In the beginning, he decided to name his group simply Gary and The Playboys. That’s because Gary Lewis, son of the comic and actor Jerry Lewis, didn’t want to ride on his father’s famous coattails.
“I purposely didn’t use my last name in the beginning because I didn’t want anyone to put two and two together. I felt my father’s name didn’t do anything for me, it didn’t open any doors and I didn’t want it to. I wanted to audition with other bands and get a job at Disneyland because we deserved it.”
That’s Gary Lewis describing the early years of his band, which will be part of the Happy Together Tour coming to the Keswick Theatre in Glenside on June 24. In all, five groups will be performing that night. Including Lewis, audiences will hear The Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie; Chuck Negron, formerly of Three Dog Night; Mark Farner, formerly of Grand Funk Railroad; and Mitch Ryder of The Detroit Wheels.
Lewis said he started with the tour in 1985, the second year after its inception, took a long break, and has returned because he so enjoys the music and the camaraderie.
Putting together a band — a successful band — back in the ’60s was no easy task. And it was Lewis’ mother who put up the money to secure the equipment, pay for the studio and recording time, and anything else band members needed in hopes they would eventually make a name for themselves.
“My mother, Patti Lewis, sang with the Jimmy Dorsey Band in the ’40s. She said she sang up until she was eight months pregnant with me. So she understood what we were feeling, and wanted to help us as much as she could. The only thing she asked was that we not tell my father because if we failed, she’d have to then tell my father where all the money went.”
Luckily for all concerned, they didn’t fail. In the summer of 1964, the group was discovered by producer Snuff Garrett. Before long, with the producer/arranger team of Garrett and Leon Russell behind them, they took their first single, This Diamond Ring, straight to No. 1 on the charts. They followed with more Top 10 songs such as Count Me In, Save Your Heart For Me, Everybody Loves a Clown, She’s Just My Style and others.
In 1965, Gary Lewis himself was named Cash Box Magazine’s “Male Vocalist of the Year,” winning the honor over other nominees like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. Additionally, he was the first and only artist during the ’60s to have his first seven releases reach Billboard magazine’s Top 10 on the Hot 100 charts.
With the advent of disco in the ’70s, Lewis’ kind of music fell out of favor, and so he decided not to perform and opened a music store in California instead. But with the ’60s music making a comeback, he organized the band once again, with different members this time, and went back on the road.
“And I’m so happy to be here,” Lewis, 68, said. “I love touring and being out on the road, and I plan to continue doing this as long as I can.”
As for his father, whom he sees when he can, he did eventually find out about the money, his mother’s help, and the success the band was enjoying..
“He always told me that when it comes to my career, as long as I give it 100 percent of my effort and love what I do, he’s fine with it. And I agree with that philosophy. The only thing he did say firmly was, ‘Don’t cut your hair like those darn Beatles.’ And I didn’t — mainly because I was still living at home!” ••
The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 215-572-7650 or visit http://www.keswicktheatre.com/?events=happy-together-2014