Gary Lewis

by Carl Wiser

Gary Lewis and the Playboys had seven Top 10 hits from 1965-1966, including their #1 debut single, "This Diamond Ring." How could this American act battle The Beatles at the peak of the British Invasion? Lots of talent. Their producer Snuff Garrett was brilliant when it came to picking songs and putting people in a position to succeed. Leon Russell, early in his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career, did the arrangements. The best musicians on the West Coast - the folks who played on all those Beach Boys and Monkees and Sonny & Cher albums - did the overdubs.

But the biggest piece of this puzzle was Gary Lewis. Musically inclined and relentlessly driven, he learned drumming from Buddy Rich, formed the band, and got a gig playing at Disneyland through an audition. Showmanship is in Gary's DNA: he's the son of Jerry Lewis, one of the biggest stars of the era. Gary, however, was determined to succeed on his own merits, and downplayed his famous father. On his hit records and TV appearances, he was never promoted as "son of Jerry Lewis" or given any special treatment, which could have come in handy when he got drafted.

Lewis entered the army at the pinnacle of his career. A few of of his songs charted while he was stationed in Korea and Saigon, but the musical landscape changed dramatically in 1967-1968, and his brand of pop was out of fashion when he returned. In the '70s, Gary opened a music store, then in the '80s he started performing again amid new demand for his early hits, and he's been playing ever since. Here, he explains how his songs were recorded, what it was like being the suddenly famous son of a famous father, and why he went to Vietnam.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): You just have a fascinating story. But one of the things I thought was interesting is that you were discovered performing at Disneyland, and these days if somebody is performing at Disneyland, they're not discovered by another record company. Disney has them. But apparently you were able to get poached by somebody else from the Disney property.

Gary Lewis: Right. Because Snuff Garrett was just a customer in the park. He paid to get in with his family and saw us play. Backstage afterwards he gave me his card and said, "I'd like to talk to you about doing some recording for my label, Liberty Records." And that's just how everybody envisions, they'd love that to happen to them. And that's exactly how it happened to us.

Songfacts: Your first single was "This Diamond Ring," and that was an incredibly huge hit. Can you tell me about the recording process for that song?

Lewis: We went in the studio, myself and the Playboys played on every single track we ever did. I mean, we were the track band. And so many people say Gary Lewis and the Playboys never played on anything. I've even read write-ups that said Gary Lewis didn't even sing on his records. All that is just such bull. The Playboys and I played on absolutely everything we ever did, album tunes, everything. And since we were so young and inexperienced, that's when the Wrecking Crew came in to do overdubs and solos. Now that's the absolute truth right there.

Songfacts: Tell me about the actual process of getting the song, hearing it, and recording it.

Lewis: Well, Snuffy Garrett called me into his office after we had signed, and he said, "We've got to be very careful now. We're going to pick your first song. We want it to be a big one." And he says, "I've got this song that I offered to Bobby Vee," because Snuff produced Bobby Vee before me. He said, "Bobby doesn't like it, he doesn’t want to do it." And so I listened to a demo of it and I said, "Well, yeah, I like the tune. Sure, let's do it." So we went into the studio, we cut the basic track. The only other person from the Wrecking Crew that we had in there while we were doing the basic track was Hal Blaine, and he played the Tympanis on "Diamond Ring." So the process was just starting with the basic track. Then we'd have to leave for about three hours while they combined all the tracks to open up vocal tracks, because we only had four tracks at the time.

So then we came in and sang and everything. And when everybody was happy with all that, that's when whoever they used would come in and put the solos and stuff on. Because my job was done, I left most of the time after I was all done, when the Wrecking Crew came in. Tommy Tedesco, great guitar player, he played solos on some things. Guy named Larry Knetchel played piano on some things. Leon Russell played piano solos, too. And Hal Blaine, of course. He would always play cowbell or tambourine or something at the same time I was putting the drums on. And that was the process right there.

Songfacts: Were you all recording together in the same room or would one person record their track and then another person record theirs?

Lewis: All four of us played - we were all in the same room. We all had to get it done as a group.

Songfacts: Were they known as "The Wrecking Crew" at the time?

Lewis: Oh, no. Just very good studio musicians.

Songfacts: Do you remember the first time you heard that term, Wrecking Crew?

Lewis: Yeah. It was when Denny Tedesco was interviewing me for his movie, The Wrecking Crew. That's the first time I ever heard of it. Which was about 10 years ago.

