Rabbitt, Eddie (Contemporary Musicians)
Singer/songwriter Eddie Rabbitt, a New Jersey boy with a soft heart, smooth voice, and the talent to create uplifting melodies, pioneered the expansion of country music onto the pop charts. Both country and pop music fans loved Rabbitt's no nonsense style of songwriting and made Rabbitta superstar with 26 number one country hits and eight Top 40 pop hits. This crossover success was unheard of in 1980, but with such hits as "I Love A Rainy Night," "Drivin' My Life Away," "I Just Want to Love You," and "Step by Step," Rabbit became a crossover country/pop music pioneer.
Eddie Rabbitt was born Edward Thomas on November 27, 1941 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents, Irish immigrants, soon moved to Orange County, New Jersey where Rabbitt's father worked days as a refrigeration engineer in an oil refinery, and played fiddle and accordion nights at New York City dance halls. Rabbitt followed in his father's musical footsteps and learned to play the guitar at 12. He also quit school at 16ater passing an equivalency exam. His mother Mae told People that Eddie, "was never one for school. His head was too full of music." In the late 1950s, Rabbitt, like his father, picked up a day job as a mental hospital attendant before landing a nightly singing gig at the Six Steps Down club in East Orange, New Jersey. In 1964, Rabbitt signed his first recording contract with 20th Century Records and released his first single, "Next to the Note" backed with "Six Nights & Seven Days". However, for the next four years, fame and fortune alluded Rabbitt.
In 1968, Rabbitt, as noted in his online biography, hopped a bus to Nashville, Tennessee with "$1,000 in his pocket and no music business contacts." He told People's Tim Allis that he soon realized "[that] singers were a dime a dozen [in Nashville], But there weren't a lot of good songs." Hoping to fill that void, Rabbitt began writing his own songs, and on his first night in Nashville penned "Working My Way Up to the Bottom." Grand Ole Opry artist, Roy Drusky, recorded the song in 1968. Success would not be overnight, and Rabbitt was forced to work a variety of odd jobs including truck driver, soda jerk, and fruit picker to survive. Yet, Rabbitt continued writing and knocking on record and publishing company doors. A door finally opened for Rabbitt at the Hill & Range Publishing Company where he was hired as a staff writer with a weekly salary of $37.50.
Jewel in the King's Crown
With a little help from the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, Rabbitt finally hit it big in 1970. Presley recorded Rabbitt's song, "Kentucky Rain," which became his fiftieth gold record. For Rabbitt, this song, as noted in Contemporary Musicians, Volume 5, "showed the earmarks of future Rabbitt hitst had country emotions interwoven with a pop melodynd it suggested the young songwriter might be a candidate for crossover success." Yet, Rabbitt told People that he credited his Irish roots for his emotion and inspiration, "Country music is Irish music. Appalachian music was brought over by the Scotch and Irish. I think the minor chords in my music give it that mystical feel." Rabbitt later shared this mystical feel with the world by record ing "Song of Ireland"n Irish jig-like tune with lyrics reflecting Rabbitt's love of the Emerald Isle with its "shamrock hills and 40 shades of green."
In 1974, Rabbitt wrote another hit, "Pure Love," this time for country star Ronnie Milsap. The song was Milsap's first number one single, and Elektra Records, seeing Rabbitt's potential for hit-making records, signed him to a recording contract. In 1976, Rabbitt not only scored a number one single, "Drinkin' My Baby (Off My Mind), but he also married, as he told People, "a little thing about 5 foot tall, with long, black beautiful hair, and real pretty face. She looked like an angel to me."
Cross-Over Hit Maker
In the late 1970s, Rabbitt became a top ten single writing and recording machine with a string of number one hits including, "Rocky Mountain Music," "Two Dollars in the Jukebox," "Drivin' My Life Away," and "I Just Want to Love You". In 1977, the Academy of Country Music named Rabbitt the Top Male Vocalist of the Year. In 1979, Rabbitt hopped over to the pop music charts with the theme to Clint Eastwood's movie, Every Which Way But Loose. Yet Rabbitt kept a foot in country music and was named Music City News Country Songwriter of the Year. Rabbitt's popularity in both country and pop music not only grew, as noted by Alanna Nash in Entertainment Weekly, but "his blend of feel-good melodies, jangly rhythms, and tight vocal harmonies [also] helped usher in the urban cowboy era of the '80s."
