Eddie Rabbitt will always be known as one of the greatest innovators of his time, a successful exponent of a crossover country music trend that Paul Wadey of The Independent described as ‘something which owed far more to Vegas than The Grand Ole Opry.’ No one can ever forget his chart-toppers just like “Drivin’ My Life Away,” “I Love a Rainy Night,” and of course his first-ever songwriting hit Elvis Presley’s “Kentucky Rain.”
So who exactly is Eddie Rabbitt, and whatever happened to him? Let’s find out.
Early Life: Who is Eddie Rabbitt?
Edward Thomas Rabbitt or more popularly known as Eddie was born on November 27, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York, to Irish immigrant parents Thomas Michael and Mae Rabbitt. He was raised in East Orange, New Jersey, where his Irish-American father worked in an oil refinery. But aside from being a refrigeration worker, his dad was also a skilled fiddle and accordion player who played in the local dance halls of New York City. And sure enough, Eddie inherited the musical genes.
At the age of 12, he was already a proficient guitarist taught by a scoutmaster known as “Texas” Bob Randall. And he also loved country music so much that he even proclaimed himself a ‘walking encyclopedia’ of country music. He didn’t finish high school, dropping out at the age of 16 just after his parents divorced. As his mom, Mae said, Eddie wasn’t really one for school mainly because he was too much into music.
As a high school dropout, he did a lot of different jobs, including a mental hospital orderly. He did that during the day and kept his nights performing at one of his hometown clubs. He also, later on, won a talent contest which gave him an hour of Saturday night radio show time live from a bar in New Jersey. And then, in 1964, he finally released his debut single “Six Nights and Seven Days” for 2oth Century Records, although unfortunately, it was an unmemorable one. And then, in 1968, with a thousand dollars to his name, Rabbitt finally made the plunge and moved to Nashville, where he started his career as a songwriter.
The Career: From Humble Beginnings to His Crossover Success
On Rabbitt’s first night in Music City, he penned the song “Working My Way Up to the Bottom.” Luckily the song got recorded by Roy Drusky and even made unexpected success in the charts. After that, he found himself working as a staff writer at Hill & Range Publishing, earning just $37.50 a week and living in an uncomfortable apartment with a rooster as a pet.
It wasn’t until 1970 that he finally got his first big songwriting breakthrough when Elvis Presley recorded his composition titled “Kentucky Rain.” That songwriting credit did not only pay his rent but also put him on the map as one of Nashville’s leading songwriters. After that, his song “Pure Love” was recorded by Ronnie Milsap, putting it at the top of the country charts. A year later, he got a record deal with Elektra Records.
In 1976, he celebrated his first number one country hit as a vocalist with “Drinking My Baby (Off My Mind),” co-written with Even Stevens. And then came his crossover success with “Every Which Way But Loose” in 1979, which was featured in the Clint Eastwood movie of the same name. The song broke the record for highest chart debut at 18 and also topped country charts. But that was not all, the track also peaked at number 30 for both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts. And that was the start of his further rise to fame.
His next album, Horizon, reached platinum with his crossover hits “I Love a Rainy Night” and “Drivin’ My Life Away.” And he was so popular at this point that he even got offered his own variety television show. But he said that it was not worth the gamble and declined the offer. And then he continued to release back-to-back hits with “Step by Step” in 1981 and “You and I” (a duet with Crystal Gayle) in 1982.
Marriage and Family: Who did Eddie Rabbitt marry?
When he earned his very first country hit, Rabbitt also celebrated another major milestone in his life. He married Janine Girardi, a woman he described as ‘a little thing about five feet tall with long, black, beautiful hair, and a real pretty face.’ Just like many other country musicians, his muse was the inspiration for many of his songs, just like “Pure Love” and “Sweet Janine.”
The couple had three children – a daughter named Demelza and two sons named Timmy and Tommy. Unfortunately, Timmy did not make it so far in life after he was diagnosed with a rare congenital condition known as biliary atresia upon birth which affected the liver. They tried to give him a liver transplant, but the attempt failed, and he died.
After that, he put his career on hiatus and went to advocate for different charitable organizations.
The End of a Legacy: The Death of Eddie Rabbitt
During his career, Eddie Rabbitt bagged 26 number one hits on the country charts and eight Top 40 pop hits. But after a lifetime of smoking, he was diagnosed with lung cancer in March 1997. He underwent radiation treatment and surgery, but he died on May 7, 1998, in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 56.