Songfacts: "This Diamond Ring" ended up becoming this huge hit and you ended up on a whirlwind promotional tour. Tell me about what happened after that song came out.

Lewis: Well, naturally, we're hearing it on the radio and we're all just flipping out beyond belief, because it's getting so much airplay and they wanted us to do all the local TV shows with the song. So we were flying real, real high. And Snuffy Garrett calls us in one day and says, "Listen, you guys, I know it's exciting and all that. But you've got to calm down." He says, "You know how many one-hit artists there are out there?" He says, "We've got to concentrate on getting #2, and if we can do that, we might be our way." So he brought us right back down to earth real quick. Which was a very good thing. Because the second tune was "Count Me In," that went to #2 in the country. And he just kept going. Snuffy Garrett not only had the ability to pick hit songs, but he knew when to put them out, too. He wouldn't put out a new tune of ours if the Beatles just came out with a new tune. He'd wait for about three weeks. Let the people have the fill of the Beatles and then put it out. And it worked. The first seven were all Top Ten.

Songfacts: So when you did The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, had you already recorded "Count Me In" and maybe even another song?

Lewis: Yeah. We always had things in the can. We always did. When we went into a recording session, it wasn't just to record what would be the next hit. We always recorded about four songs and put them in the can and Snuffy would listen to them with Leon Russell. They'd make whatever decisions, because I gave Snuffy total control of everything, because I didn't know what I was doing. I was too young and I didn't know anything about the business yet. So he'd have us record four or five songs at one time and complete them all and just have them in the can. Then he would put out what he wanted to put out.

Songfacts: Besides just the quality of the song, the promotion of it and the way you guys were able to perform the song and sell it to America was remarkable. Can you talk about how you guys got "Diamond Ring" to be such a hit?

Lewis: Well, we were constantly on the road promoting it all the time. Right when it came out we went on a Dick Clark Caravan of Stars tour with about ten other acts - six to eight weeks of one-nighters. And so we were always in the public eye, and whatever town we were going into we did local TV to promote the show for that evening. So we were constantly in the public eye. I think that's what it takes, along with a good record. That's what we did all those years.

Songfacts: Tell me about the TV appearances.

Lewis: Which ones?

Songfacts: Well, I'm interested to know what it is like being a teenager and showing up to do The Ed Sullivan Show, for instance.

Lewis: It really wasn't any pressure whatsoever, because back then they didn't have the facilities to mix anything. No band could play live, they all had to lip-synch. So there was no pressure whatsoever.

Songfacts: Did you play live on any of the shows that you did?

Lewis: We did play live when my dad hosted The Tonight Show one time for Johnny Carson, and we played live on that. And I wasn't happy with that sound after I saw that. They didn't starting mixing real well until probably about, I don't know, the middle '90s maybe. To where it sounded actually like a recording. But the TV shows were just fun, they were just absolutely fun, and it was excellent promotion. And there was no pressure musically.

Songfacts: Were you promoted as Jerry Lewis' son?

Lewis: No. as a matter of fact, even people today, the audiences we have today, I go and sign after the show for them, and they say, "I just heard that your dad is Jerry Lewis, is that true?" And I think that comes from the fact that I never tried to do what he does, and he definitely doesn't do what I do. So there's a separation there.

Songfacts: But when you're looking to promote a new act, it had to be very tempting for the record company and anybody interested to say here's a new act with Jerry Lewis' son, it's Gary Lewis.

Lewis: Well, going right into signing with Liberty Records, I said, "Listen, we got the Disneyland job without anybody knowing who I was," because I didn't use my last name for the first year that we were playing; in 1964, it was just Gary and the Playboys. So when we went down to Disneyland to audition, it was just Gary and the Playboys, and we went through the channels we had to go through, no favors from dad or anything like that. So we got the job, and I told everybody this is how I want to keep it. I don't want to get any jobs because I'm his son. I won't do it. I just will absolutely not do it. Because if you don't have talent, the door's going to slam in your face, anyway.

Songfacts: And nobody ever defied that?

Lewis: No.

Songfacts: Wow. That's remarkable.

Lewis: Nobody ever did that.

Songfacts: I think it was about your fourth hit when you started having a co-writing role on some of the songs.

Lewis: Yeah, "Everybody Loves a Clown," right.

Songfacts: Yeah. Tell me about when you started doing a co-write and how that came about.