In 1980, BMI named Rabbitt's song, "Suspicions" as their Song of the Year, and Rabbitt amazingly topped both the pop and country charts with his smash hit, "I Love A Rainy Night." Yet Rabbitt, as quoted by Tony Russel in The Guardian, never thought about crossing over, "I came to Nashville with nothing in mind about pop music. I was country and it just so happened that the kind of music I was making crossed over to the pop charts." In 1982, Rabbitt crossed over again with "You & I," a duet with Crystal Gayle, and after signing with RCA, scored another number one country hit duet, "Both to Each Other," with Juice Newton. However, one year later Rabbitt disappeared.
Backed Out and Came Back
In 1983, with the birth of his second child, Timmy, Rabbitt stepped out of the country and pop music spotlight. Rabbitt backed out because Timmy was born with biliary atresia, a disease that attacks the liver. Timmy's only chance of survival was a liver transplant. So Rabbitt, "against the advice of his manager, mothballed his career to stay near his son," wrote Allis. Rabbitt felt he had "to be there if I'm any kind of man." Sadly, in 1985, after an unsuccessful liver transplant, Timmy died. Rabbitt told Allis that Timmy's death took "the cockiness out of [my] walk."
In 1989, Rabbitt released the album I Wanna Dance With You. In the early 1990s, after short recording contracts with Universal and Capitol, Rabbitt released two albums: Jersey Boy and Ten Rounds. However, Rabbitt left Capitol in 1992 to focus on touring with his band, Hare Trigger. Rabbitt, as stated in Contemporary Musicians, Volume 5, had "become a wholesome performer without sacrificing his popular offbeat sexiness." Rabbit himself commented, "I don't ever get down and dirty. I think the stage is no place for that. I think you have to be very careful as an entertainer about what you bring to the stage because some people try to think of you as more than human. I figure if we're going to be role models for people, we should at least try to be good role models."
Beatin' the Odds
In the late 1990s, Rabbitt became a role model off stage by becoming a spokesperson for many charities including Special Olympics, Easter Seals, and the American Council on Transplantation. In 1996, Rabbitt was once again noted for his musical contributions when BMI honored Rabbitt with their Three Million-Air award for "I Love A Rainy Night" and Two Million-Air award for "Kentucky Rain". Moreover, Presidential candidate Bob Dole adopted Rabbitt's song, "American Boy" for his campaign song. But it was the release of Welcome to Rabbittland, Rabbitt's first children's album that was his dream come true.
January of 1997 brought both good and bad news to Rabbitt. He signed a new recording contract with Intersound Records, but soon after that he was diagnosed with lung cancer. After completing his first round of chemotherapy and just four days before surgery to remove part of his left lung, Rabbitt released a new album, Beatin' the Odds. While recuperating, Rabbitt began working on his second children's album, Songs from Rabbitt Land. Rabbitt described the album to Diane Samms Rush of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as "17 songs, jokes, and stories I wrote for my kids as they were growing up.... Who knows? The rest of my career I might be known as Mister Wabbitt!"
Rabbitt once stated, "We all have to dance with our devils, but I lead." Rabbitt, however, could not beat the odds against one of life's cruelest devils, succumbing to cancer on May 7, 1998 at the age of 56. Yet, Rabbitt not only danced with many devilshe rough road to success, the sad death of his son, the hard struggle for a musical comeback, and cancere also lead country music to its now common, crossover pop chart success.
Eddie Rabbitt, Elektra.
Rocky Mountain Music, Electra.
I Wanna Dance With You, RCA, 1989.
Greatest Hits of Eddie Rabbitt, RCA.
Jersey Boy, Capitol.
Welcome to Rabbittland, Intersound, 1997.
Beatin' the Odds, Intersound, 1997.
LaBlanc, Michael, ed.,Contemporary Musicians, Volume 5, Gale Research, 1991.
Entertainment Weekly, June 22, 1998.
The Guardian, May 22, 1998, p. 22.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 10, 1997, p. 7; May 9, 1998, p. 6.
People, April 17, 1989; May 25, 1998.
Ann M. Schwalboski