songs almost 50 years later?
It’s kind of amazing. Who would have thought? You make the best music you can and just hope to get on the radio and have a hit.
That was a competitive time, with so many new sounds and styles of music.
The bar was set pretty high, with that music coming over from England. To keep up with that was a challenge. But what was happening was cool. The whole atmosphere at the time was so creative.
The concert you’re doing in Rochester is outdoors in a park. Does that change what you would normally do in an auditorium?
It’s a lot more loose. I really look forward to the summer shows outdoors because everybody’s in a festive mood. It’s usually more exciting. There’s an element of freedom. You’re not stuck in your seats. You can get up and dance.
You know, when we (the Young Rascals) started out, we played for people to dance. I keep that philosophy.
You do all the hits, and do you mix in other songs?
We do the hits, yes. We have a loosely integrated format. We play a lot of stuff from that period, teasers, not the whole song, but to fit the mood. We play Led Zeppelin, Hendrix. We enjoy playing it, and I think the audience likes hearing it.
Which song gets the biggest reaction from the audience?
The one that people most react to is “Good Lovin.'” It always has been and always will be. From the first day we played it, people jumped right out of their seats and started dancing.