Sunday, May 26, 2013

Gary Lewis of the Playboys Interview: Happy Together Tour 2013


By Ray Shasho


The annual Happy Together tour kicks off on June 8th in Biloxi, Mississippi and arrives at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Friday June 14th. This year’s incredible lineup of legendary 60’s and 70’s Hit Makers are headlined and hosted by The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie, Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night, Gary Puckett the lead singer from the Union Gap, Mark Lindsay the voice of Paul Revere & the Raiders and Gary Lewis of The Playboys.

These Five legendary music artists have generated over (60) Top 40 hits (half in the Top10) including (6) number one hits. The tour will span 54 cities in the U.S. and Canada.
Tickets for the Ruth Eckerd Hall show are available at www.rutheckerdhall.com or by calling 727-791-7400.

GARY LEWIS and The Playboys became instant sensations after their first music gig in Disneyland and eventually performed to packed houses nightly. Gary Lewis was the lead singer and drummer, David Costell on lead guitars, Al Ramsay on bass guitar, David Walker on guitar and John West on Cordovox (electronic accordion).
Gary Lewis is the son of legendary comedienne and actor Jerry Lewis and Patti Palmer Lewis (née Esther Calonico) a former singer with the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra. Now it was Gary’s turn to begin an illustrious entertainment career in rock and roll.

In the summer of 1964, by suggestion of band leader Les Brown (His Band of Renown), Gary Lewis & The Playboys were invited into the recording studio by producer/arranger Snuff Garrett. Garrett’s musical partner was Leon Russell. The band immediately scored commercially with an Al Kooper/Bob Brass/Irwin Levine penned composition entitled “This Diamond Ring.” The song reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. With a little help from his famous dad, the group was asked to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. After their appearance, Gary Lewis & The Playboys became household names.

1965 became a momentous year for Gary Lewis & The Playboys. “This Diamond Ring” sold over one million copies and became a gold disc. Cashbox Magazine named Gary Lewis “Male Vocalist of the Year,” and a string of hits just kept on coming.  The Playboy’s second hit single “Count Me In” reached #2 on the charts. The band continued to churn out the hits with “Save Your Heart for Me” (#2 Billboard Hot 100 Hit), “Everybody Loves a Clown” (#4 Billboard Hot 100 Hit) and “She’s Just My Style” (#3 Billboard Hot 100 Hit).

Lineup changes during this period included adding … Tom Tripplehorn, Carl Radle  and Jimmy Karstein.

In 1966, Lewis came out from behind his drum kit to exclusively perform his singing duties. During that year … Gary Lewis & The Playboys spawned the hits, “Sure Gonna Miss Her” (#9 Billboard Hot 100 Hit), “Green Grass” (#8 Billboard Hot 100 Hit), “My Heart’s Symphony” (#13 Billboard Hot 100 Hit), “(You Don’t Have To) Paint Me a Picture”(#15 Billboard Hot 100 Hit) and  “Where Will The Words Come From” (#21 Billboard Hot 100 Hit).

Gary Lewis was drafted into the U.S. Army on January of 1967 and later served in the Viet Nam War. Lewis returned to music after his discharge from the Army but could not recapture the amazing success generated before he was drafted. The music culture had also changed with the emergence of hard rock and psychedelic.

Subsequent charting singles … “The Loser (with a Broken Heart)” (1967 #43 Hit), “Girls in Love” (1967 #39 Hit), “Jill” (1967 #52 Hit), “Sealed with a Kiss” (1968 #19 Hit) and “Rhythm of the Rain” (1969 #63 Hit).

Gary Lewis &The Playboys generated (17) Top 40 hits, (8) gold singles and (4) gold albums in a period when the Brits were dominating the American airwaves. The group sold (45) million records worldwide.

The band appeared on American Bandstand, Hullaballoo, Shindig!, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, The Mike Douglas Show and The Ed Sullivan Show (6) times … to name just a few of their Television appearances.

Lewis also performed on his Dad’s ‘Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.’

He was also featured in several movies including …Way… Way Out, A Swingin’ Summer, The Family Jewels, Out of Sight and My Boyfriends Back.

Lewis resurfaced with a new band as a nostalgia act to great success.

TODAY Gary Lewis is 66 years of age and lives in Rochester, New York. He will be rejoining the Happy Together tour since sharing the stage in 1985 with The Turtles (featuring Flo & Eddie), The Mamas & the Papas, The Grassroots and The Buckinghams.

In 2012,  Gary Lewis & The Playboys released a brand new single entitled “You Can’t Go Back.” The song was written by Lewis and Nick Rather.

I had the great privilege of chatting with Gary Lewis recently about Happy Together 2013, his incredible journey with Gary Lewis & The Playboys, getting drafted, a famous dad …and much-much more!

