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Eddie Rabbitt: The Musical Odyssey of a Country Crossover Icon

Eddie Rabbitt: The Musical Odyssey of a Country Crossover Icon
Photo: savingcountrymusic.com
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Eddie Rabbitt remains a legend in the music world, credited with pioneering a unique fusion of country and crossover sounds. The Independent’s Paul Wadey once remarked that Rabbitt’s music had a glitzy Vegas vibe rather than the traditional country twang of The Grand Ole Opry. His hits like “Drivin’ My Life Away” and “I Love a Rainy Night” are timeless classics, alongside his breakthrough as a songwriter with Elvis Presley’s “Kentucky Rain.”

But who was Eddie Rabbitt, really? And what became of him? Let’s peel back the layers and uncover the story behind the music.

Eddie Rabbitt’s Early Life

Edward Thomas Rabbitt, more affectionately known as Eddie, entered the world on November 27, 1941, in the vibrant borough of Brooklyn, New York. His parents, Thomas Michael and Mae Rabbitt, were immigrants from Ireland, and Eddie’s upbringing unfolded in the bustling streets of East Orange, New Jersey. Here, amidst the hum of daily life, his father Thomas, a hardworking soul employed at an oil refinery, also showcased his musical talents as a fiddle and accordion player in the local dance halls of New York City. It’s no surprise that Eddie inherited this musical inclination.

At a tender age of 12, Eddie’s fingers found their rhythm on the strings of a guitar, mentored by a scoutmaster nicknamed “Texas” Bob Randall. His love for country music ran deep, earning him the self-proclaimed title of a ‘walking encyclopedia’ of the genre. School wasn’t his forte, and at 16, Eddie bid adieu to formal education following his parents’ divorce. His mother, Mae, noted that Eddie’s heart was always in music, making academics a secondary pursuit.

Navigating life as a high school dropout, Eddie embarked on various occupations, including a stint as an orderly in a mental hospital. Days were spent in the structured routine of work, while nights saw him take to the stage of local clubs, honing his craft. A stroke of luck arrived when he clinched victory in a talent contest, earning him an hour of airtime on a Saturday night radio show broadcast live from a New Jersey bar. Yet, despite these early endeavors, Eddie’s true breakthrough came in 1968, with a mere thousand dollars in his pocket and a steadfast determination, he ventured to Nashville, the heartland of country music, to pursue his dreams as a songwriter.

>>READ ALSO: Here Are Some Randy Travis’ Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

From Modest Origins to His Breakthrough into Success

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When Eddie Rabbitt arrived in Music City on that memorable first night, inspiration struck, and he penned the unforgettable tune “Working My Way Up to the Bottom.” His luck took a turn for the better when Roy Drusky recorded the song, unexpectedly propelling it up the charts. Despite this success, Rabbitt found himself in the humble position of a staff writer at Hill & Range Publishing, earning a modest $37.50 weekly wage and sharing his living space with an unlikely companion—a rooster.

It wasn’t until 1970 that Rabbitt experienced his breakthrough moment as a songwriter, when the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll himself, Elvis Presley, immortalized his composition “Kentucky Rain” in a recording. This pivotal event not only ensured Rabbitt’s financial stability but also solidified his reputation as one of Nashville’s preeminent songwriters. Riding on the wave of this success, his song “Pure Love” soared to the top of the country charts when recorded by Ronnie Milsap. Shortly thereafter, Elektra Records extended a record deal to Rabbitt in 1971, signaling the next chapter in his musical journey.

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The year 1976 marked a significant milestone in Rabbitt’s career when he celebrated his first number one country hit as a vocalist with “Drinking My Baby (Off My Mind),” a collaboration with Even Stevens. This success was followed by a breakthrough into the realm of crossover music with “Every Which Way But Loose” in 1979, featured in the Clint Eastwood film of the same name. The song made history with its rapid ascent to the top of both country and mainstream charts, catapulting Rabbitt to newfound fame.

His album “Horizon” achieved platinum status, propelled by the crossover hits “I Love a Rainy Night” and “Drivin’ My Life Away.” Rabbitt’s popularity soared to unprecedented heights, leading to offers for his own variety television show. However, Rabbitt remained steadfast in his commitment to his music, ultimately declining the offer. Undeterred, he continued to release a string of hits, including “Step by Step” in 1981 and the enchanting duet “You and I” with Crystal Gayle in 1982.

>>READ ALSO: Hank Williams: Remembering The Death of “The Hillbilly Shakespeare”

Eddie Rabbitt’s Marriage and Family

When Eddie Rabbitt scored his first country hit, it was a big deal in his life. Around the same time, he tied the knot with Janine Girardi. Eddie described her as a small woman, about five feet tall, with long, beautiful black hair and a pretty face. Like many country singers, Janine was his inspiration for songs like “Pure Love” and “Sweet Janine.”

They had three kids together—Demelza, and two boys named Timmy and Tommy. Sadly, Timmy faced some tough health issues right from birth. He had a rare liver problem called biliary atresia. Even after trying a liver transplant, they couldn’t save him, and he passed away.

After Timmy’s death, Eddie took a break from his music career to focus on helping out different charities.

The Death of Eddie Rabbitt

Photo: savingcountrymusic

During his career, Eddie Rabbitt reached incredible heights, scoring 26 number one hits on the country charts and landing eight Top 40 pop hits. However, his life took a tragic turn when, after years of smoking, he was diagnosed with lung cancer in March 1997. Despite undergoing radiation treatment and surgery, he sadly passed away on May 7, 1998, in Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 56.

>>READ ALSO: What Happened to Ricky Van Shelton, One of the Most Popular Celebrities in The 80s?

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