A Tale of Two Bands

This is a story of two successful pop/rock bands, one was English and the other was American. Despite being from different nations, these two bands had much in common. The members of both bands were crazy about American rhythm and blues, and both were quartets that anchored their sound around the powerful Hammond B3 Organ.

The British quartet was The Spencer Davis Group, which called England's industrial northwest their home. The American group was originally known as the Young Rascals (later shortened to the Rascals), which hailed from Garfield, New Jersey, and called New York City home. Both were formed in 1963, and achieved international fame, beginning in 1965.

THE SPENCER DAVIS GOUP

Spencer Davis was an ambitious Welsh guitarist, who, together with drummer Pete York, wanted to form a rock band, hoping to cash in on the Beatles' success. One night while attending a rock concert at the Golden Eagle Club in Birmingham, he became entranced by a local band performing that night--The Muff Woody Jazz Band, featuring two brothers: Steve and Muff Windwood. Clearly, the star was Steve Winwood, who, despite being a mere 14-year-old, sang with the heart and soul of a veteran blues singer from the Mississippi Delta, and played piano with a wonderful jazz improvisation. After the show, Spencer Davis invited the brothers to join him and drummer Pete York, in the hope of attracting a record label. They agreed, and together the quartet created an immediate sensation in various clubs in and around Birmingham. Within a year they caught the attention of entrepreneur/producer Chris Blackwell who had just formed Island Records, and in 1964 signed them to a record deal. The group's first professional recording was a cover of John Lee Hooker's blues classic, "Dimples", which barely cracked Englands' Top Forty. At the end of 1965, they recorded their first big hit, with "Keep On Running." The single not only topped the record charts in England, but, incredibly, also topped the charts in the U.S. as well.

The band then used their record royalties to purchase a Hammond B3 Organ, which punched up their sound considerably. It was while Winwood was noodling around on the Hammond organ that the band was inspired to write, "Gimme Some Lovin'," which became their second number-one hit single. With that, critics began comparing Winwood's singing style and organ playing with that of the great Ray Charles. But, could they keep it up? Yes, resoundingly. They followed "Gimme Some Lovin'," with another song they wrote, entitled, "I'm a Man" which also sold a million copies. Having achieved their dreams of pop stardom, creative differences drove Steve Winwood to leave the quartet, and form his own band, called Traffic. His brother Muff departed soon thereafter to become an executive and producer at Island Records.

THE RASCALS

The Rascals formed around the out-sized talents of singer/keyboard player Felix Cavaliere. Cavaliere's professional debut began in 1964, when he joined recording star Joey Dee's backup band, the Starliters (of the "Peppermint Twist" fame), where he met David Brigati, and his younger brother, Eddie. Both were gifted harmony singers. However, when Felix set about forming his own band, it was the younger brother, Eddie, whom he chose to join up with him (however, David Brigati would contribute as backing vocalist, when the band began recording records). He also asked another veteran Starliter--Canadian guitarist Gene Cornish--to join as well. For a drummer, Cavaliere looked to an old college friend from his days at Syracuse University, a dynamic jazz drummer named Dino Danelli. The quartet came up with the name "Rascals, while playing at the Choo Choo Club in Garfield, New Jersey. While performing R&B classics in a variety of clubs along the Jersey Shore, the quartet gradually developed their unique soulful sound, built around Cavaliere's organ stylings and his bluesy vocal delivery.

Curiously the band did not have a bass player, because of Eddie Brigati's inability to play a musical instrument, other than percussion (the band did buy him a Fender Mustang Bass in 1967, but Brigati failed to master it). Due to the Rascal's desire to stay a quartet, Cavaliere made up for the loss of a bass player by doing a sort of tap dance on the Hammond's bass pedals.

An impresario named Sid Bernstein (who had helped foster the British Invasion, by bringing famous UK bands, such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to America) discovered the Rascals in August 1965, and got them signed to Atlantic Records, as the first "white" band to be signed by that label.

The Rascals' first big U.S. hit was a cover of the Olympics' "Good Lovin'", which went number one in 1966. After that the brass at Atlantic Records insisted the Rascals write their own songs, which Cavaliere and Brigati did with deceptive ease. The result was nine consecutive singles that went Top Ten, including "Groovin'" (#1 in 1967), "How Can I be Sure?" (#4 1967), "A Girl Like You" (#10 1967) "A Beautiful Morning" (#3 1968), and "People Got to Be Free" (#5 1968).

After that, the Rascals began concentrating their efforts on becoming an album-oriented band, rather than the singles-band they had become. It proved to be their undoing, as their album sales fell off, and their singles no longer cracked the Top Forty playlist.

With a long list of hits to perform, the band continued to tour with great success, until the mid-seventies, when, for a variety of reasons, they decided to disband and go their separate ways.

Making pop records is a curious business, that few ever master, and those that do, such as the Spencer Davis Group and the Rascals, find difficult to maintain. Still, among all the famous pop/rock bands of the 1960s, the Spencer Davis Group and the Rascals are among the very few whose songs continue to frequent the pop airways.

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