Here’s my interview with singer/ songwriter/ musician/ actor/ Viet Nam veteran/ frontman for the legendary Playboys …GARY LEWIS.
Ray Shasho: Hello Gary! Are you living in New York?
Gary Lewis: “I live in Rochester, New York. I love it up here. We finally bought the house that I’ve always wanted after it finally came up for sale. It’s just beautiful … eleven acres, all kinds of fruit trees, grape vines and beautiful pine trees. I love this house.” 
Ray Shasho: Happy Together 2013 arrives at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Fl on June 14th.
Gary Lewis: “Yes, June 14th, I never played there before. I love playing places that I’ve never played …looking forward to it.”
Ray Shasho: Not to mention the weather is gorgeous and you’re really close to the beach (laughing).
Gary Lewis: “We used to have a house on Anna Maria Island where we’d go to every winter, so we’re very familiar how nice it is.”
Ray Shasho: Gary, have you performed on the Happy Together Tour before?
Gary Lewis: “Yes, I did it in 1985. That was the second year that it was out. Not only was it tremendously fun being with the guys that I’ve known for years and years, but this time, I’ll be on the road with guys that I’ve been hanging out and played with for even more years now. It’s just going to be great. I love Flo & Eddie …their terrific. I’ve played with Gary Puckett tons of times, Mark Lindsay tons of times, Chuck Negron a few times, so it’s really going to be good.”
Ray Shasho: “This Diamond Ring” was definitely one of the most remembered hits of the 60’s.
Gary Lewis: “Not only was it our first record but it was the only one that went to number one for us and sold the most. I’ve got seven gold records for “This Diamond Ring” already … I mean it just keeps going.”
Ray Shasho: When you originally recorded the song in the studio, was it members of The  Wrecking Crew that actually provided the music?
Gary Lewis:  “No, myself and The Playboys did all of the tracks. We played on the original recording. We used The Wrecking Crew when we needed overdubs or solos. So many people have written all over the country for so long that The Playboys didn’t have anything to do with the recording. Some people say I didn’t even sing the song, and man, that really annoys me.”
Ray Shasho:  Leon Russell was extremely important to the band?
Gary Lewis: “Leon was like a co-producer and arranged everything.  He played something on everything … keyboards mainly but he played guitar solos, he played a bass trumpet on “Everybody Loves a Clown”  …I mean and all kinds of stuff, he was brilliant!”
Ray Shasho:  Gary, do you have any good Playboys stories from back in their heyday? 
Gary Lewis: “Yea, I’ve got a good one for you … We were doing a county fair in Florida and this young twenty year old girl who was just getting into the radio business and her station assigned her to come down to our gig and interview me. So we’re talking and she says, Gary I just love all your songs. I said well thank you so much. She said and I really love your dad too. I said thank you! She says yea, especially that tune “Great Balls of Fire” (All Laughing). Can you believe it …my entire career is full of things like that.”
“In the 60’s it was so much fun because Beatlemania was there and people just wanted to grab you and touch you and the screaming and all that …and that got old real fast.”
Ray Shasho: Your mom managed the band for awhile didn’t she?
Gary Lewis: “Yes she did, when I had “This Diamond Ring” come out I was still a minor, so she had to sign all the contracts and do all the business, so she actually acted as the manager and she never took ten percent. I said mom you’re entitled to take the percentage, she said, I don’t need it. With my mom as manager I felt really safe and confident. So that was cool.”
Ray Shasho: Gary we both have Jewish dads and Catholic moms.
Gary Lewis: “A Catholic and a Jew getting married …boy you should’ve seen all the stress going on there with all the Jewish relatives.  But my mom was pretty tough … she’s great! I’m going to see her tomorrow. She’s 91 living at an assistant living and we’re leaving New York tomorrow to go to LA to see her.”
Ray Shasho: My favorite Playboys tune has always been “She’s Just My Style” and it seems like that song gets more airplay than any of the other hits.
Gary Lewis: “It does. You know what’s funny though, the largest selling internet tune of mine is   “Sure Gonna Miss Her.”  Even above “This Diamond Ring” and “She’s Just My Style.” It’s the biggest selling record of mine on the internet. It’s a great song but I would have never figured that one above the others.”
Ray Shasho: You co-wrote “She’s Just My Style”?
Gary Lewis: “Yes I did.”
Ray Shasho: The song had kind of a Beach Boys flavor to it.
Gary Lewis: “That’s exactly what we were going for too. Even before we started writing it we said lets go for The Beach Boys thing, a little rock and roll with a lot of harmony and I was really happy the way we pulled it off.”
Ray Shasho: What was your perception of playing The Ed Sullivan show?
Gary Lewis: “One time we were doing his show and did the dress rehearsal with a live audience. And as Ed is introducing me he says, “Ladies and gentleman let’s have a nice hand for Jerry Lewis’ son’s combo (All Laughing). So after the show I did tell him … Gary Lewis & The Playboys …please Ed. He got it right when it was on the air. He was so funny; I wonder if he ever did any kind of research on who he was having on the show ... I don’t think he did.”
Ray Shasho: Yea, poor Ed was the butt of a lot of jokes.
Gary Lewis: “Every time my dad would be on his show, I mean my dad would tackle and wrestle him to the floor, bite his head, just all kinds of stuff, and Ed would just get up as if nothing happened. He was cool, I did like him though. We ended up doing the show six times.”
Ray Shasho: Gary, what was it like to be at the height of your career and then receiving your draft notice?
Gary Lewis:  “We were coming off seven top ten’s in a row and then I got the draft notice. The only way I could describe that is like hitting a brick wall in your car going one hundred miles an hour. That’s actually what it felt like. But then I thought to myself, well, I’ll just do what I have to do and when I come back I’ll just pick it up. But when I was in the service the music changed radically and it happened so fast. All of a sudden it was Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and that kind of music was in … and I didn’t know what I was going to do when I got out.”
“When I did get out my producer Snuff Garrett told me, “You know there’s really no more market for your kind of music. You know …thanks bye! Instead of saying, well, maybe we can try this or try that… they just said okay thanks, see you!  And it was very hard to take. So what I had to do, in order to stay in the business, I kept working all the time but had to play smaller venues, clubs, and do four sets a night. If we wanted to keep working that’s what we had to do. So I did it all the way until 1984 when the 60’s started coming back slowly. The promoters and the bookers were starting to book the 60’s acts again. So from 1984 until now I’ve been doing 60 to 100 dates a year and it’s wonderful.”
Ray Shasho: You were sent to Viet Nam?
Gary Lewis: “Yea, I went to Viet Nam and spent three months there. But the North Koreans took one of our ships called the Pueblo in 1968 and it was a gigantic military buildup in South Korea because they expected something bad to happen and I was one of those who went up to South Korea. So I spent nine months up there and spent three months in Viet Nam. Boy it was a scary thing landing in Viet Nam. One of my big things now is being an advocate for the vets. I do free shows for the veterans and their families and I play in golf tournaments to raise money and awareness for disabled vets. I went to California last December to do a show for the brain injured vets. I take tours of the hospitals and stop into the rooms and shake hands and say hi to them and thank them for their service too.”
Ray Shasho: How’s your dad doing?
Gary Lewis: “He’s doing pretty good. He’s always got his hands into something. He’s just going on the road and doing shows now. He’s 87. His shows mainly consist of … he sits down now, he tells stories, jokes, shows videos and people ask questions …it’s that kind of thing. So he’s doing alright.”
Ray Shasho: Gary, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview, If you had a “Field of Dreams” wish, like the movie, to play or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Gary Lewis: “John Lennon. I always thought he was the most brilliant Beatle .And I loved the way he lived his life. You need people with the love and peace thing. He really believed it and got a lot of people going on that too. And that was great.”
Ray Shasho: Did you get the chance to meet John Lennon?
Gary Lewis: “Yea, I met him a couple of times. I met him at a party in Bel Air, California and one time backstage at the Hollywood Bowl when they played there. I had a couple hits … “This Diamond Ring” and “Count Me In” so they sent one of their guys out to come get me and bring me back. So I met them all. When I walked in John Lennon looks at me and says, “Nice suit mate …cool!” Of course I had my Beatles suit on with the black velvet collar and cuffs.”
Ray Shasho: Did you meet Elvis too?
Gary Lewis: “Yea, I met Elvis and he was darn nice too, in 1971 when he was playing the Las Vegas Hilton. He asked me backstage and he was walking around pouring champagne for everybody and giving out scarves. When he would talk to you it sounded sincere, very nice guy …I liked Elvis.”
Ray Shasho: Gary, thank you so much for being on the call today and more importantly for all the incredible Playboys music you’ve given to all of us. We’ll see you at Happy Together 2013 in Clearwater!
Gary Lewis: “It’s been my pleasure Ray, see you in Clearwater.”

