Monday, November 16, 2015


In 1964, Gary Lewis and the Playboys auditioned for a job at Disneyland without telling Disney employees that Gary was the son of  the great Jerry Lewis. The entertainment director of the park liked what he heard and hired Gary and the boys on the spot to perform at the Space Bar in Tomorrowland. 
Legendary record producer Snuff Garrett lived just two doors down from Gary's famous father, and Jerry and Snuff had a mutual friend, conductor Lou Brown, who'd worked with Jerry ever since the Martin & Lewis days. Brown had brought Gary Lewis to Snuff's attention. Garrett would later recall: "I got to thinkin' that, hey, if I can get a record cut with Gary, it'd be a new way to promote records -- the son of a famous entertainer!"
The first song that Garrett brought to the group was "This Diamond Ring," which had originally been offered to Bobby Vee. The session was financed by Gary's mother, Patty Lewis. During the actual recording, the Playboys were almost irrelevant since they weren't allowed to play their instruments and their voices were used sparingly. Snuff wanted a hit, so he insisted on using trusted studio musicians. 
Garrett got "This Diamond Ring" on the radio in New York City by making a deal with WINS disc jockey Murray the K., who ran a series of all-star concerts at theaters around New York  Murray was promised that, if he played Lewis' record, the Playboys would play on his shows. Then Snuff had his neighbor, Jerry Lewis, pull some strings to get his son on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Within a few weeks, Gary and his group were on America's top variety program. But it was Sullivan's policy that all the acts appearing on his show had to perform live. Since so many studio tricks had been used on "This Diamond Ring," there was no way that the Playboys could re-create its sound. So a compromise was struck. Gary sang along with pre-recorded tracks as the Playboys faked it on their instruments. According to Garrett, this marked the first time that a song had been lip-synched on the show.

Gary Lewis and the Playboys were instant stars. Their song "This Diamond Ring" shot up to #1 and the pressing plants ran 24 hours a day to keep up with the demand for the record.

By 1965, Gary Lewis was Cash Box magazine's "Male Vocalist of the Year," winning over  nominees Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. He was the first and only artist during the 1960's to have his first seven releases reach Billboard's Top 10 on the Hot 100 chart. In the Philippines during this time, Gary Lewis and the Playboys were considered to be America's answer to the Beatles, and over a two-week period, sold out the Arianeta Coliseum there for 24 performances.

Along with his appearances on various popular television shows, including American Bandstand, The Joey Bishop Show, and The Tonight Show, Gary accumulated an impressive five appearances within two years on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Between 1965 and 1966, Gary Lewis and the Playboys rattled off an impressive string of hit singles. "This Diamond Ring" (#1), "Count Me In" (#2),  "Save Your Heart For Me" (#2), "She's Just My Style" (#3),  "Everybody Loves A Clown" (#4), "Sure Gonna Miss Her" (#9) and "Green Grass" (#8) -- all collected on this definitive album.

In their short-live career, Gary Lewis and the Playboys in total had eight Gold Singles, 17 US Top 40 hits, and four Gold albums, and sold 45 million records worldwide.

In 1971, Gary retired from performing and opened a music store in San Fernando Valley, where he sold drums, guitars and accessories. He found, however, that he still had the urge to play, and in 1973, put a group together called Medicine out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which included Bill Cowsill, formerly with the great '60s pop band, the Cowsills. The band failed to meet with any success.

In1984, Gary put a new version of the Playboys together, and began performing almost 100 shows a year with '60s pop groups like The Grass Roots, Peter Noone (of Herman's Hermits), the Grass Roots, the Turtles, and the Buckinghams to cash in on the burgeoning Sixties nostalgia biz.

Gary also appeared and performed on many of his father's Labor Day telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Despite Gary Lewis' string of hits and popularity during the '60s, one thing's for certain:  Not even the influence of his famous father will be able to get him into the honored position as a member of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.

Friday, November 13, 2015


While the nation has mourned Michael Jackson, J.D. Salinger, and Sky Saxon, many of us are still mourning the death of one of the greatest country singers of all time, Vern Gosdin. 

Known as The Voice of country music, Gosdin died from a stroke on April 28, 2009. His was a pained and tortured voice singing some of the saddest songs in the world, and when he died, we truly lost one of the voices of the ages.

Forget the current crop of Nashville pop crooners. Gosdin was a man who had the wrinkles of Merle Haggard and, like George Jones, knew what it meant to weep.  With his album, Chiseled In Stone, Gosdin created a country music masterpiece. It's virtually impossible to get through the thing without having an emotional breakdown.

On the album cover, the photo is worthy of Walker Evans. Gosdin squints at you, his boot on the bumper of the car, a leaf trapped in its grill, as two old men look out from the glass of a barber shop, its front window marked by fading square-dance posters.

On the recordings themselves, Gosdin squints even harder, clobbering you with the impact of his voice and the tight control of his band. The steel guitars of Sonny Garrish and Jim Vest are particularly astounding at recreating the sound of raw nerves.

The beauty of the record owes a great deal to the songwriting abilities of Gosdin and Hank Cochran, especially on "Set 'Em Up, Joe" and "I Guess I Had Your Leavin' Coming."

But the title song is the highlight. It's the story of a young man who, after fighting with his girlfriend, ducks into a bar, only to be told by an old codger that he should be grateful for what he's got--at least his woman isn't dead, and he doesn't have to wander through life alone.

"Chiseled in Stone" refers to the tombstone of the old man's wife, but it now refers to Vern Gosdin's own life.

More to the point:  "Chiseled in Stone" points to the tombstone's shadow cast in the background of all our lives.

Listed below are ust some of the awards Gosdin has received -- for Chiseled in Stone alone (there were, ultimately, many more awards for many other things):
1989 ASCAP Award - "Set 'Em Up Joe"
1989 ASCAP Award - "Chiseled In Stone"
1989 ASCAP Award - "Do You Believe Me Now?"
1989 CMA Song of the Year - "Chiseled In Stone" (Max D. Barnes & Vern Gosdin)
1988 Nashville Songwriters Association Song of the Year - "Chiseled In Stone"
1988 CMA #1 Song - "Set 'Em Up Joe"
1988 CMA Album of the Year - "Chiseled In Stone" (Nomination)
1988 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year (Nomination)