Lewis: I always used to hang out at Leon Russell's house with him, because it was very conducive over there to creation. Musical creation. I mean, everybody that lived over there with Leon were musicians from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I liked all those guys a lot and everybody was always working on songs and beats and words. So hanging out with them, I started getting some ideas of my own. And for "Everybody Loves a Clown," I suggested to Leon, "Why don't we write a song along the lines of a circus calliope." I just thought of that. And he liked the idea and he worked on it for a little bit. He says, "Well, I don't want to actually play a calliope, let's just put that feel to a normal piano and harpsichord sound." And we bounced back and forth. So when we finally figured out what we were going to do, we came up with the line, [singing], "da da da da da da day, du du du, du du du," and it wasn't really a calliope thing, but it was circus-y. I liked it and we wrote the words together.

Songfacts: What were the lyrics inspired by?

Lewis: A lot of it was inspired by the clowns always being sad. There were some happy clowns, too. But famous clowns like Emmett Kelly, always sad, very, very sad. They portray like they don't fit in with anything. So that was the inspiration for the lyrics. Everybody loves a clown, so why can't you? Everybody laughs at the things that I say and do.

Songfacts: So we're reading too much into it if we think it's about your dad.

Lewis: Oh, absolutely. [laughs] Yeah.

Songfacts: I also noticed that came about five years before "Tears of a Clown." This calliope idea was quite original at the time.

Lewis: Oh, yeah. I dug that tune, too. That was great.

Songfacts: And then you also had a co-write on "She's Just My Style."

Lewis: Correct.

Songfacts: Can you talk about that song?

Lewis: That was really fun. Leon and Snuffy said, "All right, let's write a song about the California coast and the beach and the surf and the sun." I said, "Oh, so you want to do like a Beach Boys thing?" And they said, "Yeah, yeah. With voices and a lot of harmonies and stuff like that." I said, "Well, great. I like the Beach Boys." They recorded in the same studio that we recorded in, too. So I was always visiting them or they were coming and visiting me on my sessions. So that's what we were going for, a Beach Boys type sound. And "Just My Style" was the second biggest tune we had for Liberty. That went to #2, but it sold way more than "Count Me In," that went to #2 also.

Songfacts: A lot of these songs are about relationships and early love type things, which had to be interesting for you guys. I would imagine you had experienced some of what you were singing about. Is that accurate at all?

Lewis: Yeah. But never to the point where I felt like I had to really state a point. They were fun tunes to do. I never wanted to put so much stuff on a record that I couldn't duplicate it live. I wanted to sound exactly on stage the way the record sounded. And I still feel strongly about that today. And that's exactly what we do. So I like authenticity. I like to sound exactly like the record so that people don't have to guess, "Well, jeez, what tune is he doing?"

Songfacts: But you're not drawing on personal experience in these songs?

Lewis: No, not really. A lot of people love "This Diamond Ring," but they think it's a getting together song. They say to me, "Hey, we got married because of 'This Diamond Ring.'" I say, "Really?" I mean, it's a breakup song. So I don't know.

But like in "Save Your Heart For Me," I was never hurt by a girl going away for the summer and liking some other guy and then coming home and saying, "Oh, it was just a fling and I'll hang with you, I'll stay with you." That stuff never happened. But I guess it does happen to people who take their kids on family vacations to different parts of the country, and they probably find boyfriends there or girlfriends. And then come home and they'll never see that person again. I can relate to that stuff, but it's not personal experience.

Songfacts: But the song selection was brilliant, because it did provide something different from what the Beatles were doing, and it really related to people.

Lewis: Well, I had nothing to do with picking the songs. That was all Snuffy. "Save Your Heart For Me" was originally put out by Brian Hyland, and it went nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. Did just nothing. So Snuffy said, "I want to try this one again. You've had two big hits now, I want to try that one again, slowing it down. Change the pace."

Songfacts: Who did the whistling on that one?

Lewis: Well, first of all, I tried it and I couldn't do it. Because you're facing the guys in the booth, you know. And they're looking at you smiling, and you just can't whistle if you're going to smile. So I tried it, and then Leon Russell came out and tried it. Snuffy came out and tried it. We eventually had to hire a whistler from the Musicians Union, and he came in and did it. Just an old guy, very straight-laced: "This is my job and I'm going to do it."

Songfacts: [laughing] You hired a whistler.

