Corky Laing, me and Felix Cavaliere. NYC, 1987.
I was sitting on my bed, 8 years old (1968) when Felix Cavaliere’s distinctive voice blared from my radio “people everywhere just got to be free”. I remember very distinctly having the thought: “I will never be able to write a song as good as that. I may as well just never try to write songs.”
Memories of hearing Felix singing “Groovin’, while sitting in the back of my dad’s Buick as we drove through NYC, are still so vivid. In short, The Young Rascals — especially Felix’s songs and voice — were a staple in my musical upbringing. He was a strong presence, as my radio was always on and they were always having smash hits.
20 years later (1987), i’m a staff songwriter with Chappell music in New York. Corky Laing, the drummer from Mountain was hired as a song plugger (someone who tries to get his stable of writer’s songs into movies or on records). A very, very nice guy.
Mel Brooks was looking for the theme song for his upcoming comedy “Spaceballs”. Corky called me and asked if I’d be into trying to write the theme for the movie with his old friend Felix Cavaliere. WOULD I BE INTO WRITING A SONG WITH FELIX CAVALIERE?? Repeat that question again, Corky as I try and find my balance!!
Cut to, Felix shows up at my apartment the next day. Sure…Felix Cavaliere (as if he’s a real person) is standing at MY door. Right. You can wake me up now…
He sat down at my keyboards — I played guitar— and we started to write a song. All of a sudden, Felix starts singing different melodies. And then I heard THAT voice. In my apartment…THAT voice! I was 8 years old again. Literally. Of course, I didn’t let on that I was Time Traveling at mega mind warp speed back to sitting on my childhood bed, hearing “People Got to be Free”. Suffice it to say, it took some effort not to drift away into the magic of my youth with Felix’s songs as part of the soundtrack.
We ended up writing a comedic-type song (that was the assignment). On the demo, Felix sang lead and spoke Mel Brook’s imagined voice. He also played keyboards. I sang all background parts and played guitars along with Dean Bailin (Rupert Holmes’ guitarist). Was I singing harmonies with Felix Cavaliere now too, I thought? Producing his vocals? It was one of those rare experiences that never stopped giving, if you know what I mean.
Alas, we were runners-up on the theme (I believe we were beaten out by Van Halen). Do you think i even cared? The experience of making music with Felix Cavailere had no dollar amount.
I interacted with Felix again, 20 years later, in 2007. I interviewed him in Nashville for my documentary, “Beatles Stories”. He’s just one of those people that, when you’re around him, you just feel good. Like his music does.
Felix turned 80 recently. So, Happy Birthday, Felix and thank you for the good feelings you’ve put in the world and into my life.