As a producer, Pappalardi is perhaps best known for his work with British psychedelic blues-rock power trio Cream, beginning with their second album, Disraeli Gears. Pappalardi has been referred to in various interviews with the members of Cream as “the fourth member of the band” as he generally had a role in arranging their music. He also played a session role on the songs he helped them record. He also produced The Youngbloods‘ first album.
As a musician, Pappalardi is widely recognized as a bassist, vocalist, and founding member of the American hard rock band/ heavy metal forerunner Mountain, a band born out of his working with future bandmate Leslie West‘s soul-inspired rock and roll band The Vagrants, and producing West’s 1969 Mountain solo album. The band’s original incarnation actively recorded and toured between 1969 and 1971. Felix produced the band’s albums, and co-wrote, and arranged a number of the band’s songs with his wife Gail Collins and Leslie West.
Felix generally played Gibson basses live and on Mountain’s recordings. He is most often shown with an EB-1 but there are photographs of him playing an EB-0 live. He was known for playing a Gibson EB-1 violin bass through a set of Sunn amplifiers that, he claimed, once belonged to Jimi Hendrix.
In 1964 Pappalardi was a member of Max Morath‘s Original Rag Quartet (ORQ) in their premier engagement at New York‘s Village Vanguard with several other famous musicians. Along with Felix on guitarrón (Mexican acoustic bass) were pianist/singer Morath, the man who revived classic ragtime played in the Scott Joplin manner, Barry Kornfeld, a well-known NYC studio folk and jazz guitarist, and Jim Tyler, a famous Baroque and Renaissance lutenist playing four string banjo and mandolin. The ORQ then toured the college and concert circuit during the following year, and opened four engagements with the Dinah Shore show in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Pappalardi studied classical music at the University of Michigan. Upon completing his studies and returning to New York, he was unable to find work and so became part of the Greenwich Village folk-music scene where he made a name for himself as a skilled arranger; he also appeared on Tom Paxton as well as Vince Martin and Fred Neil albums for Elektra Records. From there he moved into record production, initially concentrating on folk and folk-rock acts for artists such as The Youngbloods and Joan Baez. However, it was Pappalardi’s late-1960s work with Cream that established his reputation. He contributed instrumentation for his imaginative studio arrangements and he and his wife, Gail, wrote the Cream hit “Strange Brew” with Eric Clapton.
Pappalardi was forced to partly retire because of partial deafness, ostensibly from his high-volume shows with Mountain. He continued producing throughout the 1970s and released a solo album and recorded with Japanese hard rock outfit Blues Creation. In May 1973, the British music magazine, NME, reported that Pappalardi was playing bass on, and producing former Stone the Crows singer, Maggie Bell‘s debut solo album, Queen of the Night. In reality he did neither, as the album was eventually produced by Jerry Wexler, and William Salter and Chuck Rainey played bass.
Pappalardi was shot and killed by his wife, Gail on April 17, 1983 in their East Side Manhattan apartment. Gail was subsequently charged with second-degree murder. She claimed it was an accident, was found guilty of the lesser criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to sixteen months to four years in prison and was released on parole in April 1985. Pappalardi is interred next to his mother at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York.