Lewis: We hired a whistler. There were two guys in the union book. I know, it's funny.

Songfacts: Did they do other things, I hope, like maybe play the trombone...

Lewis: Jeez, I don't know. I have no idea.

Songfacts: That is hilarious.

Lewis: We looked up whistlers from Local 47 in Los Angeles. And there were two guys. [laughs] Take your pick.

Songfacts: When you got into the song "Sure Gonna Miss Her," it seems like there were a few ways you could approach that one. Were you instructed to sing that in a specific way?

Lewis: No. As a matter of fact, Snuffy was always happy with my interpretation of songs. He never told me sing something a certain way. He never did. He was totally happy with however I sounded. My voice, to me now, it sounds like an inexperienced voice. And it was. But I hit the notes, I had a real good memory for listening to a demo, and I just put my feeling behind the song. And Snuff was always happy with that.

Songfacts: You clearly have a great deal of musical talent. When you first started, you were on drums, right?

Lewis: I was on drums when I started, right.

Songfacts: Was that the instrument you learned first?

Lewis: Yes.

Songfacts: And did you learn musically, meaning you could read music, you got music lessons?

Lewis: No. I went to a military school, and I played in the band, I played clarinet in the band. And that's how I started being able to read music. I stopped playing clarinet at about 16, but that's the only instrument I could read music on. And for drums, if I had to read music, it'd be easy, because it's just chord charts, you know. You don't have to know each individual note unless you're playing in a symphony or something. But drums is what I learned first, since I was five years old.

Songfacts: Why did you decide on drums?

Leon Russell, Gary's Mom, Gary and Snuff Garrett<br>Photo: Walt HellmanLeon Russell, Gary's Mom, Gary and Snuff Garrett
Photo: Walt Hellman
Lewis: Because this friend of my dad's kept coming over. Like every week he would come over. And my dad had a set of drums out in this house behind the main house, and this friend of my dad's kept saying, "Hey, let's go out to the drums, I'll show you some stuff." So here I am, five years old, and he would play something and I would repeat it right after him. And he kept telling me, "Yeah, you're going to be good one day. This is great." So when I'm about 14 years old, all of a sudden I realize this guy, this friend of my dad's, was Buddy Rich. And every time he'd come over he'd take me out in the back and show me things on drums. So isn't that amazing, for three to four years I was taking lessons from Buddy Rich.

Songfacts: Not only that, then you end up playing drums alongside Hal Blaine.

Lewis: Yeah. Hal Blaine, I love the guy. His musical talent is just so good. He was terrific inspiration to me.

Songfacts: As a drummer, you must have a good idea of what makes somebody like Hal Blaine so talented. Can you explain what it is he does that sets him apart from other drummers?

Lewis: It's knowing exactly what to play at the right time. He knows what to play and he knows when not to play something. And plus, repetition is a real good teacher, too. I mean, you do it for so many years, you've got it down. You just know what you're going to do. I mean, nothing could be thrown at the Wrecking Crew where they wouldn't know, or be confused about what to play. It was just great.

Songfacts: You then switched over to guitar to go out front.

Lewis: Right.

Songfacts: Because it doesn't make too much sense for the band leader to be back in the drum kit.

Lewis: Well, I couldn't see the audience because of all the cymbals, and they couldn't see me very well. But the reason that I changed was that I had much too much energy to be sitting down. I was just all over the place when I came out playing guitar, looking at the people, reacting to them and with them. It was that much fun.

Songfacts: At what point did you end up becoming the guitarist rather than the drummer in the band?

Lewis: The end of '66.

Songfacts: Wow. So it took a while. Most of your appearances early on were with you back in the drum kit.

Lewis: Right. And now when we do shows, I still go back and play one tune on drums.

Many musicians went to great lengths to avoid joining the army when their numbers came up in the Vietnam draft: Gregg Allman shot himself in the foot, Ted Nugent went 30 days without a shower. Lewis, who was one of the most famous entertainers in America, reported for duty.
Songfacts: And then you get drafted. This is really interesting to me, because I'm trying to find out if you tried to get out of it or what happened.

