Saturday, May 14, 2016

Happy 70th to The Rascals’ Gene Cornish!

The Rascals never came away with the money that their remarkable musical run (seven Top 10 records) from 1966 to 1971 should have entitled them to. But the blue-eyed soul quartet can rest secure in the admiration—no, make that the adulation—of fans who can’t get enough of “Groovin’,” “A Beautiful Morning,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “Lonely Too Long,” “Girl Like You,” and a song suddenly relevant again after the initial era of protest in which it was recorded, “People Got to be Free.” Not for nothing were they inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

As I noted in this post from three years ago, when the band’s multi-media “concert/bio-musical” Once Upon a Dream came briefly to Broadway with the support of superfan “Miami Steve” Van Zandt, Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati, Dino Danelli, and Gene Cornish represented “the other Jersey boys” besides the Four Seasons. More than that, they indelibly influenced not only Miami Steve but also his musical partner-in-crime, Bruce Springsteen.

I was surprised to hear that a charter creator and purveyor of “The Jersey Sound,” Gene Cornish, was born in, of all places, Ottawa, Canada. (He moved at an early age with his mother, a professional singer, to the United States.) It was in New York, while making his own musical apprentice in local clubs and bars, that he befriended Cavaliere and Brigati.

Cornish turns 70 today, and it’s as good a time as any to celebrate not merely this survivor of the Sixties and the record industry but also a guitarist who plays his instrument with unfeigned joie de vivre.  A year or so ago, tipped off by my friend, a musical aficionado named Brian, I caught a show Cornish was giving with assorted friends and associates (including Peppy Castro from the Blues Magoos) at Classic Quiche Café in Teaneck, NJ.

While he has performed a number of solo gigs over the years, I suspect that Cornish may be most comfortable in a group, where he can receive and transmit energy from his musical peers. That was my sense, anyway, watching him on that Saturday night a while back—easily the tightest, most galvanic rock ‘n’ roll show I’ve ever experienced in a small setting. 

The band whipped through oldies such as Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” and Van Morrison’s first hit (as a member of Them), “Gloria." But the real highlight of the evening was when Cornish stepped to the microphone to sing as well as play guitar on one of his signature hits with the Rascals, “Good Lovin.’’

He may be a survivor of cancer and two bypass surgeries, but Cornish plies his instrument with uninhibited youthful humor and joy to go along with the skill that only experience can bring. I hope not only that I’ll catch him again soon, but that you will, too, Faithful Reader.

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