Arts Remembrance: Dino Danelli of the Young Rascals

By Tim Jackson

Thank you, Dino, for all you contributed to music and to the art of drumming.

The late Dino Danelli.

Dino Danelli of the Young Rascals has died at 78. For many musicians in the New York area he was the first great drummer to combine R & B and rock via a flamboyant performing style. He was the power that made the soul-tinged compositions of Felix Cavaliere rock. You paid attention to those drums.

Dino could twirl his sticks with both hands simultaneously — they circled flawlessly between his stiff fingers. He sat bolt upright on his drum throne, lips pursed, his arms and legs extending with mechanical precision. He set his cymbals horizontal to the ground, not at the usual tilt, so he played a crash accent by attacking the cymbal from the underside. The drum set was simple, his rhythms spare and deliberate. The band had no bass player. Cavaliere’s Hammond organ foot pedal covered that territory, which made the bass drum syncopation all the more essential and distinct. I was watching when the Young Rascals performed their hit “Good Lovin’” on the Ed Sullivan Show in March of 1966. Often, when the song came to the two-bar rest before the final chorus, Dino would launch his stick 14 feet into the air — catching it just as the chorus returned. I was mesmerized.

I learned a press roll on the snare drum in order to duplicate the famous opening of “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore.” Danelli accompanied Cavaliere’s sweep up the keyboard to the tune’s opening line: “Yeeeah!/ You got the biggest brown eyes and you know how to part your lips to tantalize.” I had never really heard such precise drumming until I took in Danelli’s performance on songs like “Come On Up,” or “Do You Feel It.” Cavaliere’s soulful vocals and Dino’s unmistakable backbeat made Rascal signature songs of such covers as “Mustang Sally,” “Land of a Thousand Dances” (recorded before Wilson Pickett), Larry Williams’s “Slow Down” (also covered by the Beatles), and the Marvelettes’ “Too Many Fish in The Sea.”

Little did I know that many other musicians were as affected by the Young Rascals’ live shows, particularly in and around New York and their home base of New Jersey. So impressed was Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist Steven Van Zandt that years later, in 2013, he brought the original band back to Broadway for the show The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream. Additional performances had to be added. The production’s notes claimed that the Rascals “led the way for Blue Eyed Soul to Folk Rock to Protest to Civil Rights, blending white Pop melodies with black soul and R & B muscle.” Van Zandt also called Dino “the greatest rock drummer of all time.”

Rock and roll and Blue-Eyed Soul were not Dino’s roots. Like many in his generation, Danelli trained as a jazz drummer. He played for a time with Lionel Hampton. At 15, he would be inspired by big band drummers, such as Gene Krupa at New York’s famous Metropole Cafe in Times Square. He and Cavaliere went to Las Vegas and performed as a casino house band. Eventually, after various New York gigs Dino, Cavaliere, singer Eddie Brigati, and guitarist Gene Cornish combined to form the Young Rascals. The band lasted five years. He formed another band with Cornish called Bulldog and later Fotomaker. He played in Steve Van Zandt’s Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul in 1980. There were brief reunion tours for the Young Rascals, though never with all the original members until they were reunited for Van Zandt’s production.

Dino Danelli in action at the drums.

Danelli’s other passion was art. He was given free rein to illustrate Rascals’ discs, eventually overseeing album covers, photos, and inserts. He did two covers for Fotomaker. As an artist, he did abstract paintings along with assemblages and large-scale sculptures. Late in life he also did design work as well as pencil and paper drawings, which were exhibited at Artexpo in New York and elsewhere. Dino told Fine Arts Magazine that “at this point in life, I find that creativity merges. Art, music, film, architecture — they’re different but yet they’re the same.”

In 1966, after having played only a few years, I had the good fortune of opening two separate shows for the Young Rascals with my high school band, the Loved Ones. Dino requested that the ceiling be no less than 14 feet high to accommodate those stick tosses. The night of the first concert I sat in back of the drum platform — my eyes were riveted to his every move. I stole everything I could from him that night: the flat cymbal set up, striking them from the underside, and sitting upright. I bought a fancy “Ghost” bass drum pedal because Dino used one. I practiced twirling and tossing. I am not prone to hero worship, but I can still remember the feel of shaking his calloused hand backstage after the shows. In 1989, performing a concert at the Roxy in New York, someone came up to me and said, “You know who you play exactly like?” I knew the answer. “Do you know Dino Danelli? he asked. “Yeah, I do.”