Coming up next an interview with Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night and the Happy Together Tour 2013.
Check out Happy Together 2013 show dates at www.pollstar.com
Tickets for Happy Together 2013 at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Fl are available at www.rutheckerdhall.com or by calling 727-791-7400.
Gary Lewis & The Playboys official website www.garylewisandtheplayboys.com
Download Gary Lewis & The Playboys latest single “You Can’t Go Back” at itunes.
Very special thanks to Jeff Albright of The Albright Entertainment Group.

Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at rockraymond.shasho@gmail.com

Purchase Ray’s very special memoir called ‘Check the Gs’ -The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business … You’ll LIVE IT! Also available for download on NOOK or KINDLE edition for JUST .99 CENTS at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com   - Please support Ray so he can continue to bring you quality classic rock music reporting. 
~~Pacific Book Review says Ray Shasho is a product of the second half of the 20th century, made in the USA from parts around the world, and within him is every trend in music, television, politics and culture contributing to his philosophical and comically analytical reflections collected in his fine book of memories. I found Check the Gs to be pure entertainment, fantastic fun and a catalyst to igniting so many memories of my own life, as I too am within a few years of Ray.  So to all, I say if you have a bit of grey hair (or no hair), buy this book!  It’s a great gift for your “over-the-hill” friends, or for their kids, if they are the history buffs of younger generations trying to figure out why we are the way we are.

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