The Rascals' Once Upon a Dream tour isn't just a rock and roll reunion concert; it's the resurrection of a legacy long considered dead and buried.
For five rollicking years in the late 1960s the Rascals — first Young then not — were America's most prolific, successful rock band. Seven albums yielded nine certified Billboard hits, with Good Lovin', Groovin' and People Got to Be Free reaching No. 1 and defining the decade.
The Rascals' live shows were raucous; their popularity rivaled anything British that invaded. Then they were gone. Shattered by dissension and side projects, scattered to the winds of where are they now for 40 years.
"There's really no explanation for what transpired in those years," said Felix Cavaliere, 70, whose Hammond B3 organ was integral to the Rascals sound. "Sometimes when people get involved in legal issues, you'd like to think that in the majority of times there's a really good reason … but this was just total nonsense."
Problems began, Cavaliere said, in 1971 when his songwriting partner and Rascals lead singer Eddie Brigati decided to leave the band: "No explanation whatsoever. Eddie just quit. Simple as that."
In a telephone interview, Brigati, 67, blamed the split on poor management and personal issues: "After five years we were broke, and I personally was broken," he said. "I didn't quit. I just served my five years and I didn't sign up again."
Later, Cavaliere's plan to use the Rascals' name and song catalog led to lawsuits in 1989 and 1991, filed by his former band mates over copyright infringement and royalties. Both were settled out of court.
"We were divided and we were conquered," Brigati said. "But (the reunion tour) is an opportunity, a totally new groove, a new viewpoint and it's driven by the people."
It's happening because Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt refused to believe the dream was over. Van Zandt lobbied decades for the band to bury their various hatchets. He pulled them together for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, and talked them into performing at a cancer benefit in 2010.
"It was just the right time for all of us," said Dino Danelli, still one of rock's showiest drummers, in a telephone interview. "That was a wonderful, beautiful evening. We just looked at one another and said we're nuts; why haven't we been doing this for years?"
Encouraged by this thaw in the Rascals' cold war, Van Zandt went to work writing and co-producing Once Upon a Dream, a multimedia concert/biography. The production debuted only last December in a New York community theater. By April it was packing Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre for three weeks.
"It's starting the way it started the first time," Danelli, 68, said, "like you're in a hurricane."
And that's better than the stormy relations the Rascals are leaving behind.
"It's all kind of left under the table, you know? Not spoken about," Cavaliere said. "The show says it all. You'll see there's something in there that resurrects, protects and apologizes for the whole bit. … When there's no explanation for something, the only thing left is an embarrassing apology, you know?"
Not exactly. Once Upon a Dream is booked around the U.S. through Fourth of July weekend, with dates penciled in until next March. Borrowing a line from a Rascals hit: "It's a beautiful morning."
"It's a hell of a story," guitarist Gene Cornish said. "People want us to write books but I keep telling people we've got a lot more chapters to write first.
"It's such a ride and such a miracle to have our lives back, and to enjoy our legacy together."
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.