Forgotten Artists: Eddie Rabbitt (1941-1998)
Edward Thomas (Eddie) Rabbitt had a seventeen year run as a recording artist on the Billboard country charts with some success on the pop charts. He also enjoyed success as a songwriter, writing many of his own hits and supplying songs to other artists. Ultimately, 20 of his recordings reached #1 on either Billboard or Cashbox (usually both).
Rabbitt was the son of Irish immigrants, born in Brooklyn, New York, but raised in nearby East Orange, New Jersey. His father was an oil refinery worker who played accordion and fiddle, and who performed Irish and country music in local venues. Surrounded by music, Rabbitt learned the guitar at an early age and by 12, he had become quite proficient. By his teen years, Rabbitt was extremely knowledgeable on Irish and country music; in fact, to the end of his life he regarded country music as an extension of Irish music, and often used minor chords to create an Irish feel.
When Rabbitt was 16, his parents divorced. After the divorce he dropped out of school, hoping to make music his career. Later, however, he would take courses at night school and earn his diploma.
Rabbitt was employed briefly as a mental hospital attendant during the late 1950s, performing music locally whenever possible. As a result of winning a local talent contest, he was given an hour of Saturday night radio show time to broadcast a live performance from a bar in Paterson, New Jersey. In 1964, Rabbitt signed his first record deal with 20th Century Records and released the singles “Next to the Note” and “Six Nights and Seven Days,” neither of which charted.
In 1968, Rabbitt moved to Nashville where he began his career as a songwriter. According to legend, on his first night in Nashville, he wrote “Working My Way Up to the Bottom,” which Roy Drusky recorded as an album track for his In A New Dimension. In order to survive, Rabbitt also worked at miscellaneous odd jobs such as driving a truck and picking fruit. Eventually, he was hired as a staff writer for the Hill & Range Publishing Company and received a reported salary of $37.50 per week.
The first blush of real success for Eddie Rabbitt occurred in 1969 when Elvis Presley recorded his song “Kentucky Rain.” The song charted #16 pop and #31 country for Elvis, selling over a million copies in the process. Rabbitt continued to write, with the next real success occurring with a song idea that came to him while eating some breakfast cereal. Something about the lyric “…Milk and honey and Captain Krunch and you in the morning…” appealed to record producer Tom Collins, who was working for Charley Pride at the time. Collins saw Rabbitt perform the song live, and brought the song to Pride, who thought it would be perfect for Ronnie Milsap, who was then opening shows for Pride. “Pure Love” would hit #1 for Milsap in 1974, and lead to a contract offer from Elektra Records for Rabbitt later that year.
His first single for Elektra, “You Get To Me,” hit #34 and the next two singles, both released in 1975, “Forgive And Forget” and “I Should Have Married You,” barely missed the top 10. These three songs, along with a recording of “Pure Love,” were included on Rabbitt’s self titled debut album in 1975.
The next single, the very traditional “Drinkin’ My Baby (Off My Mind),” kicked off a long series of hits that included four songs that also charted among the top 10 pop songs “Drivin’ My Life Away,” “Step By Step,” “You And I”” (with Crystal Gayle), and “I Love A Rainy Night.” The latter song also topped Billboard’s pop and adult contemporary charts.
As the seventies wore on, Rabbitt’s music began drifting away from traditional country music into the more pop-flavored sounds of the 80s, such as the three biggest pop hits cited above. After 1982’s “You And I,” his singles and albums were issued on the Warner Brothers label, the result of a label merger with Elektra. In late 1985, Rabbitt moved over to RCA, where his success continued unabated. Following the death of his infant son in 1985, Rabbitt put his career on hold, although RCA had some recordings to release, issuing four top ten singles. In 1986, a duet with Juice Newton “Both To Each Other” soared to #1.
Rabbitt returned to recording in 1988, scoring #1 records with “I Wanna Dance With You” and a remake of Dion’s 1961 pop hit “The Wanderer.” In 1990, he moved to Universal/Capitol, and with the leap came a return to a more traditional country sound; especially notable from this era is “On Second Thought,” his last #1 and my favorite of all of his recordings.
Rabbitt would issue four albums on Capitol before leaving the label.
In 1997, Rabbit was diagnosed with lung cancer. While seemingly on the rebound he issued his final album titled Against All Odds on the Intersound label. Sadly, it was not to be. Rabbitt passed away in May, 1998, at the age of 56.
Rabbitt was one of the vanguard of Nashville songwriters who entered into the realm of introspection and contemplation, writing thoughtful songs. He felt a personal responsibility as an entertainer to serve as a good role model and was an advocate for many charitable organizations including the Special Olympics, Easter Seals, Muscular Dystrophy Association and United Cerebral Palsy. Rabbitt was active in politics and gave permission to Senator Bob Dole to use his song “American Boy” during Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996.
Eddie Rabbitt issued many vinyl albums. Since he was a big seller, most of his albums should be available online (or, perhaps, in your favorite used record store). The earlier albums (1970s) are more traditional sounding than their later (post 1978 counterparts), until you get to his output on Capitol. All of his albums contain interesting songs; what varies is the production and the way they are framed. Unfortunately, Rabbitt did not live long enough to recast the later Elektra/Warner Brothers songs with more traditional settings or perhaps as bluegrass
For a long time, Rabbitt was woefully under-represented on CD, with only some Greatest Hits collections being available (mostly of the Elektra/Warner Brothers years, but also some Intersound remakes). During his lifetime, many of Rabbitt’s later recordings were released on cassette and CD, so used shops may have copies of music from the RCA and Capitol years.
Currently available are the Warner Brothers albums Horizon (“I Love A Rainy Night” and “Drivin’ My Life Away”); Rocky Mountain Music (title song plus “Two Dollars In The Jukebox” and “Drinkin’ My Baby”); and 36 All-Time Greatest Hits. Available from places like Costco, Sam’s Club and Collector’s Choice Music, the three-disk 36 All-Time Greatest Hits is misnamed as it has only about a dozen actual hits, with the rest being album cuts from the Electra/Warner Brothers years. It usually sells for around $21 and is well worth having.
Several double-packs of his Elektra/Warner Brothers albums have been issued in recent years. The Intersound album Beating The Odds was reissued after Rabbitt’s death as From The Heart–The Last Recordings. It had six new songs and six pretty decent remakes of older hits. Until recently, it was the only place to get any CD recording of two of the Capitol hits “On Second Thought” and “American Boy.”
In May of this year, Rhino released Eddie Rabbitt Number One Hits, which contains the original versions of all of Eddie’s hits to chart at number one on Billboard. This is the album to get if you want only one Eddie Rabbitt CD.
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