Most of us know at least one Eddie Rabbitt song. Most of us probably have no idea who Eddie Rabbitt is, but we’ve listened to him speak through our Hi-Fi or our car radio. His songs have drifted through movies, been played at the late night bars we all frequent, and come up on karaoke machines across the nation. Nothing fancy about them, but they paint the pictures that wash through our minds all the time. I first heard Eddie when I was 10 years old, listening to Elvis singing “Kentucky Rain”. From that break in 1970, to his death in 1998, Eddie Rabbitt’s music has reintroduced itself to audiences more than once.
Born November 27, 1941 to an Irish American family, he was raised with the sounds of Ireland circling his ears. His father worked in an oil refinery by day, and made the rounds at Manhattan clubs playing fiddle and accordion by night. There was always music in the house, mostly Irish folk music, which translated over into a love of American country music. Eddie once said,h and I
“Country music is Irish music. Appalachian music was brought over by the Scotch and Irish…”. The family moved to Newark, NJ, where Eddie spent the majority of his childhood, eventually dropping out of school at 16 to play the local bar scene. By 1968, he was through with Jersey, stashed $1000 in his pocket and bought a one-way bus ticket to Nashville. He knew no one, had nowhere to stay and carried nothing but some clothes and a guitar (a typical story, if you know anything about Nashville).
As does everyone else trying to make it, he worked a series of odd jobs, pushing songs like a janitor pushes a broom. He scored a cut that same year, when Ray Drusky recorded “Working My Way Up From The Bottom”, but 1970 was the breaking point. That year, Elvis caught wind of a song called “Kentucky Rain”, written by a young unknown. That was all it took. Whether you’ve heard of Eddie Rabbitt or not, you know him. Anyone that got an Elvis cut was pretty much set, and when it reached the stratosphere of super hits, it was only a short matter of time, if any at all, that they would be writing for other artists and recording themselves. So it went with Eddie. He went on to a recording contract with Elektra in 1975, and ran a streak of Top Ten hits that didn’t quit until 1989. 1976 lead the charge with “Drinkin’ My Baby (Off My Mind), “Drivin’ My Life Away (1980) and “I Love A Rainy Night (1980) just to name a few.
His style was progressive in a time where so many of his contemporaries were lost in the shuffle of time. Nashville was shying away from the hard-core traditional roots of Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzel, jumping off the dock of Countrypolitanism into a lake of pop-driven hillbilly sound. His roots were steeped in Irish folk and traditional country, but he was able to translate that into the current trend, without losing the integrity of his roots. His music is straight-forward and folksy. No allusions or double-entendres: it’s feel good country that speaks to the majority, with easily accessible imagery. When summer rolls out its asphault carpets, redneck and urbanite alike are driving 90 miles an hour with the windows down, blasting the best of Eddie Rabbitt for anyone who passes by. It can’t be helped.
As life progressed, he settled down into family life, but the tragic death of his son in 1986 took him out of the spotlight. He stayed close to home, but made a comeback in the late 80s, going back out on tour, writing new songs, and becoming one of the most vocal humanitarians in the country music field. He lent his name and talents to such organizations as the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Special Olympics, Safe Kids and The Easter Seals. He also spoke out against the inherent drug and sex culture brought about by MTV and performers in the 80s. He made it a point to put on shows and put out music that was clean and family friendly, creating a standard for other artists. He continued writing songs and touring until his death in 1998 from lung cancer.
Eddie Rabbitt did much to not only push the boundaries of country music, but to give those limits validation. His songs have survived the changes of culture, and are the building blocks of what modern country has become, for better or for worse. His music strikes a chord and speaks to people across geographical and financial lines, puts a smile on the faces of millions and conjures memories of porches and sunrises, sweet tea and home-cooked meals, even if those memories have to be borrowed.