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Eddie Rabbitt: A Gifted Singer-Songwriter Turned Crossover Hitmaker

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Eddie Rabbitt became one of country music's most consistent hitmakers of the '70s and '80s, earning 17 No. 1 hits between 1976 and 1989 while evolving from a traditional country-leaning singer and songwriter to a crossover success story.

Born Edward Thomas Rabbitt on Nov. 27, 1941 in Brooklyn, New York, the future star learned to play guitar from a scoutmaster. His father, Irish immigrant Thomas Michael Rabbitt, was a skilled fiddle and accordion player. Thomas plays fiddle on his son's 1978 deep cut "Song of Ireland."

After a mid-'60s run with 20th Century Records, Rabbitt moved to Nashville to chase his songwriting dreams. A co-write with Dick Heard, "Kentucky Rain," became a gold record after Elvis Presley recorded it in 1969 with a session musician named Ronnie Milsap on piano. Fast-forward to 1974, and Milsap picked up a No. 1 on the country charts with "Pure Love," a song Rabbitt dreamed up while eating a bowl of Cap'n Crunch and thinking about his future wife, Janine.

Milsap's success with "Pure Love" positioned Rabbitt to sign with Elektra Records. A self-titled debut (1975), featuring Top 40 hit "You Get to Me," set the stage for the best start-to-finish album of Rabbitt's career, Rocky Mountain Music (1976). Rabbitt's sophomore album brought us three Top 5 hits: the title track, No. 1 hit "Drinkin' My Baby (Off My Mind)" and classic country throwback "Two Dollars in the Jukebox." It should also be lauded for album cut "Tullahoma Dancing Pizza Man," a Chris Gantry co-write named for a Tennessee town and topped with double entendres about pizza. Even if you're not a fan of the crossover material we're about to cover, do yourself a favor and give Rocky Mountain Music a fair shake.

By the late '70s, Rabbitt and his songwriting partner since album one, Even Stevens, began cranking out hits that appealed to pop and soft rock fans. A gifted wordsmith and vocalist, Rabbitt belongs in the same conversation as Kenny Rogers, future "You and I" duet partner Crystal Gayle, "Both to Each Other (Friends and Lovers)" collaborator Juice Newton and others with a knack for blurring made-up genre boundaries.

Rabbitt and Stevens' No. 1 country hits include David Malloy co-writes "I Just Want to Love You," "Drivin' My Life Away," "Step By Step," "You Can't Run From Love," "Someone Could Lose a Heart Tonight" and perhaps the best-known song in Rabbitt's catalog, ready-made adult contemporary standard "I Love a Rainy Night." Rabbitt also co-wrote singles with Jimmy Bowen ("The Best Year of My Life") and Billy Joe Walker Jr. ("I Wanna Dance With You").

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Another Rabbitt hit of note, "Every Which Way But Loose," is featured in the Clint Eastwood movie of the same title. The country-heavy soundtrack of Every Which Way But Loose furthered Rabbitt's pop culture reach, as did the inclusion of "Drivin' My Life Away" on the soundtrack for the Meat Loaf film Roadie (1980).

His final No. 1, "On Second Thought," came from the 1989 album Jersey Boy (a likely reference to Rabbitt's East Orange, New Jersey upbringing). Jersey Boy also brought us "American Boy," a patriotic tune used by Bob Dole during his 1996 presidential campaign.

Rabbitt died on May 7, 1998 from lung cancer. During his illness, Rabbitt re-recorded several old favorites for the album Beatin' the Odds, such as "Suspicions," a cut off 1979 album Loveline.

Consider Rabbitt's first greatest hits compilation, 1978's The Best of Eddie Rabbitt, for an entry point to both his traditional country and pop-friendly output.

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Eddie Rabbitt: A Gifted Singer-Songwriter Turned Crossover Hitmaker