Forgotten Artists: Eddie Rabbitt (1941-1998)

Paul W. Dennis | September 2nd, 2009

forgotten-artists-eddie-rabbitt

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.

Discography

Vinyl
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

CD
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.

  1. Razor X
    September 2, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Eddie Rabbitt was one of a handful of country artists that I was initially exposed to via their success on the AC and pop charts, before there was a country music radio station in my area. I was never a diehard fan, but I did enjoy most of his music and I agree that “On Second Thought” was his best single. He died only a few weeks after the death of Tammy Wynette, with nary a mention in the press or from anyone in Nashville. It was almost as if he had never existed; I thought he deserved more respect than that.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Paul.

  2. Lanibug
    September 2, 2009 at 10:58 am

    I believe that he was the first concert that I ever attended, while I was all of 8 or 9 years old, it was at the Illinois State Fair with my parents, and I can still remember bits and pieces of and I still enjoy his music to this day.

  3. Rick
    September 2, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    With all that facial hair I’ve always considered Eddie the country equivalent of Cat Stevens! (lol) I still like Eddie’s music but my taste has drifted further away from the Eddie Rabbitt / Ronnie Milsap type of style to the far more traditional stuff. The more “country” the music is the longer it wears well with me these days.

  4. Saving Country Music
    September 2, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks for this.

    I can remember as a kid listening to a 45 of “I Love a Rainy Night” with “Cotton-Eyed Joe” on the B side. It was the first song that I ever loved that wasn’t a Christmas carol. Never knew he wrote “Kentucky Rain.”

    It is a shame you don’t hear more about Eddie.

  5. Steve Harvey
    September 2, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    This feature is depressing. I had no idea so many of these artists were forgotten. Eddie Rabbitt’s still getting cuts – McGraw had one of his tunes (Suspicions) as a single not that long ago.

  6. Razor X
    September 2, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Eddie Rabbitt’s still getting cuts – McGraw had one of his tunes (Suspicions) as a single not that long ago.

    Pity that McGraw chose that one to cover. There are a lot of Eddie Rabbitt songs that are a lot better than that one.

  7. Joe
    September 2, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    Amazon.com (and .ca and .co.uk) all list “Eddie Rabbitt Number One Hits” as unavailable …

    “Sign up to be notified when this item becomes available.”

    What gives?

    Eddie Rabbitt deserves much, much better. So many more hits than these eighteen.

  8. Madmanager
    September 3, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Thanks for this feature. I worked for Eddie in the 80′s and it was a great spring board for me into the Country Music Business. Eddie actually helped several industry vets get started, he gave a lot of us our first break. You did not mention Even Stevens who co-wrote a number of Eddie’s songs. They had a couple of houses down on Music Row with offices and studio that they called Rabbitt Trax. The other half of Eddie’s team was his band Hare Trigger. Several of those guys are still around town and I think Gene Sisk his keyboard player is working with Kenny Rogers these days. On last thing I can tell you is that Eddie could play a guitar to save his life:) But he looked good holding one. Thanks again for this feature, I miss the guy.

  9. Buddynoel
    September 3, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    I have always lobbied to let Rhino Records bring Eddie’s fractured collections together. This talented musician is a prime example where an artist’s music gets buried because some putz at a record company cant find a way to balance a speadsheet. It’s not easy to find his back inventory.

  10. Razor X
    September 3, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    It’s not easy to find his back inventory.

    Why not? The bulk of his catalog was at Warner Bros. I’d have thought it would be fairly easy to put together a comprehensive anthology of his work.

  11. Craig Wallin
    December 16, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Gone, but not forgotten! Craig Wallin, Age Discrimination In Country Music Project.

  12. Herb Smith
    May 10, 2010 at 7:58 am

    I met Eddie at a concert in Houston right after “Rocky Mountain Muxic” came out. He was gracious, courteous and had a great sense of humor. He even sang a song for my mom, “Do You Right Tonight”. It was a great night and I have been a fan ever since. It’s a shame that Tim McGraw was a;;owed to cover one of Eddie’s songs. Tim McGraw is the most overrated alleged “country” singer today. The only talent he has is to keep Faith Hill as his wife.

  13. SHORESLADY
    July 13, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    I listen to his duet with Crystal Gayle (‘You and i’) and ‘Rainy Night’ so often that I didn’t realize he is forgotten. Not here, he isn’t.

  14. Tom Fitzgerald
    February 24, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Thanks for listing Eddie on your site. He was a wonderful person as well as a great musician/songwriter.
    I met Edddie back in the sixties in New Jersey at a club owned by Smokey and Shorty Warren (The Copa Club). Smokey introduced us because I was a band leader at an Irish Dance hall (The Towerview Ballroom) in Woodside Queens and was looking for a country guitar player and vocalist. He had a great sense of humor, everybody loved him and strangly enough, he hated cigaretts! He used to always steal my cigarettes off the bar and throw them out, telling me, “Hey, you know you are putting another nail in your coffin every time you smoke”.. In those days, most everybody smoked. And yet he died of lung cancer!
    Eddie is not forgotten, not here anyhow.. He worked hard and had his dreams of making it in Nashville come true way beyond what he imagined.
    Eddie will always be in our hearts.

  15. Brawny71
    November 30, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Please! Just because a deceased artist’s name hasn’t come up in a while, doesn’t mean he’s “forgotten”. I doubt there are many people Gen X or older who DON’T know Eddie Rabbitt. (Many X-ers were entering puberty when “You And I” was getting major airplay and hoped to find true love, ha.)

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