Dino Danelli – (The Young Rascals) was born July 23, 1944 into an Italian American family in Jersey City, New Jersey. Danelli trained as a jazz drummer in his early years. Barely a teenager he played with Lionel Hampton and (by 1961) was playing R&B in New Orleans. He returned to New York in 1962 with a band called Ronnie Speeks & the Elrods. Later he also worked at times with such legendary performers as Little Willie John.
Dino was a prodigy from the Jersey City-Hoboken area, making the scene in his early teens, learning from the jazz greats like Krupa and Buddy Rich who played regularly at the Metropole, a very adult Club in New York City where the management took a shine to the young star-in-the-making and set him up with a cot in a dressing room years before he made it big. “They had vision, knew something was going to happen for me.” Young Dino held a daytime gig at the Metropole with a rock and roll band, travelled to New Jersey sometimes at night with his drum kit, performed with Lionel Hampton when he was fifteen years of age. “I was watching these people like a sponge, absorbing it all. I was into music, women, the normal rock and roll vibe, watching the jazz players at night, going down to the Village. Agents would call up say ‘I need three guys, four sets, $25 a man.’ I would pick up guys—we all knew the same songs, people weren’t writing a lot back then—we were playing top 40 and R & B obscurities. One of the guitarists was Jimmy James. He went to England and became Jimi Hendrix.” After a while, Dino went to New Orleans, came back to New York, met Felix Cavaliere, joined him for a gig in Las Vegas, returned to New York and with Gene and Eddie, the Young Rascals were born.-
A clearing house for local Italian musicians in northern New Jersey at the time, was the rock group Joey Dee and the Starliters (global hits with ‘Shout’, where Cornish, Cavaliere and Brigati did ‘internships’.
Danelli first met Eddie Brigati (a pickup singer on the local R&B circuit) and Felix Cavaliere (a classically trained pianist) in 1963. Later that year, Danelli and Cavaliere traveled to Las Vegas to try their luck with a casino house band the Scotties and backed up singer Sandu Scott and her Scottys. Sandu Scott was a singer who was going to Las Vegas and coming through New York looking for a back-up band. As Dino recalled, “well Vegas is happening, there’s money in it, let’s go. So, we got aboard and went out there. Right at that time, the Beatles had just broke. We heard that and said we’ve got to do what those guys are doing. This is fabulous.”
“Felix and I had met in New York in late ’63 or ’64. We wanted to work with each other, ’cause we’d heard about each other’s playing. Around those days, word traveled really quick about happening musicians. The circle was quite small. So, he had come to see me play and we hit it off.”
They remained in Vegas until February 1964, but then ventured back to New York City where later in 1964, Danelli teamed with Cavaliere, Brigati and a Canadian-born guitarist named Gene Cornish to form the Young Rascals.
They debuted as the Young Rascals at the Choo Choo Club in Garfield, New Jersey.
Before Cavaliere and Brigati began composing original music), Danelli and Cavaliere often scouted new repertory that the group could perform. In a 1988 interview, he cited their trips to record stores as yielding such songs as “Mustang Sally” and “Good Lovin’.” Dino Danelli was with the Young Rascals, later changing their name to Rascals for seven years (1965–1972).
In the beginning we were doing covers. At the time, we weren’t writing at all. We had no originals. “I Ain’t Gonna Eat My Heart Out Anymore” was written by Pam Sawyer and Laurie Burton. They were writing for Motava at that point, I think. They were just freelancing and we found that song. We had thought of trying to start to write, but there were so many things going on. We didn’t sit down and go into studios, like we did later on. Myself and Felix used to go into little record shops, that’s where we found “Good Lovin”. We found 2 or 3 other songs in record shops – “Mustang Sally”, “Temptation Out To Get Me”, all strong songs in our show. Then, after “Good Lovin”, we got into the studio and started writing heavily. It all started to happen then.”
The songwriting partnership between Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati began to flourish. Cavaliere wrote the music and themes, and Brigati, the verses with the former’s help. Their second album, Collections, had four Cavaliere/Brigati songs and two Cornish originals in its eleven tracks.
Between 1966 and 1968 the act embraced soul music, reaching the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 with nine singles, including the #1s “Good Lovin'” (1966), “Groovin'” (1967), and “People Got to Be Free” (1968), as well as big radio hits such as the much-covered “How Can I Be Sure?” (#4 1967) and “A Beautiful Morning” (#3 1968), plus another critical favorite “A Girl Like You” (#10 1967), becoming one of the best known examples of the blue-eyed soul genre, along with the Righteous Brothers.
