Gary Lewis & The Playboys: sustaining a 6-decade musical journey

LEGENDARY icon Jerry Lewis and equally iconic heir, Gary, had indubitably established and duly substantiated the popular adage, “The fruit won’t fall far from the tree…” and that while the latter incessantly lives up to the legacy of the former, both their God-given

Father & son… gary and Jerry during the heydays

talents still unremittingly enjoyed enduring supremacy in the airwaves with numerous avid fans (still) tirelessly humming and dancing to their durably upbeat brand of music. And what’s notably amazing is how the young generation readily embraced such music genre that’s far different from what they were born with.

Musician Gary Lewis, who was given the birth name Gary Harold Lee Levitch when he first saw the light of day on July 31, 1945 in Newark, New Jersey, was the son of celebrity parents Jerry Lewis (comedian, actor, singer, humanitarian, movie director-producer, and screen writer) and songstress Patti Palmer (lead vocalist of the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra). Initially intended to be named after Hollywood great Cary Grant but a clerical error led to naming him “Gary.”

Another album cover of GL & the Playboys

A drum enthusiast and a potential vocalist during his early childhood, it was his mom who surreptitiously funded every single musical equipment he needed especially during times when he started to form his own group that played in Disneyland.

It was producer Snuff Garrett who saw potential in Gary’s latent talent and set up studio rehearsals under the tutelage of Buddy Rich who honed him (Gary) in improving his drumming skills while simultaneously perfecting his vocals to be the group’s main soloist.

A snap shot of the 60s pop band at the height of their career.

Innately born with an ingenious mind, Gary wrote and recorded “This Diamond Ring” that hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on February 20, 1965. That was the just start of the band’s (Gary Lewis and the Playboys) unprecedented popularity for the reason that hits after hits followed since:  “Count Me In” (the only non-British record in the Hot 100’s Top 10 at number 2), “Save Your Heart For Me” (Number 2), “Everybody Loves A Clown” (Number 4), “She’s Just My Style” (Number 3), “Sure Gonna Miss Her” (Number 9), and “Green Grass” (Number 8).

Gary Lewis latest image

Actually, he wrote and composed “Everybody Loves A Clown” as a gift to his father on his birthday but decided to record it instead and his last-minute move was right all the while for little did he know that it would be a great hit.

The height of the band’s fame reached unfathomable loftiness and as expected the movies came beckoning in. Their remarkable movie appearance in a teen comedy vehicle “A Swingin’ Summer” (that featured Raquel Welch in the lead) could have been sustained with more teen-oriented films had not for

Gary Lewis & The Playboys album cover

the intervention of the military draft. On December of 1966, he was called into the armed forces that brought him to serve during the Vietnam War and South Korea until 1968.

Reviving his singing career and regaining an almost lost spot in the industry was more than just a challenge, a startling reality he needed to confront after coming home from the warfront. Although he openly admitted that he “grew up” during his two-year stint in the army… an experience that made him strappingly keen and disciplined in his everyday routine. His performing and recording failed to recapture his earlier success and the five releases that year only peaked from 13thto 39th.

But Gary didn’t lose composure and made use of the “slow business” period to advantage. He performed in his father’s Labor Day telethons for Muscular Dystrophy Association, (Jerry’s advocate foundation) including the 2010 Telethon which was his dad’s final event as host.

The era that was…Jinky and Gary

They say monotony makes life boring and idleness begets indolence and slothfulness. By nature full of zip and wanting of something to do, Gary took a break from performing in 1971 and operated a music shop that offered drumming lessons in San Fernando Valley. He even considered to establish a new band in 1974 with Billy Cowsill (of the Cowsills) but fell short of expectation and didn’t go anywhere.

He tried to salvage his remaining strength after having been duly fueled by his desire to

Gary Lewis was initially a potential drummer before being a vocalist

recapture lost glory Gary audaciously wore his untainted pride and went back on the road… toured again with various incarnations of his Playboys. Despite the absence of the original members, Gary made sure that the new Playboys still carried the same unadulterated sound of the world-renowned Gary Lewis and the Playboys.

