By Susan M. Bourret
A Performer, a Talented Artists and the Man who beat out Elvis Presley
and Frank Sinatra for
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR:
Say Hello to the Ever Popular .... Gary Lewis
For many of us music plays such a major part of our lives. Whether we just enjoy listening, dancing or singing along or we use music as an everyday source of therapy, music serves to present us all with hours of relaxation and pleasure. With the genres of music so vast nowadays, we baby boomers can’t help but find ourselves lost in the sounds and music of the 60’s and 70’s with an array of artists that brought us endless hours of entertainment and yes, even relaxation. Though style, lyrics and melodies are abundant today, there is just something so magical about the music and artists of the 60’s and 70’s.
Gary Lewis & the Playboys was indeed one of the many bands that charmed their way into the hearts of their audiences and fans and still have a presence in the music industry today. The group’s name came into being when Gary Lewis, group leader and son of celebrity dad, Jerry Lewis, recognizing the late hours that his band members needed in order to practice, jokingly referred to the band members as “playboys” and accordingly chose the name “Gary and the Playboys” when they first began performing.
They introduced themselves to the world when the newly formed band auditioned and landed a spot in Disneyland. The enthusiasm and excitement the band created for its audiences found them playing night after night for their sold out audiences. Together they wooed the hearts and souls of their Disney fans with their pop rock sound and style. With a voice as heartwarming and smooth as a summer’s eve, Gary was able to capture his audiences in a way that surpassed so many other artists at that time.
While performing at Disneyland, Les Brown, a dear and close friend of Gary’s dad, Jerry, reached out to his producer friend, Snuff Garrett, and introduced Garrett to the “playful” Playboys. Garrett decided to attend an evening performance and truthfully found himself intrigued and fascinated by the band’s style, sound and overall presentation. He talked with band leader Gary and suggested, since his father was so well known and liked by audiences everywhere, that he add the “Lewis” name to the band’s identity and thus the name “Gary Lewis and the Playboys” evolved. Certainly Garrett knew what he was talking about with his marketing strategy of using the family name to make the band’s presence known in the music industry, since the Playboys’ popularity consistently grew thereafter. With a name change in place, Garrett took the group into the recording studio. Recording a soon to be smash hit “This Diamond Ring” confirmed what Garrett had seen in the group and was the first of many exciting and successful adventures that lie in wait for the group. Once they had perfected the song, Garrett marketed the song to the NYC radio stations and, with all the hours of radio time the song was given, the Playboys, a truly overnight success story, built a radio audience and a name that would be recognized in the music industry for always.
Shortly after their amazing debut into the national music industry, Jerry Lewis introduced his rising star son to Ed Sullivan who happily agreed to have the band perform live on his show in January of 1965 followed by appearances on an array of other shows including American Bandstand, Shindig, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, the Michael Douglas Show, Hullabaloo, The Wolfman Jack Show and even Nashville Now. By April of 1965 their smash hit “This Diamond Ring” had sold over a million copies and from there the rest is history. The band had six other top 10 releases on the Hot 100 Chart including such foot stomping, heart throbbing songs as “Count Me In”, “Save Your Heart For Me”, “Everybody Loves a Clown”, “Sure Gonna Miss Her”, “Green Grass”, and “She’s Just My Style”.
Considered both a pop and rock group, the Playboys’ music hit the charts over and over again and their fan base grew year after year. With their numerous successful hits and donning a very playful “Boys to Men” image of the 60’s, the group performed with not only incredible poise but a sexy playfulness that melted the hearts of their female audiences. No matter where they appeared or what they sang, Gary Lewis and the Playboys kept their audiences happy and satisfied and their sales of hit singles consistent. And to think, they managed to do all this and be an overnight success in the presence of a variety of multiple headlining groups, like Herman’s Hermits, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, The Turtles and many others that were sharing the charts with them at the time. The Playboys built a style all their own and maintained a presence as their music and their performances were shared on television and radio throughout the world.
As if all the successful hits of the 60’s was not enough for Gary Lewis, the vibrant ever pleasant gentleman with the near to crooning voice was also named “Male Vocalist of the Year” by Cash Box Magazine and to think, he won that nomination over co-nominees Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. This baby boomer, for one, finds that to be a remarkable and overwhelming accomplishment to “brag” about and be proud of since this writer personally places Elvis as number one in my male vocal book and Frank Sinatra a wandering second. Quite an accomplishment indeed and a recognition that, I believe, no one else has ever been awarded to this day.
The band was hit with a massive blow and their momentum halted when Gary was drafted into the Army in January of 1967. When discharged in 1968 Gary immediately returned to making music and recordings but sadly the group never regained their prior momentum or formula for success and so Gary, wanting to continue making music, decided to start marketing his band as a nostalgic 60’s band; a band that continues to tour today and find themselves playing more often than not for the benefit of our veterans and for many charitable organizations.
It was with pure delight that this writer was able to talk to and interview Gary and ask him to please answer only one awe inspiring interview question:
Susan: Tell us all Gary, what did it feel like then, and indeed how does it touch your heart today, to have won the nomination in 1965 for Male Vocalist of the Year over not only Mr. Crooner himself, Frank Sinatra, but the “King of Rock and Roll” himself, Elvis Presley. Please take a moment and share your feelings about that monumental “win”.
Gary: Back in 1965 I was quite a cocky kid, so when I won Best Male singer that year, I thought, I really deserve this. I had 4 top 10’s at the time, and I was on a great high from that. As time went on, I never thought I was a better singer than Frank or Elvis, but I still won! “
Susan: And there you have, in his own words, exactly what it felt like to be voted in as the Male Vocalist of the Year over not only Frank Sinatra but the King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Presley. You are gifted my friend, and ever so blessed with that amazingly magnetic voice of yours Gary, and we will all look forward to enjoying that voice as you continue to tour and entertain your audiences still today; decades after your very well deserved overnight success.