Gene Cornish has always been revered and respected among fellow musicians. Since the early 60’s he has inspired countless budding guitarists, all striving to reproduce his sound and feel, while making it all look so effortless. Whether he’s laying down a cutting riff, a chord bending growl, a brilliant flourish or just a rocking rhythm, Gene’s technique and style are unforgettable.
Gene honed his guitar chops playing in garage bands around his neighborhood and learned to hold his own on bass, harmonica, drums and vocals. His first gig was at the Avenue D playground where he and his band mates earned 50 cents each. With the support of his parents, his stepdad would take him to recording studios in Philadelphia and New York to learn the craft, and his mother, who had been a singer with big bands including Ozzie Nelson, once said of Gene, “…he’s going to be on the Ed Sullivan show.” It took years of playing in clubs and bars, but in 1966 Gene performed on the Ed Sullivan show.
Cornish had worked with a number of rock acts and even tried going solo for a time. In 1964 he was the front man for a band called The Unbeatables. Their sound was reminiscent of an earlier pop/rock vocal band, but the influence of the Beatles was already being felt. They released a single called “I want to be a Beatle” that unfortunately garnered only modest sales leading to middle of the road gigs. It was around this time that Gene started playing with Joey Dee and the Starlighters who had had a big hit back in 1961 with the song “Peppermint Twist.” Call it fate, but lightning was about to strike when he and fellow sidemen, keyboardist Felix Cavaliere and singer Eddie Brigati got together and realized that they should start their own band. All they needed was a spark to set off the chain reaction and that spark was drummer par excellence Dino Danelli. With a clap of thunder the Young Rascals were formed.
They began performing their brand of blue-eyed soul in 1965 and quickly signed with Atlantic Records. They were offered more money elsewhere but Atlantic gave them full creative control over their recordings. In March of 1966 Atlantic launched their debut album. It was a mix of R&B cover tunes including a little song called “Good Lovin’” that went to number one. Over the next four years they wrote and produced hit after hit. They recorded 8 albums with 13 songs reaching Billboard’s top 40 chart including “How can I be sure”, “Groovin”, “It’s a Beautiful Morning” and “People Got to be Free.”
Just as music trends were changing, the band members began to stretch out in different directions. Gene moved on to form the bands Bulldog, Fotomaker, G.C. Damgerous, and currently, Gene Cornish’s Guitar Club for Men. In 1997 the Rascals were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame where all four members were reunited and performed on stage together for the first time in 27 years. Gene summed up his time with the Rascals saying, “We had our moment in the sun, we had a great run.”