Thank you, Dino, for all you contributed to music and to the art of drumming.

Tim Jackson was an assistant professor of Digital Film and Video for 20 years. His music career in Boston began in the 1970s and includes some 20 groups, recordings, national and international tours, and contributions to film soundtracks. He studied theater and English as an undergraduate, and has also worked helter skelter as an actor and member of SAG and AFTRA since the 1980s. He has directed three feature documentaries: Chaos and Order: Making American Theater about the American Repertory Theater; Radical Jesters, which profiles the practices of 11 interventionist artists and agit-prop performance groups; When Things Go Wrong: The Robin Lane Story. And two short films: Joan Walsh Anglund: Life in Story and Poem and The American Gurner. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. You can read more of his work on his blog.


  1. Daniel Gewertz on December 16, 2022 at 9:56 pm

    What a heart-felt, gorgeous piece of writing, unflashy and sensational at once. I loved it. I saw the Rascals once, in 1967, when I was 17, at Wolman Skating Rink, that outdoor mecca of superb music in Central Park. I often tell folks about that night, because I was lucky enough to see one of the first performances in the U.S. of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The unknown Hendrix was a surprise last-minute opening act, for a black folksinger named Len Chandler, a beautiful, deep voice of the ’60s, now forgotten. My folkie high school friends were there to hear Chandler. I was there for the Rascals, whom I loved. And I sure caught a piece of music history that night.

    • Daniel Gewertz on December 17, 2022 at 12:36 am

      Correction: What I meant to write in the above comment is that Hendrix opened for the Rascals, subbing for an ill Len Chandler, who had been the Rascals scheduled opening act.

  2. Bruce Diamond on December 16, 2022 at 10:08 pm

    I always thought your playing reminded me of someone I recalled so well . And, this is the most beautiful tribute to Dino I’ve yet read . Thank you for that .

    • Tim Jackson on December 17, 2022 at 5:11 pm

      Thanks, Bruce. Your words are too kind!

  3. Barry Zaltman on December 16, 2022 at 10:35 pm

    Having never seen the rascals play I was given a belated close up in Tim Jackson’s remembrance of Dino Danelli that also showcased a wonderful clip from an Ed Sullivan show appearance. The stick spins, energetic body language and deceptively simple, stylized drumming were captured in the article written from the point of view of a teen admirer, who, now, himself an accomplished drummer gave us a memory true to his first, lasting impression.

  4. David Stefanelli on December 17, 2022 at 12:07 am

    Really GREAT tribute piece! Thanks Tim!

    • Tim Jackson on December 17, 2022 at 5:08 pm

      Coming from you, David, certainly no slouch on the tubs, that’s much appreciated.

  5. John Kusiak on December 17, 2022 at 9:45 am

    Thanks, Tim, for the great remembrance of Dino Danelli. I loved the Rascals songs in my youth and played many of them in bands I was in during those unforgettable days. His playing was amazing! Great article.

  6. Jim on December 17, 2022 at 12:23 pm

    Great article and a wonderful reflection on your inspiration of the greatest drummer of all time. I remember seeing The Rascals in their prime, once in 1967 and again in 1968. Dino would stand up and with his drumsticks, play on the wood on the over hang of the ceiling where he was seated. I still listen to them everyday.

    • Dennis Brennan on December 21, 2022 at 5:08 pm

      I saw The Rascals at “The Comic Strip’ in Lincoln Square, Worcester, MA. Early 1966 . The band came out, Felix laid his forearm on the left bass keys and kept it there for at least a whole minute, maybe more, producing an atonal wail, finally Dino kicked off “Do You Feel It”. Never forgot that. Thank you Tim!

  7. Edward Cragin on December 18, 2022 at 8:42 am

    I was a fan from the beginning. 24″ bass , snare in tom stand , white cymbal felts, traditional grip . Great showman and player . Love the Rascals . RIP Dino .

    • tim jackson on December 19, 2022 at 12:54 pm

      Well observed, Ed. Especially the white cymbal felts, a detail that escaped me!

  8. Joe Russo on December 21, 2022 at 2:22 pm

    As Dino’s close friend and archivist, I thank you for this thoughtful and well crafted overview of his immense and varied talent.

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