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Drummer Dino Danelli, Co-Founder of the Rascals, Steven Van Zandt Band Member, Dies at 78

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Drummer Dino Danelli, an original member of 1960s New Jersey rock group The Rascals has died at 78. His death was confirmed by Rascals archivist and friend Joe Russo on Danelli’s Facebook page, where Russo wrote, “To know Dino, you must understand that art was his life. 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.”

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Russo said the drummer who manned the kit for the Rascals from 1965-1971 — and also performed with E Street Band member and solo rocker “Little” Steven Van Zandt’s Disciples of Soul from 1982-1984 — was the “most private person I knew.” While he did not disclose a cause of death, Russo wrote that Danelli was “acutely disappointed” about the “abrupt” conclusion of the Rascals’ 2013 “Once Upon a Dream” reunion tour and he noted that after it fell apart the timekeeper was “almost obsessed” with trying to find a way to “keep the ball rolling” as his health began to decline.

“When this project attempt failed, it seemed Dino’s intense artistic spirit began to drift away,” Russo wrote of the musician who was born in Jersey City on July 23, 1944 and formed the Young Rascals with singer Eddie Brigati, keyboardist Felix Cavaliere and guitarist Gene Cornish in 1964.

“Around this time in 2017, I noticed subtle changes in his movements and ability to walk steady. One day, he asked me to pick him up from a doctor’s visit. We returned to his apartment where he began indicating to me certain wishes he would like honored after his passing,” Russo continued. “It wasn’t alarming for a man his age to do so, but it seemed unusually sudden and out of left field.”

With his musical ventures drying up, Russo said Danelli’s desire and ability “to do the creative things he loved suddenly began dissipating. He stopped being ‘Dino.’ Almost overnight it seemed, a huge aspect of the the tremendous personality I knew since I was a teenager virtually began to vanish.” Russo said Danelli ended up in a hospital and then checked out in Dec. 2019, only to return in early 2022 to a rehab center where his condition quickly deteriorated.

“He’d spend every day there until his passing,” Russo explained. “His primary challenges were coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure, but there were many others. He had already required an angioplasty over a decade earlier.” (Read the full Facebook post here.)

Driven by Danelli’s swinging, high-energy drum sound, the Young Rascals (as they were originally known) scored nine Billboard Hot 100 singles, including their signature No. 1 1966 recording of Rudy Clark and Arthur Resnick’s “Good Lovin’,” as well as the 1967 No. 1 “Groovin’,” and 1968’s chart-topping civil rights anthem “People Got to Be Free,” written by Brigati and Cavaliere in the wake of the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. The band — who shortened their name to just The Rascals in 1968 as they moved away from their more eclectic garage soul vibe to a more psychedelic sound — was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

After the departure of Brigati and Cornish in the early 1970s, Danelli and Cavaliere carried on and released two more albums to diminishing returns before breaking up in 1971. Danelli formed the group Bulldog with Cornish that year and the duo released a pair of albums before breaking up three years later. Danelli then bounced around, playing with Mountain’s Leslie West and the short-lived power pop act Fotomaker before joining Van Zandt’s band in the early 1980s and playing on the groups first two records, 1982’s Men Without Women and 1984’s Voice of America.

The Rascals reformed in 1988 briefly, with all four original members on hand for their Rock Hall induction in 1997 and then again for a run of shows entitled “One Upon a Dream” in 2012-2013 — which was co-produced and co-written by Van Zandt — before taking that show on the road for a North American run. In a Facebook message, Cornish wrote, “It is with a broken heart that I must tell you of the passing of Dino Danelli. He was my brother and the greatest drummer I’ve ever seen. I am devastated at this moment. Rest In Peace Dino I love you brother.”

Van Zandt also paid tribute, tweeting, “RIP Dino Danelli. One of the greatest drummers of all time. Rascals 1965-1971. Disciples Of Soul 1982-1984. On Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theater in Once Upon A Dream 2013.” While heartbroken over the inability to carry one with the Rascals, Russo said Danelli continued to work with him on video, art and photography projects as well as writing, recording and producing “entire albums worth of songs together” that have not been released.

“He was the epitome of ‘cool’ and never ceased to impress me with his seemingly endless reservoir of ideas and approaches,” Russo said of his friend and collaborator. “The word ‘artist’ is so commonly used to describe even the slightest level of self expression, but let me assure you Dino Danelli possessed a mindset, a creative philosophy and a set of skills as profound as any of the great artists you’ve ever read about.”

Watch the Young Rascals performing “Good Lovin’” on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 below.

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