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Gary Lewis & The Playboys

It would be difficult to find a rock & roll star -- and that was what he was for two years in the mid-'60s -- less likely than Gary Lewis, or a less probable chart-topping act than Gary Lewis & the Playboys. Lewis himself was possessed of a limited singing range and didn't have what could be considered good looks, yet with a lot of help he managed to make some exceptionally good (and good-selling) records out of Los Angeles, in the midst of the British Invasion, and teenagers loved him. He was the son of actor/comedian/director/producer Jerry Lewis, who was then one of the most popular entertainers in the country. Gary Lewis was born in 1946, before his father's ascent to the top of the entertainment world, but by the time he reached his teens -- and had begun playing drums and leading a combo of his own, which included Dave Walker on rhythm guitar and Dave Costell on lead, Al Ramsey on bass, and John West on the cordovox (a kind of electric accordion) -- Jerry Lewis was a major star and one of the hottest box office and television attractions in the world. He could get a television series on the air, and networks and sponsors opening their checkbooks to back it, just by indicating he wanted to do one, and get a movie made by writing -- or just okaying -- a script. If he had any peer in the business in those days, it was Frank Sinatra.

The younger Lewis and his band got a gig during the summer of 1964 playing at Disneyland, and that engagement, coupled with some urging by the elder Lewis, helped get the band a hearing from Snuff Garrett, a top producer based at Liberty Records. Garrett saw some possibilities for the group and encouraged them to work in the studio at developing a sound. Gary Lewis even got some pointers in his approach to his instrument by no less a figure than Buddy Rich. It finally happened for them late in 1964 with a song called "This Diamond Ring," co-authored (with the Drifters in mind) by a young Al Kooper. The resulting record, on which Lewis sang (with lots of doubling of his voice) and he and the Playboys played on some of the basic tracks, but which mostly featured Hal Blaine on timpani and arranger Leon Russell dubbing much of what was left, was a career-making smash.

That song hit number one on the charts in early 1965, right in the middle of the British invasion, and introduced Lewis to the public. It also gave him a singing persona that was especially appealing to preteens and younger teenagers, as a kind of likable nerd, a sort of '60s pop culture Ur-nebbish, not too far from the pose adopted by Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits on songs like "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter." Every boy under age 16 whose voice ever tightened up or even squeaked slightly while pondering asking out a girl they liked -- or who simply feared being unlucky in love -- could identify with the persona that Lewis presented, while girls adored him as someone "safe." In a sense, Lewis was a successor to such teen pop idols as Fabian and Frankie Avalon, with a touch of Beaver Cleaver-ish or Wally Cleaver-ish nerdiness that fit the early to mid-'60s. It was all a long way from what the Rolling Stones or even the Beatles (apart from Ringo) were doing at the time, but it found an audience that also included parents and other post-teen listeners, who appreciated the smoothness and attractiveness of Garrett and Russell's work as producer and arranger, respectively. Some of the music was a little sappy -- "Save Your Heart for Me" wasn't even soft rock, but what one might call "wimp rock" -- but a lot of it was beautiful AM pop.

The original Playboys, later augmented by Jim Keltner on drums, held together for the first seven singles, and Lewis' career remained on track throughout 1966 with an enviable string of hits, including the beautiful "She's Just My Style," which was sort of his graduation from the nerd persona, as well as the point when he gave up playing drums to front the group as a full-time singer. Garrett and Russell kept the records coming and the airplay coming back, and the group even wangled a movie appearance in A Swingin' Summer, a teen comedy notable for a pre-nose job Raquel Welch in a key role. Lewis might have sustained his career well into the decade, had not the draft intervened. Called into the armed forces in December of 1966, he was forced to record when on leave, and an attempt at extending his career with recordings completed before going overseas failed.

His efforts at updating his sound with the album I'm on the Right Road Now, following his discharge late in 1968, were similarly ignored. In the two years he'd been away, a more formulaic bubblegum pop/rock had emerged from outfits such as the Ohio Express, which more than filled the needs of a new wave of preteens and young teen listeners, and no one wanted to hear Lewis do anything else. Rather ironically, Russell would emerge from the background during this same period to achieve star status doing a very different brand of rock & roll music, as would several of the musicians who played on Lewis' sessions (for years it's been assumed with some justification that Carl Radle, later of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and Derek and the Dominos, who worked with Russell, played bass on any number of Playboys sessions, and Jim Keltner did become a star session player in the 1970s). Indeed, it was always funny watching Leon Russell's early-'70s younger fans, in their teens and trying to look and act cool, squirm uncomfortably when reminded, over the air or in print or elsewhere, of his previous professional life in the service of someone as a seemingly uncool as Gary Lewis. In the meantime, Lewis became a beloved denizen of the oldies circuit, fronting different groups called the Playboys. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

