In 1966 musician Gary Lewis was awarded Cash Box Magazine’s Male Vocalist of the Year award. The other nominees were entertainment legends Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Today it seems like Lewis’ win may have been a fluke. However, considering that Gary Lewis and The Playboy’s first seven singles rose to the top of the Billboard charts between 1965 and 1966, the win was completely justified. In a time when American bands were fighting to stay relevant during the onslaught of the British Invasion, Gary Lewis and the Playboys were one of the most popular pop groups in the world. Songs like “This Diamond Ring“, “Count Me In“, “Everybody Loves a Clown“, “She’s Just My Style“, “Save Your Heart for Me”, and “Sure Gonna Miss Her” were among the biggest hits during the middle of the 1960s. These songs captured the final breath of the innocence of the 1960s before the psychedelic wave took over.
Growing up in Los Angeles Gary Lewis was a bona fide Hollywood kid. Son of comedian, Jerry Lewis, Gary formed the Playboys at age eighteen while attending a theatre school once he realized that he was more interested in music than acting. With his mother bankrolling The Playboys and keeping the band a secret from his Dad, Gary decided that he would try to separate himself from his father’s fame in an attempt at making it on his own. Getting a summer gig playing at Disneyland, Gary Lewis and the Playboys started to attract attention, including that of record producer, Snuff Garrett, who made a deal to cut the group’s first single, “This Diamond Ring“, a bitter sweet pop tune about a broken engagement. The song soared to the top of the Billboard charts and peaked at number one in February 1965 where it stayed for two weeks. For the next two years everything Gary Lewis and the Playboys touched turned to gold. From a Kellogg’s promo single called “Do the Flake“ to appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig!, American Bandstand, and Hullaballoo to a stint in the role of Conrad Birdie in the stage musical Bye, Bye, Birdie, Gary Lewis was one of the most famous pop stars in the world.
However, in 1967 Gary Lewis became one of only a very small handful of the era’s pop stars to enlist in the army and go to Vietnam. Despite being sent off with much fanfare via Ed Sullivan, when Gary returned he discovered the music scene had rapidly changed in only one year. Realizing his pop star days were over, Gary opened a music store which he operated throughout the 1970s. However, his days out of the spotlight would only be temporary. When the music of the 1960s resurfaced in the 1980s Gary Lewis and the Playboys hit the road harder than ever. Over four decades later Gary Lewis and the Playboys are still creating good music for good people.
This summer Gary Lewis will be joining the popular The Happy Together Tour. They will cross North America bringing the hits of the 1960s to the people who grew up with the greatest music in history and welcoming new fans that wish they had been there. This will be his first year on the resurrected tour which is now celebrating its fifth year. Gary will be sharing the stage with The Turtles, Mark Lindsay, Gary Puckett, and Chuck Negron. But it is not only about the old hits with Gary. Gary has also released a new single, “You Can’t Go Back“, which is available via Amazon and iTunes. I am covering The Happy Together Tour again this year and I was thrilled to get a chance to talk to Gary about his career in music just as he was about to head out on the road.