The Young Rascals officially became the Rascals with the release of their third long player, the concept album ‘Once Upon A Dream‘ in 1967 which also launched Dino Danelli as a visual artist.
His visual artistic talent came about in a kind of metaphysical fashion. While Dino was ensconced in his apartment creating, quite literally boxes of dreams, Felix and Eddie were writing songs for the album, the Rascals answer to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The band stayed popular for another couple of years, especially in Canada, but as their musical direction turned more R&B and Jazz, the music world turned to hard rock and metal.
During the years the Rascals sold some 40 million records, accumulating 13 Gold and 2 Platinum albums in the process and an induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
By early 1972 it was all over and along with Cornish, Danelli formed the group Bulldog who produced two albums before disbanding in 1975. Danelli joined the Leslie West Band (West) for a short time along with bassist Busta Jones. Danelli and Cornish then joined the group Fotomaker in 1978 (initially with ex-Raspberries member Wally Bryson). By 1980, Danelli joined Steven Van Zandt as a member of Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul. Van Zandt and Springsteen were early fans of the Young Rascals.
“1980 was actually the beginning with Steven. And we didn’t go out and start working ’till the end of 1981. I’m still with Steven actually. We’ve gone to Europe a lot in the last six years. I’m his art director. I do all his graphic work, his album covers, mostly in Europe, ’cause he doesn’t get released here like he gets released in Europe.”
After performing with Cavaliere and Cornish at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert on 14 May 1988, there was a short-lived Rascals reunion tour later that year without Brigati, apparently because of some disagreements between Brigati and Cavaliere. But all four original members came together to perform at their induction by Steven van Zandt,into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and then once again on 24 April 2010, for the Kristen Ann Carr Fund dinner at the Tribeca Grill in Tribeca, New York City.
He reunited once again with his bandmates. The Rascals appeared at the Capital Theater in Port Chester, New York for six shows in December 2012 and for fifteen dates at the Richard Rogers Theatre on Broadway (15 April – 5 May 2013). Their production, entitled ‘Once Upon A Dream’, toured North America (Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Chicago, Detroit, Rochester, and New York City). It was produced by long-time Rascals fans, Steven Van Zandt and his wife Maureen.
Danelli was also a visual artist, based at DinoDanelliArt.com, and designed album covers for The Rascals and Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul.
Dino Danelli, the first real rock drummer, died from congestive heart failure and other heart related disease on December 15, 2022.
Danelli’s friend and band archivist Joe Russo shared the news on the drummer’s official Facebook page, sharing an extensive message about his health issues and “primary challenges” of coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure.
“To know Dino, you must understand that art was his life,” Russo wrote. “Art, music and film consumed his mind and his heart. He was an insomniac, sometimes staying awake for days, because he was always writing, reading, painting, drawing, watching films. He was beyond private and for someone who many consider one of the greatest drummers of all time, humble to a fault.”
He has been called “one of the great unappreciated rock drummers in history”. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 with the (Young) Rascals.
The End of an Era
Dino Danelli totally changed rock n’ roll drumming. Before him it was the paradiddle musings on guys like Ron Wilson of The Surfaris or Sandy Nelson. Both great, but mainly driven by the snare heavy prominence of high school marching bands. Dino’s twirling was great but his KICK changed everything. Suddenly the ballsy kick heavy drummers from NJ, the Bronx and Long Island followed in his wake. Guys like Carmine Appice, John Barbata and Tom Scarpinato. If you were at any concerts at the NY State World’s Fair in 1964-65 you saw the change. This time around the Brits followed us with heavy kick players like Bonham, Baker and the vastly underrated B.J. Wilson. Every week it seems we are calling it the “end of an era”, but Dino’s passing truly is one. After Dino came Ginger Baker, the drum solo. But Ginger’s dead too. So many of them are already gone, with more on the way. If you didn’t see them, you never will.
Rock and roll is a hard mistress. What seems like forever is really just a few years long. When you’re young you think these bands will last forever. But few do. Except for the superstars, the rest go on to straight jobs, or die prematurely. It’s weird, without education or experience so many end up doing manual labor. They were our heroes, and now…