By ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
Remembered for their number one hit “This Diamond Ring,” Gary Lewis and the Playboys were one of the 60s most successful pop bands.
Between 1965 and 1968, the Playboys released 17 Top 100 singles (7 reaching the Top 10), a list including “Count Me In,” “Save Your Heart For Me,” Everybody Loves A Clown,” “She’s Just My Style,” “Sure Gonna Miss Her” and “Green Grass.” In all, the group earned 8 Gold singles.
Appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, The Tonight Show and the Mike Douglas Show solidified Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ commercial appeal and led to a successful run that most bands could only dream of having.
From the beginning, Lewis downplayed the fact that he was the son of legendary actor/comedian Jerry Lewis. Gary Lewis recalls the secrecy that was initiated by his mother, his biggest fan and financial supporter, during the formative years of his career.
“I wanted to do it for myself, to know that I could do it without his influence, and I did,” recalls Lewis. “My dad didn’t even know I had a band until “This Diamond Ring” was climbing the charts,” said Lewis. “My mom bought us all the equipment and got us the rehearsal hall. Whatever was involved in getting a band going, she did that for us. She said, ‘don’t tell your Papa, because if this whole project fails, I gotta come up with an excuse about where this money went. Keep everything hush-hush.’ Then ‘This Diamond Ring’ started climbing the charts, and there was this big buzz. She said, ‘Now you can tell your dad.’”
“When ‘This Diamond Ring’ went gold, I went down to Paramount Pictures where he was shooting a film, and I brought him the first copy of the Gold record,” added Lewis. “He was thrilled to death, and he said, ‘You know, this is absolutely wonderful, but don’t ever grow your hair like those damn Beatles.’ (laughs)”
Formed in 1965, Gary Lewis and the Playboys featured a line-up that included Gary Lewis (drums and vocals), David Walker (guitar), Allan Ramsay (bass), David Costell (Guitar) and John West “Cordovox” (electronic accordion).
Under the command of record producer Snuff Garrett, Lewis and his Playboys entered the recording studio, releasing their Liberty Records 1965 debut album “This Diamond Ring.” The title track went to number one and overnight the band attained super star status. This same year Gary Lewis surpassed legends Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley by earning honors as Cash Box Magazine’s 1965 “Vocalist of the Year.”
With his career in overdrive and popularity showing no signs of slowing, Lewis was drafted in the army. In 1967 and 1968, he served in both Vietnam and Korea. Upon his release from military duty, Lewis returned to the concert stage and the recording studio only to find that he was unable to recapture his earlier success.
By 1970 the band broke up, and Lewis soon found himself operating a music store in California’s San Fernando Valley where he could be found giving drum lessons.
Lewis made an unsuccessful attempt at a comeback in the mid 70s, forming the band “Medicine” with Billy Cowsill of “The Cowsills.”
In the ensuing decades, Lewis returned to concert touring, fronting varied incarnations of Gary Lewis and the Playboys, none of which included any other original members.
Last year, he was enlisted to join an all-star line-up of artists for the “Happy Together” concert tour, which also included Gary Puckett (Gary Puckett and the Union Gap), Chuck Negron (Three Dog Night), Mark Lindsay (Paul Revere and the Raiders) and The Turtles (featuring Flo & Eddie).
“I told the band before we started last year that I wanted all the songs to sound exactly as the record was,” says Lewis. “Don’t add anything. Don’t leave anything out. Just do what the record did.”
“We are actually playing to the same people we played to in the 60s, but the very cool thing is they bring their 40 year old kids, and they bring their kids,” added Lewis. “Our music has covered three generations. This to me is such a blessing. I can’t believe it.”
Humbled by the success that has made it possible for him to enjoy a nearly 50-year career, Lewis exemplifies gratitude.
“I’ve been given the gift of a tremendous career with a lot of hit records,” reflects Lewis. “I treat it like it’s a blessing to me, so no matter where I go, no matter what the situation is, I always have fun and enjoy what I’m doing. If you feel that way about things, what you do is not work. I love every aspect of it even the hard times. That’s just the overall part of the great career that I’m having. If you look at your life as a gift, how can you look at it any other way? My place is where I am right now.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Gary Lewis and the Playboys and the “Happy Together” concert tour
WHERE: Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside and
at the American Music Theatre, 2425 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster.
WHEN: Performances are as follows at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday June 24 at the Keswick; and Sunday, June 29 at the American Music Theatre.
TICKETS: Tickets can be purchased by calling (215) 572-7650 for the Keswick Theatre performance; or www.amtshows.com or (800) 648-4102 and (717) 397-7700 for the AMT performance.
To stay up to date with Gary Lewis visit www.garylewisandtheplayboys.com