Gary Lewis told the story in the Savannah Center on Friday how a young woman once interviewed him: “Gary, I love your music. And I really love your dad, especially that song he sang, ‘Great Balls of Fire.’”
Gary Lewis has always been able to handle any identity crisis. The son of comic legend Jerry Lewis, should not be confused with rock and roll icon Jerry Lee Lewis, who did “Great Balls of Fire.”
But Gary seems to have more in common with Jerry Lee than dear old dad. He loves rock and roll, and Lewis proved that Friday in a couple of lively sets during two shows.
Watch video of Lewis’s performance in The Villages:
This was a nostalgic trip through the mid-and-late 1960s, when Gary Lewis and the Playboys were in their prime and sold nearly 45 million records. He lived the rock star life until Uncle Sam came along in 1967 and drafted him. Lewis went from the stage to Vietnam.
But Friday was a time for Lewis and his fans to remember the good old days from the ‘60s. The show started with a film clip, showing Gary as a child, singing a duet with Jerry Lewis. “I adore him because he’s my first born,” the elder Lewis said.
Watch video of Lewis’ performance here:
Then Gary, 69, came on stage and opened the concert with a rousing cover of Freddy Cannon’s “Palisades Park.” Lewis then followed that number with one of his biggest hits from 1965, “Count Me In.”
The song encapsulated Gary Lewis’ music. It was tight, glistening pop, with a thumping beat. The tune was written by Glen Hardin, once a member of the Crickets. Snuff Garrett, one of the top producers in the record business, produced the song and it was arranged by another famous musician, Leon Russell.
Put that all together and you have the magic that helped make Gary Lewis a rock star. He offered sweet, romantic sounds on such numbers as “Save Your Heart For Me,” and “Tina.”
There was more power pop on “Green Grass” and “My Heart’s Symphony.” One of the highlights was a sparkling Beach Boys’ sound on “Just My Style.”
In addition to his own hits, Lewis and his bandmates covered as host of other ‘60s’ songs. The list included “Wooly Bully,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “I’m A Believer” and “Sealed With A Kiss.”
“This Diamond Ring,” was Lewis’ first No. 1 single, and he sang it with passion. Then he talked about another smash, “Everybody Loves A Clown.”
“I was writing the song as a gift for my father on his birthday,” Lewis said. “But it sounded so good, I thought it could be a hit. So I recorded it. I forgot what I gave my father that year for his birthday. Maybe it was a bowling ball.”
Lewis was at the height of his fame when he got drafted in 1967.
“I hated going in, but it was the best thing I could have done,” Gary Lewis once told me in an interview. “The Army is where I grew up.”
Lewis said officers wanted him to form a band and play at USO clubs throughout the country. It would be an easy hitch. “Thank goodness I had the foresight to realize if I did that, and got such special attention, all the guys I had to live with would hate me. I told them to give me a regular job.
“They said: ‘OK how about Vietnam.'” Lewis wound up working as a clerk at Da Nang Airbase in Vietnam. It was a long way from his Hollywood home and rock star stage. “Vietnam was as real as life gets,” he said. When he was discharged, music changed, and his pop sound no longer sold.
“I’m thinking, where the heck I fit in,” Lewis said. “Snuff Garrett told me: ‘Gary, there’s no more market for you.’ What a terrible thing to hear.”
In the late ’60s, Lewis also had a falling out with his father. He bought a music store, and tried to adjust to life. Then, he started getting back on the music circuit when ‘60s’ revival shows started in the 1980s. Gary Lewis has been on stage ever since. He reconciled with his famous father, and he showed Friday in The Villages, that he still has rock and roll in his heart.