44basia
Saw Gary lewis last year and this year on the Happy Together Tour. Although this year he apologized for feeling ill,(you could tell), it was still good to hear those songs live. Last year he sounded just like in 64-66. I hope he keeps on touring. One doesn't realize how many hits Gary Lewis and the Playboys had until those songs are done one after the other.
I love this song
I really like Gary Lewis, but his voice was a little weak for this song. The original by Del Shannon was much better.
'She's just my style' is a really good song ♪♪♪♪♪
I love Gary Lewis
Add ABBA to list
Audry
I love Gary Lewis and the playboys and always have. My favorite is Green Grass. Thank you Gary for ALL the great memories-and your service in the Viet Nam war. I missed you.
gs4570
He was funny in Cinderfella!
Love their originals. Too many remakes on here
Love Gary Lewis and the Playboys...I still have have a couple of albums (on vinyl!)
I love this song and Just my Style. That said, this certainly is not the original version. Is it one of those updated versions we sometimes find on oldies collections because they're cheaper? Sad, because the original is much better.
backstage81
Awesome Talent! I have seen them live at least 10 times…from the mid ‘60s doing the State Fair tours to the present doing the” Happy Together “shows. Thank you Gary Lewis for continuing to play!
simply i love these guys
My first Rock & Roll album was Gary Lewis and the Playboys . . what great memories. Fun music to listen to, and sing along with . . especially when you are a young teen
GL & The Playboys...l o v e their music style
AS A KID GROWING UP IN THE 60'S I THOUGHT GARY WAS A BAD A**. NOW THAT I'M IN MY 50'S I KNOW, HE WAS A BAD A**, DONT CARE WHAT ANYONE SAYS ABOUT HIS MUSIC, IT HIT THE SOUL AND THATS WHAT COUNTS.
4 out of 5 dentists surveyed recommended GL & the playboys for patients who listened to rock n roll. "It's the only music my mom let's me listen to!" My folks thought the Beatles and the Stones were a commie plot to take over the world. It was taboo to have those records in the house, while it perfectly fine to have GL records. Thank you Monkees!
I thought Larry Shannon was the original artist for this song.
I love Every one loves a clown Cause "it fits my life to a tea.....
I'm 37 and My children say that's old Mom...LOL:) I guess I'm getting old.
I like GL and the Playboys because they play real good music just like Beatles, Zombies and other eglish musician.
joekeating
I like Gary Lewis. He did it on his own, despite his father's fame and great "pull". He honored his country, and sang some great songs. I see nothing wrong about any of his excellent efforts. God Bless him. There should be more people like him, in this great country, in my estimation. Unfortunatel y , all we have are those who "compare". His was a unique journey in the American Dream.
kenwdick
WHY is it not mentioned about his being wounded in Vietnam and his subsequent abuse of moriphine. I think his life is a hell of a story if told in completion.
I think he's popular with the French....
ol Gary did okay for himself. True, it didnt hurt to have Daddys help, but he pretty much did it himself.
The lyrics are quite well crafted monuments to teen angst. Unfortunatel y , so many other bands did this well, too. Gary Lewis did a good vocal for a whiny teen male, but when you really listen, one wonders how one could be a lead vocalist and not be able to sing. Bless 'em.
this guy was genius -- did a lot with what he has, which seriously wasn't much but a gift for capturing teen angst. it's not great stuff, but it does have a niche, as "That Guy" mentioned below.
sounds ok to me
dmlp1960
Such great stuff.
EVERYBODY LOVES A CLOWN. BAD A$$ SONG. ANTHEM FOR NERD-GEEK GUYS EVERYWHERE WHO WANTED A CHICK BUT SHE ONLY SAW HIM AS A "FRIEND". CLASSIC.
107565037
They sound great, really catchy.
thomasbgraha m
Keith Emerson does'nt have anything over this distorted ripping organ donor ;)
one of the earliest cases of Big Daddy's lifts. I didn't know that could happen to such an extent in the 60s.
love them
sucks
t_heath
DOES THIS SUCK , OR WHAT!!!!!!!! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
Oh boy, more One Hit Wonder crooning...m y Daddy's famous and I'm a singer, NOT!
I have heard this song many times and this version was not the one by Gary Lewis. I don't know who this artist was but it was not Gary Lewis.
This group really left their mark in the mid sixties. It was very rare when they did not have a hit playing on the radio in those days. "This Diamond Ring" was their signature song. "Save Your Heart for Me" was my personal favorite.
grnager
good but I like Rick Nelson's version better
resedajohn
and the kinks too??hmm
I love Gary Lewis & the Playboys and have always listened to them!!!
resedajohn
Gary Lewis did the Yardbirds??? ? L O L
sassyjan
one of my raves" This Diamond Ring"

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