Gary Lewis & the Playboys were an American 1960s era pop and rock group, fronted by musician Gary Lewis, the son of comedian Jerry Lewis. They are best known for their 1965 Billboard Hot 100 number-one single "This Diamond Ring", which was the first of a string of hit singles they had in 1965 and 1966. The band had an earnest, boy-next-door image similar to British invasion contemporaries such as Herman's Hermits and Gerry and the Pacemakers. The group folded in 1970, but a version of the band later resumed touring and continues to tour, often playing for veteran's benefits.
The group began life as Gary & the Playboys. Gary Lewis started the band with four friends of his when he was 18. Joking at the lateness of his bandmates to practice, Lewis referred to them as "playboys", and the name stuck.
They auditioned for a job at Disneyland, without telling Disneyland employees about Lewis' celebrity father. 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 more records, and convinced them to add "Lewis" into their name. 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 Mike Deasy and Tommy Allsup on guitars, Leon Russell on keyboards, Joe Osborn on bass, and Hal Blaine on drums, members of the larger group known as The Wrecking Crew. 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, Pete Vrains, Bob Simpson, Adolph Zeugner, Les John, Wayne Bruno, 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 releases reached the top 10 on the Hot 100 chart (The Lovin' Spoonful was the other). The singles were "This Diamond Ring" (#1), "Count Me In" (the only non-British Commonwealth record in the 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, with previously made recordings continuing to reach the Hot 100 but with lessening success. On his 1968 discharge Lewis immediately returned to recording, reaching the top 40 one last time with a top 20 remake of Brian Hyland's "Sealed With A Kiss", but 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.
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