Gary Lewis loves entertaining his audiences
Gary Lewis and the Playboys have entertained audiences for more than 52 years. Lewis has recorded albums, performed concerts in various venues around the world, been on TV and appeared on the big screen.
When he called The Park Record last week to talk about his upcoming three-night run at the Egyptian Theatre this weekend, he said the big reason why he continues to play music is his fans.
“I have been given this wonderful blessing to have this one job and bring people happiness,” Lewis said. “We’re playing to the same people we played to in the ’60s and they like coming back to relive that time. You know, people love the stuff they grew up with, you know?”
He especially loves it when he sees young fans in the audience.
“I recently got an email from a 7-year-old girl and she said that she had known about me for a long time because her grandmother sings my songs to her when she’s going to bed,” Lewis said. “Isn’t that cool?
“It is another blessing reaching cross generations,” he said. “The parents and grandparents know there isn’t a threat listening to my music, because no one is going to rob a store after listening to one of my songs. It has always been good music. There have never been any heavy messages and you could understand all the words.”
With a string of hits like “This Diamond Ring,” “Count Me In,” “Save Your Heart for Me,” “She’s Just My Style” and “Everybody Loves a Clown,” to name a few, Lewis and his band have solidified their place in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. And the bandleader doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.
“I know that the thing is for me is that I absolutely love what I’m doing,” he said. “I love to go on the road when it’s time and I love to come home when it’s over.”
The concerts at the Egyptian Theatre will feature the hits, but also some deep cuts as well.
“We also play songs by artists who inspired us,” said Lewis, who is the son of comedy icon Jerry Lewis. “We play a couple of Larry Williams tunes and some songs by the Clovers and Van Morrison.”
The concerts also will feature videos of his appearances in his father’s films.
“It just gives everything a nice rundown of the career,” Lewis said.
When people reflect on Lewis’ half-century of entertaining, they would be amazed to learn he had no clue what he wanted to do when he was in college.
“I was going to a theater-arts school in California, and I didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to do in my life,” Lewis said. “Then the Beatles came out and they made up my mind for me just like that.”
Lewis formed the original Playboys with his classmates.
“The bass player had a house we could rehearse in and that’s how we got going,” he said. “The Beatles were the main reason why I got into rock ‘n’ roll. I was constantly inspired by every single release they did. I love the Beatles as much today as much as I did when they first came out.”
In November 1964, Gary Lewis and the Playboys released their first single, “This Diamond Ring.” Six weeks later, the song was sitting pretty on the Billboard 100’s No. 1 spot.
“I’m proud of everything we’ve done, ” Lewis said. “Although, ‘This Diamond Ring’ is a favorite because it was our first attempt, and it went all the way to No. 1.”
Even he was surprised at the song’s success.
“The whole time we were recording it our producer Snuffy Garret said, ‘If I knew what it took to make a hit record, everyone I know would have a hit. You just can’t guarantee that. I just think it’s one of the best tunes you can record right now,’” Lewis said.
When the band learned it had a No. 1 single, they flipped out.
“We were so happy and then Snuffy said, ‘Calm down. Do you know how many one-hit wonders are out there? We need to concentrate on the next song and the next song,’” Lewis said with a laugh.
The follow up single, “Count Me In,” topped at No. 2, as did “Save Your Heart for Me.”
The band’s next No. 2 song was “She’s Just My Style.”
“That’s my favorite song musically,” Lewis said. “I wrote it with Leon Russell, who was a studio musician and arranger at that time. Leon said we should go for a little Beach Boys style and it worked.”
The songs opened doors to other opportunities — including six appearances on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” and other appearances on “Shindig,” “Hullabaloo,” “The Emmy Awards,” “Sally Jessy Raphael,” “The Tonight Show” and more.
“We also did those beach movies that had the current pop groups,” Lewis said. “The camera’s would swing around and there we’d be on a platform in the ocean.
“We didn’t even have a hit when we did the movie ‘Swinging Summer,’” Lewis remembered. “All the music was recorded by someone else and we were out there with no amplifiers and cords and had to lip sync. As a drummer, it was hard to sync the drums, especially when you have to act like you’re playing other people’s fills.”
Drums were always Lewis’ first instrument. Being a Beatles fan, Ringo Starr was a huge influence, but there was another even before him.
“When I was 5, we were living in Los Angeles, and this friend of my dad’s came over all the time,” Lewis said. “I didn’t know who he was, but he kept saying, ‘Hey kid, let’s go out to the drums and I’ll show you some stuff.’”
That went on for seven years.
“I was 12 when I found out my dad’s friend was Buddy Rich,” Lewis said with a laugh. “When I found that out, I just about had an attack.”
Even though he hobnobbed with music royalty and other show biz types throughout his career, Lewis didn’t realize just how lucky he was to be an entertainer until he was in his 50s.
“When I finally got right with God and stopped drinking and all of that, then the blessings just poured on,” he said. “Sure, I was still being blessed when I was a cocky kid, but it took me to be older and wiser to realize it.”
Gary Lewis and the Playboys will play the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main Street,Thursday thourhg Saturday, Oct. 20 to 22. All performances will start at 8 p.m. Thursday tickets range from $29 to $45, and tickets for Friday and Saturday are $35 to $55. Tickets can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.
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