Sunday, May 27, 2012

Gary Lewis and the Playboys -- "She's Just My Style" (1965)

Don't you know that she's just my style 
Everything about her drives me wild 

When's the last time you thought about Gary Lewis and the Playboys?  

Have you forgotten just how big they were -- especially in 1965?  According to Billboard, the Playboys had three of the top 100 singles that year.  So did the Beatles.  The Beach Boys, Supremes, and Rolling Stones had two each.

The Playboys released five singles in 1965.  "This Diamond Ring" went to #1.  "Count Me In" and "Save Your Heart for Me" went to #2.  "She's Just My Style" made it to #3.  And "Everybody Loves a Clown" hit #4.  That's the pop-music equivalent of a grand slam, a couple of solo home runs, a triple, and a double in one game.

Carl Wiser of the indispensable Songfacts website recently interviewed Gary Lewis, and kindly offered to write about "She's Just My Style" for you lucky readers of 2 or 3 lines.  (Carl knows that Leon Russell is a favorite of 2 or 3 lines, and it turns out that Leon had a major role in the Playboys' success -- as did Al Kooper, another favorite of mine.)  

Carl, you have the floor:
Gary Lewis and the Playboys had seven top-10 hits, which was remarkable considering that their competition included the Beatles.
Their first and biggest hit, was "This Diamond Ring," which was written in part by a young Al Kooper.  Those next six hits don't have the same shine, but they still hold up, especially the Beach Boys-flavored "She's Just My Style."
Gary Lewis is, of course, the son of Jerry Lewis. He inherited some of his dad's showmanship and got some other perks -- like drum lessons from family friend Buddy Rich.
[Editor's note: Buddy Rich was a virtuoso jazz drummer with  a mercurial temperament who often appeared as a guest on The Tonight ShowClick here to see Buddy Rich and Jerry Lewis drumming on a 1965 television special.]
But Gary was determined to succeed without any help from his famous father.  Here's how he explained it to me:
"I don't want to get any jobs because I'm his son.  I won't do it.  I just will absolutely not do it.  Because if you don't have talent, the door's going to slam in your face, anyway."

Gary Lewis with his father, Jerry
Gary didn't hit it big because of his dad, he hit it big because of Snuff Garrett and Leon Russell.  Garrett is the record producer who found him playing at Disneyland, put him in a studio, and had him record "This Diamond Ring." He's also the one who pulled in the famous Los Angeles session musicians like Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye and Tommy Tedesco to play on the records. (Gary points out that the Playboys played on everything, but these session pros did overdubs and solos. These were the same musicians who played on many of the Beach Boys records, which came in handy on this song.)  Leon Russell, very early in his career, did the arrangements.
Gary co-wrote two of his hits, first "Everybody Loves a Clown" and then "She's Just My Style." He worked with Garrett and Russell on both of them, and for "Style," they had a particular sound in mind.  Said Lewis:
"Leon and Snuffy said, 'All right, let's write a song about the California coast and the beach and the surf and the sun.'  I said, 'Oh, so you want to do like a Beach Boys thing?'  And they said, 'Yeah, yeah.  With voices and a lot of harmonies and stuff like that.'  I said, 'Well, great.  I like the Beach Boys.'  They recorded in the same studio that we recorded in, too.  So I was always visiting them or they were coming and visiting me on my sessions.  So that's what we were going for, a Beach Boys-type sound."
They nailed the sound, and "She's Just My Style" went to #3 in 1965.  It helped that Garrett had mastered the art of timing Playboys singles around Beatles releases so they wouldn't have to battle a "Ticket To Ride" or "Yesterday" for attention.
On December 29, 1966, Gary entered the army.  He didn't try to dodge the draft, since it worked out for Elvis, and getting out of it wasn't a good option.  He explained it like this:
"If I fought to get out of it, look at all the bad press.  Look at how people would look at me.  I'm glad I had the insight to see that at such an early age.  I didn't think it was the right thing to try to get out of it at all."
While Gary was in the army (he didn't see combat, but did go to Saigon -- they didn't want to get him killed, and neither did he), the musical landscape flipped and his brand of pop was not in favor when he returned.  Gary owned a record store from 1972 to 1984, and he has been touring ever since.  
He released a new song in 2011 called "You Can't Go Back," which is well worth the 99 cents it costs on iTunes or Amazon.

Here's Gary Lewis today:

To say that Gary Lewis and the Playboys nailed the sound of the Beach Boys on this song is an understatement.  Leon Russell played on "Help Me, Rhonda," "California Girls," and other Beach Boys recordings, and he was obviously paying close attention.

Thanks once again to Carl, who never disappoints.  Click here to read Carl's entire Gary Lewis interview.

Here's Gary Lewis and the Playboys lip-synching "She's Just My Style" on the Los Angeles-based music variety show, Shivaree, which ran insyndication in 1965 and 1966.  I'm pretty sure that the middle go-go dancer is Teri Garr:

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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