Lewis: I didn't try to get out of it at all. I got my draft notice, and the first thing that popped into my mind was Elvis did it, I'm doing it. That's all there is to it. I must admit, though, I didn't think my kind of music would change over so damn fast. Because here I am in basic training in the Army and this new guy comes along, Jimi Hendrix. And then Janis Joplin. And The Doors. And I'm doing, Oh, great. Now where do I fit into this? So I didn't bother with music from '72 to '84. I bought a music store in California and sold guitar equipment and drums and everything, gave lessons on drums. It was a pretty good living up until '84, when this one agent from Indiana called me and said, "Hey, man, the '60s are coming back." Yeah, right. Okay. He says, "No, really, I can get you 60 to 100 dates a year, I'm sure of it." I said, "Well, if you can do it, I'll play 'em." And that's exactly what's been happening since '84.

Songfacts: But when you got drafted, you were an enormous star, and a lot of people were relying on you for their livelihood. Didn't anybody try to talk you out of it?

Lewis: No, not at all, as a matter of fact. A couple of my friends said, "Go to Canada." I said, "Yeah, great, so I can never come back, right?" No, that was not an option. I wanted to go. And I did. I just went. Period.

So after all the basic training and stuff like that, the Army says to me, "Why don't you get a band together from people on the base and just go around the country and do shows for us, Special Services." And I said, "I don't want to do that. I've got to live with these guys in the barracks, and you're going to show me favoritism? Not good. Not good at all." So I said, "Please, just give me a job to do and let me do it." So they say, "Well, how about Saigon, then?" "Oh." [laughs] So I went over there for a few months. They put me in a holding company because they had no idea what they wanted to do with me. I'm sure they were thinking of "political ramifications" of putting me in the field somewhere. I don't know what they were thinking. But anyway, I saw no action. And then they sent me to South Korea to finish up my foreign tour of duty.

Songfacts: Well, I'm sure they didn't want to get you killed.

Lewis: I guess not. [laughing]

Songfacts: That's got to be a pretty hard burden on somebody, "Here's a famous star in your company, try not to get him killed." Of course I'm not going to put you in combat.

Lewis: So I just sat in a holding company for three months until they decided what they wanted to do with me. I guess that classifies me as a Vietnam vet.

Songfacts: Well of course.

Lewis: Yeah, I was there.

Songfacts: But when you said you wanted to go, is that because you felt politically that it was the right thing to do? Can you explain why you wanted to go? I just don't get that.

Lewis: I just knew within me it was the right thing to do. Plus, if I fought to get out of it, look at all the bad press. Look at how people would look at me. I'm glad I had the insight to see that at such an early age. I didn't think it was the right thing to try to get out of it at all.

Songfacts: I guess it's different, because you were already a star. A lot of times we hear about guys like Ted Nugent and Gregg Allman who shot himself in the foot, and they didn't need to explain anything to anybody, because they weren't famous yet. Whereas you were already famous, so if you did get out of the draft, then you'd have some explaining to do.

Lewis: It would have been bad. I just knew it. I mean, I just felt it.

Songfacts: I once spoke with this guy named Oliver Lieber, and he's a very successful producer, songwriter. He explained some stuff that I'd never considered before. He said that when you have a very famous father who can be kind of distant, that the urge to make it on your own can be overwhelming and you spend your whole life doing that. And his father, of course, was Jerry Lieber. Can you talk about how you felt having a famous father in the industry?

Lewis: Well, I was very proud of him and his work. His work was great. Even today I watch his movies when they come on. I loved him and respected his work tremendously. But at a very early age, I realized this is not what I want to do. If I do anything remotely close to what my dad does, I'll never have my own identity, I'll always be compared to him, and that would be bad for any person to have to go through. I know there are stars' sons that have made it on their own, sons and daughters. But I didn't even want to give that a shot. I didn't even want to try it. Plus, I loved music. I wanted to get into music so bad, but I just didn't have the push, the drive. And then the Beatles came out. That gave me the push and drive.

I rehearsed with the band almost an entire year before we got the Disneyland job, building up a repertoire and getting things ready to go audition for gigs without any mention of the family name or anything like that. I really wanted to do it by myself. And my dad didn't even know that I had a band until "Diamond Ring" was almost to #1.

Songfacts: Wow.

Lewis: That's right. My mom, she was great about it. She says, "Yeah, I'll buy you the equipment, you can rehearse here at the house when your dad's out of town." And she said, "I really hope it works, because if it doesn't, I'm going to have to explain where this money went." So "Diamond Ring" is climbing the charts and she says, "Now you can tell him."

