Canadian guitarist Gene Cornish spent decades as part of the changing world of rock & roll music. When a solo career didn't take off for him, he simply joined a band and kept on performing. Cornish left his mark on many groups, but is probably best known for the triumphant years he served as a member of the popular '60s blue-eyed soul band the Rascals. Between 1966 and 1971, he recorded eight albums with the group, over a dozen singles, and earned a number of hits for his effort. In 1997, as part of the Rascals, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Gene Cornish was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, in May of 1945. Music was a part of his life from almost the start, since his mother was a professional singer during his childhood. While he was still very small he moved with her to the United States and soon settled in New York. There he mastered the guitar, and learned to hold his own with the harmonica, bass, drums, and as a singer. By the early '60s, young Cornish was making the rounds of local clubs and bars, performing with a number of rock acts and even working solo for a while. One of the groups was called Joey Dee & the Starlighters, where Cornish met vocalist Eddie Brigati and keyboardist Felix Cavaliere. By 1964, Cornish was fronting a group called the Unbeatables, whose sound was remarkably similar to what the Rascals would later create, albeit more primitive and far more derivative of several earlier pop music forms. They were an R&B-based club band, equally at home on slow ballads ("Happy Birthday, Baby," "Talk To Me") or fast dance numbers. The group was still tied to the influence of early-'60s pop/rock, retaining elements of harmony vocal music in their work, and represented essentially a transitional phase between early-'60s doo wop and the sound that Cornish was to perfect with Cavaliere and Brigati in the Rascals. The Unbeatables, whose name was likely a play on the Beatles' name, made a small splash in 1964 with the single "I Wanna Be a Beatle," and amid their harmony vocals and old-style rock & roll numbers, they showed the influence of the British Invasion on songs like "Oh! Misery." They never attracted more than middling sales or middle-level gigs, however, and were history by 1965.
That year, the three friends teamed up with drummer Dino Danelli to form a little group who were at first called the Young Rascals. A year later, Cornish saw the release of his debut album with the band. A few big hits helped the band's fame grow quickly. Cornish enjoyed the ride with his friends until 1971, when he stepped out of the lineup to join a new act, Bulldog. When things didn't work out, he and Danelli took up spots in Fotomaker. The group recorded a few albums in the late '70s before Cornish moved on to G.C. Dangerous. Before the '90s rolled in, Cornish and some of the other members from the original Rascals reunited for a brief time to do small tours and even to make a few television appearances. They performed together again in 1997 as part of the ceremony when the group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. That same year, Cornish released an album, Live at Palisades Amusement Park, that presented his pre-Rascals recordings, including "I Wanna Be a Beatle," "Rockin' Robin," "Peanuts," "What'd I Say," "You're Gonna Cry Someday," and even Cole Porter's "I Love Paris." ~ Charlotte Dillon & Bruce Eder, Rovi