In the summer of 2013, Gary Lewis, along with a group of 1960s musicians like Gary Puckett (of Gary Puckett & the Union Gap), Chuck Negron (formerly of the Three Dog Nights), Mark Lindsay (former lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders), and The Turtle,  collectively dubbed Paradise Artist’s “Happy Together Tour,” explored 47 key cities and celebrated performing venues.

As of 2016, Gary Lewis & The Playboys are still actively on the road touring the world on their own, performing on cruise ships, casinos, festivals, fairs, and corporate events  and occasionally with other popular 1950s, 60s, and 70s groups.

Gary’s not-so-private personal life

The era that was…Jinky and Gary

Filipino fans keep a soft spot for Gary Lewis in their hearts…not only because of the group’s captivating music and soulful style but the mutual empathy was easily brought about by Gary’s marriage to a Filipina in 1967, Sarah Jane “Jinky” Suzara, a pretty coed from the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at the University of Santo Tomas he met backstage during one of his shows in Manila.

Although their union went kaput after just three years, they remained civil for the sake of their only daughter, Sarah, (who lives in San Diego with a family of her own)…and the separation didn’t affect the attachment (and affection) of Gary’s Filipino fans, at all!

It took a long while before Gary took a new wife in 2003 in the person of Donna Grow. Their matrimonial bliss produced four children with a lovely home nestled amid a quiet neighborhood in New York and still keeps a harmonious relationship with his former wife, Jinky, and family.

Playing favorites

Gary and current wife Donna

It cannot be denied that every singer-songwriter has a particular piece of music that is close to his heart.

In Gary’s case, he favors “This Diamond Ring” simply because it was the very first song he recorded and the only one among his songs that went to number one in the US chart… with the rest just occupying numbers 2, 3, 4, an even down to the 30s.

His dad, Jerry, straightforwardly chooses “Everybody Loves A Clown” for obvious reason. Gary openly admits that he just needed the right time and mood to be able to write a song for the women in his life: Jinky and Donna… and grandchildren, too.

Gary attributes his band’s sustained popularity to their happy-mood beat sans heavy messages free of anger-based theme, and the overall mood is uplifting and inspirational.

Beyond doubt, a first-rate act like Gary’s is tough to follow, much less fade. Gary Lewis & the Playboys, with its almost six decades in the industry, will take another half century before another band of its caliber can replace them in the hearts of their loyal fans.

But when queried as to who exactly influenced his musical journey, the iconic leader of the band  easily mentioned the Beatles. He was 19 then and about to go to college but didn’t know what he wanted in life. The Beatles’ phenomenal invasion persuaded him to put together a band with his classmates and that major influence changed his life’s destiny.

To tread down memory lane… to reminisce vanished memories… and to feel again the rapture thoughts of youthful years… come to the 20th Fiesta in America’s two-day weekend indoor festival on Saturday and Sunday, August 11 and 12, respectively, at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, New Jersey (355 Plaza Drive) and let Gary Lewis & The Playboys relive those cherished moments of the past with their unforgettable songs that still haunt us to this day.

Who could not feel wistful by just hearing familiar Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ pop hits? How could one just throw to oblivion certified gold hits like “I’ll See You In September,” “My Heart’s Symphony,” “Paint me A Picture,” “Girls In Love,” “ I Don’t Wanna Say Goodnight,” “Let’s Be More Than Friends,” “Let Me Tell You Fortune,” “I Won’t Make That Mistake Again,” and many more nostalgic hits that will surely put a tear in your eyes and have goosebumps due to excitement.

For ticket reservation, to sponsor, exhibit, or attend, please call (212) 682-6610 or email: info@fiestainamerica.com or visit their website: www.fiestainamerica.com

For comments and suggestions, please email to:gemini0646@yahoo.com.

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