Songfacts: One advantage to having a show business family is that sometimes it can keep you from signing some really bad contracts. Did you manage to keep some royalties and still get some earnings from your work?

Lewis: I get royalties from three companies to this very day. I was only 19 when I started, so my mom and dad's lawyers looked at all those contracts and they signed a real, real good deal to where I never stopped getting my royalties. And as a matter of fact, my records just keep selling and selling and selling, and the royalties even to this day are getting bigger and bigger. So my parents made a deal that made sure I got writing, publishing and artist royalties forever. So that's still working out really good.

Songfacts: So even on a song that you didn't write, you still get paid for it if it gets played or used?

Lewis: I get royalties, yeah.

Songfacts: Did your dad teach you anything about the industry?

Lewis: He didn't have a conscious effort of teaching me show business. I observed my entire life. I was always on the sets when he was doing his movies. I observed show business, and I observed him talking to agents and lawyers and all that stuff. So I picked it up just by observing my entire life.

Songfacts: That's interesting. That's the exact same thing that Jerry Lieber's kid said. He said his dad never taught him how to be a producer or songwriter, but he was around it hanging out in the control room and he just absorbed it. That, and also a certain genetic thing. You can't get away from it if that's what is in your blood.

Lewis: Right. That's exactly it.

In 2012 Gary released a new song called "You Can't Go Back," which he wrote with his bass player, Nick Rather. You can hear it on iTunes or on Amazon.
Songfacts: I listened to your new song, and it's a real contemporary song. I almost expected it to be more of your '60s sound. But it's not. It's right up there with something you'd hear today.

Lewis: I guess everything evolves a little bit. I wanted to keep it simple enough so we can do it onstage. But that's how I feel today. That's the music that I like to listen to today. Just straight ahead rock and roll. And that's what I like to do. And I'm getting all kinds of good feedback on it from the computer and Facebook and Twitter.

Songfacts: Tell me about how you came up with the song.

Lewis: Well, that one does have kind of a personal thing to it. The same thing happened to my bass player, who wrote it with me. About how you're so in love with somebody and they just totally break your heart and leave town. And it takes you so long to get over it. And then you successfully finally get over this chick, and she comes back into town after about a year or two and she wants to try to get it started up again. You've already successfully dumped her out of your brain. And the conflict that it puts you through, like oh my God, I do still love her and everything, but I don't want this pain again. And that's where the tune came from.

Songfacts: Either you or your bass player was able to figure out musically how to structure this thing really well.

Lewis: Yeah. My bass player arranged it. So I did like the structure of it. Actually, he sang on the bridge of the song. I don't know if you noticed that there were two voices.

Songfacts: I did notice that, yeah. The only other thing I wanted to clear up - what was the origin of your name? Were you born Gary Lewis?

Lewis: I was born Cary Levitch. My dad went to court when I was two years old to change his name from Joseph Levitch to Jerry Lewis, and somehow my name got included on that document to where they put Gary Lewis on that same document to be changed. So it must have been a typo that they saw Gary instead of Cary. I don't really know how that happened, but that's how it was explained to me by my mom, that they just made a mistake and put "Gary" down there. And later on when I was able to think, I said, "Oh, man, I'm glad they made that mistake. I like Gary a lot better." I didn't want to be Cary. I don't like that name.

Songfacts: When did you stop being known as Cary and start being known as Gary?

Lewis: Two. Two years old.

Songfacts: But it wasn't your call what your mother decided to call you. If she named you Cary, I would think she would just call you that.

Lewis: She did name me Cary for Cary Grant.

Songfacts: But even though some legal document starts saying that you're Gary, she observed that and started calling you Gary right away?

Lewis: Yeah. Which I'm glad.

Songfacts: That's remarkable. I just can't imagine having a child and then two years later starting to call that child something else.

Lewis: The name was different, but it must have been close enough for her. [laughs]

Songfacts: That is really funny.

Lewis: And one other thing, too. Just to clear up a lot of misconception, I was born July 31st, 1945. So many articles in print say '46, but it's '45. I was born a week before they dropped the bombs on Japan.

