Well I love a rainy night; I love a rainy night.
I love to hear the thunder;
watch the lightning when I lights up the sky.
You know it makes me feel good.
— “Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt, 1975
This week, I’m visiting Nashville’s Calvary Catholic Cemetery. While I don’t know the exact number of burials there, Find a Grave lists around 17,000 memorials. Only 24 percent of them are photographed.
In 1868, the land for Calvary Cemetery was purchased by Patrick Augustine Feehan, third Catholic Bishop of Tennessee. The opening day is described in the book “The Catholic Church in Tennessee” by Thomas Stritch.
The dedication on November 29, 1868 was a grand affair. The procession of carriages was preceded by a band and 20 “neatly uniformed policemen,” according the local newspaper account. Then came the bishop’s carriage, with four priests accompanying him.
There followed carriages containing members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Society of St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum, the St. Joseph’s Abstinence Society, school children from the Sisters of Mercy School, and carriages containing residents. The line of carriages was so long that “there was no point along the route from which the entire procession could be viewed at one time.”
The most famous interment at Calvary Cemetery is a singer/songwriter whose music I’ve loved since I was young. Country/pop singer Eddie Rabbitt is buried there and I was determined to find his grave.
Born in 1941 to Irish immigrants Thomas Michael and Mae Joyce Rabbitt in Brooklyn, N.Y., Eddie was raised in East Orange, N.J. While his father was an oil refinery refrigeration worker, Thomas also played the fiddle and accordion in several New York City dance halls. By 12, Eddie was a proficient guitar player.
After his parents divorced, Eddie dropped out of school at 16 but got his high school diploma after taking night school classes. In 1964, he signed his first record deal with 20th Century Records and released the singles, “Next to the Note” and “Six Nights and Seven Days”.
Four years later, he moved to Nasvhille to start his career as a songwriter for Hill & Range Publishing Company and received $37.50 per week. Eddie hung out with with other aspiring writers at Wally’s Clubhouse, a bar in Nashville, saying he and the other patrons had “no place else to go.”
Eddie made a splash in 1969 when Elvis Presley recorded his song “Kentucky Rain”, a fact I didn’t know until doing research for this post. Eddie wanted to record it himself but his publisher played it for Elvis and his version of it went gold.
“Well, he played it and Elvis liked it enough to consider it for his next single,” Eddie said. “I had to decide if I should let Elvis record it, probably have a hit, or keep it for myself and chance that my first record would do nothing and the song would be forgotten. In the end, the decision went to Elvis and he sold over a million copies of it!”
Eddie wrote “Pure Love”, which Ronnie Milsap took to No. 1 in 1974. This led to a contract offer from Elektra Records.
In 1976, his critically acclaimed Rocky Mountain Music album was released, which gave Eddie his first No. 1 country hit with the track “Drinkin’ My Baby (Off My Mind)”. In 1977, his third album, Rabbitt was released, which made the top five on the country albums chart. That same year, the Academy of Country Music named him top new male vocalist of the year.
Eddie released his first compilation album, The Best of Eddie Rabbitt, in 1979. The album produced Eddie’s first crossover single (written by Steve Dorff, Snuff Garrett and Milton Brown), “Every Which Way But Loose”, which topped country charts and reached the top 30 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and adult contemporary. It was featured in a 1978 Clint Eastwood movie of the same name.
I wasn’t aware of Eddie Rabbitt until his album Horizon, which contained the biggest crossover hits of his career including “I Love a Rainy Night” and “Drivin’ My Life Away.” Both tunes are definitely toe tappers and mention rain in the lyrics.
He developed “Rainy Night” from a song fragment that he wrote during a 1960s thunderstorm. “Driving” recalled Rabbitt’s stint as a truck driver, and was inspired by Bob Dylan’s song “Subterranean Homesick Blues“. Eddie was offered his own variety television show, which he declined by stating “It’s not worth the gamble.”
The release of his 1981 Step by Step album continued Eddie’s crossover success. The title track became his third straight single to reach the top 5 on country, adult contemporary, and the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The album went gold, Eddie’s final album to do so. He teamed up with Crystal Gayle, to record “You and I”, included in his 1982 album Radio Romance. It’s always been one of my favorite love songs.
Eddie married Janine Girardi in 1976 and they had three children, Demelza, Timmy, and Tommy. Born in 1983, Timmy was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a condition that required a liver transplant. Timmy got the transplant in 1985 but that attempt failed and he died in 1985. Eddie put his career on hiatus during this time.
Eddie’s career never bounced back to its former heights. In 1997, he signed with Intersound Records but was soon after diagnosed with lung cancer. Following a round of chemotherapy, he released the album Beatin’ the Odds.
The next year, he released his final studio album, Songs from Rabbittland. He died on May 7, 1998 at the age of 56. I have no doubt that had he been blessed with a longer life, he would have produced many more hits.
Near the Rabbitt family plot is the monument for the Ray family. I later learned that one of the Rays was an NFL football star.
Born near Nashville in 1914, Buford “Baby” Ray played for Vanderbilt University from 1935 to 1937 as an offensive and defensive tackle. Standing at 6′ 6″ and weighing over 280 pounds, Ray was much larger than nearly all college football players of the day.
in 1938, Ray signed with Green Bay, playing all of his 11-year NFL career with the Packers. He appeared in the 1940 NFL All-Star Game and was named to the United Press International (UPI) All-Pro team four times. Ray was a member of the Packers’ 1939 and 1944 NFL championship teams.
After retiring from the NFL, Ray returned to Vanderbilt as an assistant coach under Bill Edwards and later became the university’s first full-time football recruiter. He rejoined the Packers organization as a scout in 1971.
Ray and his wife, Jane Burns Ray, had three children. He died on January 21, 1986 after a hunting trip at the age of 71. In the words of of retired sports editor Raymond Johnson, Ray was “one of Vanderbilt’s all-time great football players… a man of great integrity and dedication.”
Next time, I’ll share more stories from Calvary Catholic Cemetery.