Gary Lewis & the Playboys were a 1960s rock group fronted by Gary Lewis, son of comedian Jerry Lewis. They are best known for their 1965 Billboard Hot 100 number-one single "This Diamond Ring".
Gary Lewis - Drums and vocals
David Walker - Guitar
Allan Ramsay (died in 1985) - Bass
David Costell - Guitar
John West - "Cordovox" (electronic accordion)
The group auditioned for a job at Disneyland, without telling Disneyland employees about Lewis' celebrity father. They were able to do this because they were known then as Gary & the Playboys. They were hired on the spot, audiences at Disneyland quickly accepted them, and the Playboys were soon playing to a full house every night.
Band leader Les Brown had known Jerry Lewis for years, and he told record producer Snuff Garrett that the younger Lewis was playing at Disneyland. After listening to the band, Garrett thought using Gary's famous name might sell records. Garrett took them into a recording studio with the song "This Diamond Ring" in a session financed by Jerry Lewis' wife Patti. However, according to Lewis, the Playboys were not allowed to play their instruments except on the backing tracks. Garrett wanted to maximize the chances for a hit, so he insisted on using experienced session musicians for the overdubs, which included guitar and keyboard solos, additional bass and drum overdubs, and timpani. These musicians included Tommy Allsup on guitar, Leon Russell on keyboards, Joe Osborn on bass, and Hal Blaine on drums. Session singer Ron Hicklin did the basic vocal track. Garrett then added Lewis’s voice twice, added some of the Playboys and more of Hicklin. "When I got through, he sounded like Mario Lanza," Garrett commented.
Garrett got airplay in New York City for "This Diamond Ring" by making a deal with WINS disc jockey "Murray the K" Kaufman, who ran a series of all-star concerts at theaters around the New York area, promising that if he played Lewis’ record, the Playboys would do his shows. Garrett then had Jerry Lewis use his contacts to get his son onto The Ed Sullivan Show. However, Sullivan had a general policy that all acts appearing on his show were to perform live. Since so many studio tricks had been used on the record, the Playboys could not re-create its sound. In compromise, Lewis sang along with pre-recorded tracks as the Playboys pretended to play their instruments. The January 1965 broadcast made Gary Lewis and the Playboys instant stars. "This Diamond Ring" went to #1, sold over one million copies by April 1965, and became a gold disc. However, by the end of 1965 only West and Lewis remained in the band. Other later band members included Tommy Tripplehorn (father of actress Jeanne Tripplehorn), Carl Radle (died 1980), Jimmy Karstein, Randy Ruff and Dave Gonzalez.
In 1965 Gary Lewis was Cash Box magazine's "Male Vocalist of the Year," winning against nominees Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. The group was one of only two acts during the 1960s whose first seven Hot 100 releases reached that chart's top 10 (The Lovin' Spoonful was the other): "This Diamond Ring" (#1), "Count Me In" (the only non-British Commonwealth record in Hot 100's Top 10 on 8 May 1965, at #2), "Save Your Heart for Me" (#2), "Everybody Loves a Clown" (#4), "She's Just My Style" (#3), "Sure Gonna Miss Her" (#9), and "Green Grass" (#8). Lewis was drafted into the U.S. Army in January 1967 and discharged in 1968. He immediately returned to recording but was unable to regain his group's earlier momentum. Lewis continued touring, eventually marketing the band as a nostalgia act. He also appeared and performed on many of his father's Labor Day telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Lewis had eight gold singles, seventeen Top 40 hits and four gold albums. In addition to The Ed Sullivan Show, he appeared on American Bandstand, Shindig!, Hullabaloo, The Sally Jessy Raphaël show, Tonight Show, The Mike Douglas Show, Nashville Now and Wolfman Jack. Despite the group's US success, it made no progress at all in the UK.
This Diamond Ring
What was Al Kooper's first hit single as a songwriter is a great trivia question, and that Snuff Garrett produced these Leon Russell arrangements says much about mega-talents working with the offspring of famous movie stars. Jerry Lewis might not have been part of the Rat Pack, but his son, Gary Lewis, is much like Frank Sinatra's daughter, Nancy Sinatra, a showbiz kid personality who got onto the charts despite his vocal limitations. The hit single is everything a hit should be, and most anyone on the planet could have sang it with just as much success; the frosting of the production here is the cake, but for camp and cool no one could rain on the Gary Lewis parade which launched with this classic. And don't deny Leon Russell's brilliant arrangement its moment in the sun -- the dark keyboards absolutely bring these blues home in their pop setting. You've heard that Gary Lewis can't sing, and he can't. "Go to Him" is a stretch for the novice, and he adds nothing to Bobby Vee's "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" other than maybe giving Vee some credibility. But it is all so charming until you get to his version of "All Day and All of the Night"; worse than the fact that it won't stand as a classic interpretation, he's lucky Ray Davies didn't sue for intense infliction of emotional distress. Were the producers out to lunch while the band was jamming? It's hideous on its own, more hideous when played next to the brilliance of the hit single. Having ten covers to go along with the originals was the best route for the label to take -- or for the teenyboppers to absorb -- but the Kinks were sacred ground in the mid-'60s, and to go there without proper respect was to risk all credibility. "The Best Man" ends the album, a sequel to "This Diamond Ring" where the singer is "just" the best man, a familiar wedding theme recurring as the guitar hook in the mediocre song. "Dream Lover" perhaps proves why Ricky Nelson didn't pair up with the Playboys on record. That Bobby Darin song would've been just perfect for Nelson, who did prove to be able to branch out on his own. "Needles and Pins" has the best chance to go beyond the high-school-hop feel of the rest of the disc, but fails, and it's all so much filler around the fantastic hit. "Needles & Pins" co-songwriter Jack Nitzsche would eventually produce Gary Lewis two years after this, and their work on a Jackie DeShannon tune at least showed some kind of artistic growth on the New Directions LP, but if only the attention given to the big hit was paid to some of or the rest of the album -- then you'd have a pop album masterpiece on your hands that would go beyond the two minutes and five seconds that make up "This Diamond Ring." Al Kooper's name is misspelled on the original vinyl pressings
A Session with Gary Lewis &The Playboys.
Gary Lewis's second LP, A Session With Gary Lewis & the Playboys is a decidedly mixed bag, consisting of the group's third single, "Save Your Heart for Me," and its livelier, higher-powered B-side, "Without a Word of Warning," and "Little Miss Go Go," which had appeared as the B-side of his previous single, "Count Me In," plus covers of then current hits, including "For Your Love," "Walk Right Back," "Runaway," and "Palisades Park." Rather ironically, the album also embodies the essence and the contradictions underlying Lewis' success and career. A Session With Gary Lewis & the Playboys may be his best album, a statement that requires several caveats. The number two hit at its core, "Save Your Heart for Me," is beyond pop/rock. It's wimp-rock at its worst, and heard today one can safely conclude that its success was a fluke, a result of Lewis's appealingly nebbishy, almost adenoidal every-nerd persona and a singsong melody and moon/June lyric. It could only have gotten as high up on the charts as it did by virtue of its sheer sappiness and safety. Slotting in between Herman's Hermits releases, it probably had deejays and program directors flocking to it in lieu of the more daring sounds of the Beatles, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, and others. So there's the hit -- but alongside it are some pretty cool covers of better songs, done not half-bad by Lewis and his band with a lot of support from producers Snuff Garrett and Leon Russell. What's more, there's nothing here remotely as inappropriate as Lewis' attempt -- from his first album -- to cover a Kinks song; Graham Gouldman's songs work much better.