SOLANA BEACH — Seven years ago, Felix Cavaliere swore off recording and touring for good.
When the Young Rascals, the hugely successful "blue-eyed soul" band he had fronted since the middle 1960s, broke up in 1972, Cavaliere struck out on his own--with dismal results.
He recorded four solo albums that went nowhere. And even on the road, Cavaliere recalled, the songs his audiences clamored for most were such Young Rascals oldies as "Good Lovin' " and "Groovin'."
"And the only people who came to see me," he added, "were a pool of people from my generation who wanted to have some fun before they got too old."
Eventually, Cavaliere said, the lack of new faces got to him. So, in 1980, he decided he was through treading the has-been circuit and, instead, would go behind the scenes and try his hand at producing.
Last August, however, Cavaliere went back on the road with a new band, simply called the Felix Cavaliere Band, "to try to keep people from calling us the Young Rascals," he said.
Ever since, he has been doing precisely what he had vowed seven years ago never to do again.
"I enjoyed producing, but now I'd rather be out front again," said Cavaliere, who performs at the Belly Up Tavern here tonight.
"When I first went back on the road, I was basically just testing the water to see what kind of response I would get," he said. "And so far, the audiences are a lot different from the ones I had in the 1970s.
"For reasons that aren't really clear, a lot of young people are taking to the music of the 1960s. And that makes being on stage more enjoyable than it has been for years."
Cavaliere said that, while eventually he hopes to land a new recording contract, he's in no hurry. That's why he doesn't mind playing mostly old Young Rascals hits instead of songs he wrote during his seven-year hiatus from recording.
"You've got to take these things nice and easy," Cavaliere said. "I don't want to flood the market with unfamiliar songs no one wants to hear, and since I wrote most of the old songs anyway, I don't consider this a slap in the face.
"Besides, everything has happened so quickly that the band hasn't had time to learn many new songs. It's much easier for them to do the oldies they all remember from when they were growing up."
Between 1966 and 1968, Cavaliere's soaring tenor and thunderous Hammond organ helped the Young Rascals score nearly a dozen Top 20 hits, including "A Beautiful Morning," "You Better Run" (recently recorded by Pat Benatar), and "People Got to Be Free."
The term "blue-eyed soul," he recalled, came about because the band's distinctive sound was a fusion of white rock 'n' roll and black rhythm-and-blues--a gutsy combo also used by the Righteous Brothers and Hall and Oates.
In the late 1960s, Cavaliere said, his band changed its name to the Rascals and started toying more and more with jazz, frequently employing the services of such sidemen as Ron Carter, Hubert Laws and Joe Farrell.
The move was a musical triumph but a commercial disaster. In 1972, the Rascals were dropped from their record label and ultimately broke up.
Looking back, Cavaliere said, he has no regrets.
"In those days, I felt it was more important to make musical statements than to worry about commercial success," Cavaliere said. "You felt you had an audience for better or for worse.
"Today, it's a different world. You only have an audience for the better, so by 1980s standards, it was a bad move.
"But from a 1960s standpoint, I have no regrets whatsoever. We were creating some pretty exciting music, and back then, that's all that really mattered."
Cavaliere said that, for the time being, his new band sounds a lot like the Young Rascals during their blue-eyed soul period, but eventually that's going to change.
"As I build a new identity, I plan on adding more percussion, horns and guitars to make things more lively, and to give us more drive," he said.
"Some day, I want this band to sound like a combination of the Young Rascals and Weather Report. But I still have a long way to go, because for now I need to keep most of the ingredients of the Young Rascals.
"That's the sound people remember, and that's the sound they want to hear. And since we're in the 1980s and not the '60s, we need to give the people what they want."