We spoke with Gary Lewis on March 8, 2012. Get more at
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Comments: 24

  • Joseph Self from Greenwood, ArI think Gary was wrong about the Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles played it in Feb. 1964 and they were playing their instruments and singing.
  • Jason Odd from AustraliaGood interview, although when the artist controls the narrative, the timeline can go a little off the rails, and Gary's timeline is a little off. He stopped playing drums full-time in 1965, not late 1966 as he mentioned.
    I assume this happened around the time the core of the Playboys changed. This can be seen by the group's appearance on the September 20, 1965 episode of the Hullabaloo television show, the episode where father and son - Jerry and Gary Lewis co-host Hullabaloo. The acts were Joannie Sommers, Barry Maguire, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and Paul Revere and the Raiders.
    When the Playboys appear, Gary is no longer behind the drums, and the rest of the group are, Tommy Tripplehorn on guitar, Carl Radle on bass, John West on cordavox and Jim Keltner on drums. At that point, Gary and John West were the only original Playboys left.

    Alos, Gary has stuck to the narrative that he quit music as a touring musicians from '72 to 1984, but he actually played live shows and toured with version of the Playboys in 1973 and 1974, there was even a report that they were recording in 1974, although on spec as there was no record deal in place.

    In 1978 he took the Playboys on the road again and spoke to the press about a layoff of about two years due to drug addiction and his ultimate recovery and rehab, which was in his words, four-and-a-half weeks withdrawal at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles.

    He also recorded solo singles, issued in 1972 and 1975, but really didn't make much headway until 1984 when he became an oldie fave on the live circuit.

    I've just flipped through the comments and have to point out that Gary has suggested that he only spent a few months in Vietnam, and he was basically some sort of clerk handing out forms. He was shipped out to South Korea from Vietnam in early 1968 after the incident where the US spy vessel USS Pueblo was taken by North Korean forces, one crew member was killed, just over eighty were captured. Tensions were very high and US forces were bolstered in South Korea, which meant that Gary shipped out before the Tet Offensive. In hindsight, Jerry Lewis' Playboy interview is obviously a large amount of hyperbole and bluster.

