Paying a Visit to Eddie Rabbitt

I love a rainy night, and I’m driving my life away. And it’s all the fault of country music legend Eddie Rabbitt. With an incredible twenty #1 songs, and 34 total Top 10 hits—most of which he wrote himself—Eddie Rabbitt was one of the biggest and most influential country artists of the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s.

Eddie Rabbitt’s career wasn’t just accomplished, it was downright Hall of Fame worthy. But you almost never hear Eddie Rabbitt’s name brought up in the context of the Hall of Fame. In fact, you barely ever hear the name of Eddie Rabbitt in country music at all these days.

Eddie Rabbitt died in Nashville on May 7th, 1998 from lung Cancer at the age of 56. But nobody reported on the passing of Rabbitt when it happened at the request of his family. It wasn’t until after the burial that the word got out. Not even his agent knew, nor anyone else beyond his family. The public didn’t even know Rabbitt had part of his lung removed, and had been diagnosed as terminal.

This is one of the many reasons the legacy of Eddie Rabbitt seems scandalously lost to country music, and one of the reasons preserving and talking about it is so important. While in Nashville recently, I decided to pay a visit to Eddie Rabbitt at the Calvary Cemetery just east of town. Unlike so many on Nashville’s big cemeteries that are packed with country stars you can hunt down, Eddie Rabbitt is the only country star of note in the Calvary Cemetery. Why? Because he was one of the very few country performers who was Catholic.

Being in a cemetery all by himself means you have to make a special effort to see Eddie. He’s not buried in the shadow of a gaudy headstone either. Aside from the emblem of a guitar, you may never know it’s him buried in a family plot not far from his mother, and his son who died at the age of 2. There is a cross though with Celtic knot work helping you to find the Rabbitt family plot.

Born Edward Thomas Rabbitt (yes, it was his real name), Eddie had an unlikely origin story for a country singer. Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in New Jersey, this was the entirely wrong part of the world to be from to pursue country music as a career. But Eddie’s dad was a proficient fiddle and accordion player who had immigrated from Ireland, and would play in dance halls in New York after getting off work at the oil refinery. His mom was a singer as well. “A lot of that country music got into me through my dad’s playing, and my mom’s signing of the Irish songs,” Rabbitt said in a 1990 interview.

All of this comes into sharp focus when you visit Eddie’s final resting place. The family is most certainly proud of their Irish origin, and that also explains the anomaly of him as a Catholic country singer. Speaking to the director/caretaker of the Calvary cemetery, he pointed out that only 3% of the population of middle Tennessee is Catholic. There may be just as many Jewish country performers as Catholic ones.

This didn’t matter to Eddie Rabbitt though. By the age of 12, he was playing guitar, and listening to country music on the radio. He fell in love with the music so much, he became an encyclopedia of country music according to people who knew him at the time. After moving to Nashville and working odd jobs, he enjoyed his big break when Elvis Presley recorded the Eddie Rabbitt original “Kentucky Rain.” The King fell so in love with Eddie’s writing style, he also recorded “Patch It Up,” and later “Inherit The Wind.” When Ronnie Milsap had a #1 with the Eddie Rabbitt’s “Pure Love” in 1974, it opened up Eddie to the opportunity to sign with Elektra Records, and he become a performer.

Some purists scoff at Eddie Rabbitt as one of the first modern pop country crossover country stars. But when Eddie released his signature album Horizon in 1980, it couldn’t be helped if the singles were being played on the pop dial too. They were just too damn good for anyone to ignore. “Drivin’ My Life Away” hit #5 in pop—his biggest crossover hit up to that point. But listen to the song, and try to convince someone it ain’t country. It’s a truck driving song co-written by Eddie Rabbitt who did is own time driving big rigs when he first moved to Nashville. Then came “I Love A Rainy Night,” which became a #1 song in country and pop.

But eventually the Class of ’89 came around, and Eddie Rabbitt along with many others were soon put out to pasture. He was immediately dropped from his major label despite his continued success, and unlike many others, Eddie Rabbit never was really acknowledged by his peers in the country music industry, so his slide into obscurity was more pronounced.

But as time always dictates more than the whims of trend, the music of Eddie Rabbit mattered, and has endured the test of time. It’s a shame that Eddie Rabbit’s stardom seemed so secondary to others in his time, that it disappeared so quickly, that his passing was so overlooked, and where he now rests is so isolated from his peers. But this is all the more reason to go see him, and all the more fulfilling when you do. Because we all love rainy nights because of Eddie Rabbitt.

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If You Go: The Calvary Cemetery is located at 1001 Lebanon Road, Nashville , Tennessee, 37210. Eddie Rabbitt is located in plot 15-235-8 in Section 15. As you pull into the gate, keep driving forward until you get to the priest circle. Hang a right and look for Section 15. The Rabbitt family plot is located on the down slope of the hill facing west. Look for the cross with the Celtic knot work on it.

Eddie Rabbitt’s Mother – A Real Irish Woman
Eddie Rabbitt’s son
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