  • Larry from San DiegoGreat interview!
  • Dan from Queens , NyThe song Autumn sounds like the Beachboys . I wonder if the same backup singers on Autumn did Beachboys songs too?
  • Jill Carrigg from Mora,new MexicoI would like to know the story behind "jill".
    When you were doing a concert in alb New Mexico I was there a disc jockey fiend of mine had set it up for me to meet you. Always been a fan. But commotion in getting to your dressing room I was unable to meet you. Shortly after that you came out with "jill" I guess I always. Visualized you knew about the non meeting and wrote that song. Funny how teenage crises go. I am no 70 and would love to hear if there is such a story
  • Aaron from TorontoI find it interesting to hear that Gary Lewis went to such great pains to distance himself from his famous father. Yet on the flip side of "Everybody Loves A Clown," there's an almost novelty tune called "Time Stands Still." It's not much of a song, really, and belongs on the B-side. But what makes it a stand out is that halfway through, he starts doing a near perfect imitation of the cartoonish Jerry Lewis voice, as if his dad were singing on the record. So obviously he wasn't that worried about anyone making the connection.
  • Rolie from ZonievilleMy goodness, this article bought back so many good memory's. Crazy as it sounds, I remember listening to "This Diamond Ring" on the Dick Clark show that ran from 3 to 5 on AFRTS in the Canal Zone back in the day. Jimmy B and I, had started a fire in his sisters playhouse on this play stove. I took out the CO2 cylinder from my pellet gun, and dropped it in to the pan over the fire just to see what would happen. We knew what would as we scattered the area as "This Diamond Ring" played on my transistor pocket radio. Duh.... there went the bang as the metal pot pan went flying through the roof. As the months and couple of years would pass, I continued to employ that radio and listen to Gary's Band while delivering newspapers and trying to out run the hounds. Those were the days when a wide variety of music hit the waves. What a joy it was to be alive even when in parts of it, it was hell. My little world revolved around music and even I would learn to play the drums and guitar and play in a band. If there ever was a decade to reflect on.... it was the sixties.
  • Will Brandt from EdmontonGary Lewis and the Playboys was one of my first musical memories, along with The Beatles.
  • Fernando from IowaGrew up listening to you guys. I went back to college in the mid 80's and met this hot Jewish girl, she was a few years younger and had never heard of you guys. She lived in Beverly Hills and I remember you guys played at the Beverly theater along with The Grass Roots, and the Buckinghams. She really enjoyed the show!
  • Howard from LevittownYou missed "Green Grass," an underrated summer song and one of Gary's last hits before he was drafted. It happened to Elvis and Archie Bell and it happened to him. Who knows how long he could have gone on but for that. Great team behind him and good to know he's still plugging.
  • Danarose from Fullerton, CaI d not get it either. Gary, in Jerry Lewis' biographies, was devastated at having to shoot and kill people because he had a Philipino wife and daughter, and thougt about them whenever he had to shoot and kill. Jerry said Vietnam service caused Gary to become addicted to drugs. What is the truth? But maybe that was appocraful and another untruth. Did Gary serve in combat or not? Was there combat in Korea? According to one site, Gary was in 8th Army Special Troops, looking at the history of this unit I still cannot figure out what role they had during the Vietnam War. it doesn't seem they were in battle, only guarding South Korea from North Korea. Did they engage in combat or not?
  • Rocketshuz from Southeastern, PaI'm confused. In a Playboy Magazine interview Jerry Lewis made it sound as if Gary was devistated by the war and forever changed and therefore not interested in music anymore. What was THAT all about?
  • AnthonyMy band opened for Gary Lewis in 1996....they were great. Very gracious people..awesome sound. Big crowd pleasers..even did some Beatle covers...One of my very favorite experiences.5
  • Jerry from Cathage, New YorkI was wondering if Gary went to AIT after basic. AIT (Advance Indidual Training) should have designate Gary with a specfic Army MOS, which in turn would have given him something to do other then spend 3 months in a Saigon holding company. I spent 21 year in the Army and have heard crazier stories for sure. Sounds like our NRA man Ted Nugent waited to turn Gung Ho after the Viet Nam War ended. Ive also read that Jerry blamed the Army for Gary's drug habits and he also said that Uncle Sam would never get another one of his sons.
  • Carlos Aguasvivas from Dominican RepublicAlways loved the music of Gary lewis and the playboys since I arrived in America in 1965. I recently bought a dvd of the band on doing all the hits and I still love that sound. I am very happy to know he and the band are still out there making people happy. I hope they come to my area so I can go see them live. Thanks for the great music. I loved the interview, too. Great job!
  • Weazzel from Las Vegas, NvWhen I reached Vietnam I was there with no one I knew and the last one for a year to be stationed at my unit. I was always given the crazy jobs to do because I was the newest guy there. I always loved Gary's songs, they kept me alive that first tough year I was there. And I have the rock and roll music to thank.. Thanks again Gary for keeping me musically alive!
  • Tr from Parker, ColoradoAllen, I agree about Jill. IMO it's Gary's finest work and one of the better psychedelic pop tracks of the 60s.
  • Nomy Jackson from ChicagoGreat interview! Thanks:)
  • David from Tijuana, MexicoI'm sure I'm not the only one who had no idea that he was the son of Jerry Lewis...
  • Allen from Fresno, CaOne of Gary Lewis & The Playboys' latter hits -- "Jill," from the summer of 1967 -- was a real nugget. Very underrated, not having made the Top 40. A ballad with trippy lyrics and a Beach Boys influence.
  • Ken Sparkes from Sydney AustraliaThank you for the great interview and material for my OZ TV Show Jukebox Saturday Night, love to find more origional promo video clips. I saw him perform many moons ago when I was on set for an ABC TV Show in LA, great memories.
  • Ray from West Lebanon, NhGary's version of recording 'This Diamond Ring' is a LOT different than Hal Blaine's version. In fact it's a LOT different than Snuff Garrett's version too.

    To help fill out what he felt to be Lewis's vocal shortcomings, Garrett brought in a session singer, Ron Hicklin who did the basic vocal track. Garrett added Gary's voice, overdubbed him a second time and then added more of Hicklin. "When I got through with the records, said Garrett, Lewis sounded like Mario Lanza."
  • Jim from North Billerica, MaOutstanding interview! I had always heard that Gary Lewis was a stand-up guy. It is nice to know it's true. And a veteran, too. How can you now root for a guy like that?
  • Scotty from Cheyenne, WyMy father flew in Vietnam, and we were stationed on Okinawa from '66-'68. While we were there my dad borrowed (sorry, Gary) some albums of Gary and the Playboys and put them on reel-to-reel with his new equipment, and that's what my brother and I listened to a lot in the early 1970s. Thanks for all the great music, Gary, and especially your service to our country. One last thing, I always loved "Without a Word of Warning." VERY clever lyrics, and a great tune. Thanks again, and Godspeed!
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