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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Bobby Lewis born 17 February 1933

Bobby Lewis (born February 17, 1933, Indianapolis, Indiana) is an American rock and roll and R&B singer.

Born Robert A. Lewis in 1933, he grew up in an orphanage and was adopted at age twelve by a family in Detroit. During childhood, piano playing was his obsession. He ran away from his foster home at age 14 and worked carnivals. Lewis eventually joined the Leo Hines Orchestra in Indianapolis as a singer.

He made his first record at 19 with Leroy Kirkland's orchestra; "Mumbles Blues" (he wrote it with Kirkland), released in 1952 on Chess, reveals a talented, mature singer, yet a few years passed before he found his way back into a recording studio. His second release, a more frantic remake of "Mumbles Blues" on the Spotlight label in 1957, was picked up some months later by Mercury Records. Bobby waxed "Yay Yay I Feel So Gay" for Mercury; a review in Billboard described the song as "vociferous," an accurate description of his over-the-top approach to music-making.

That same disorderly style was evident, if not a notch more chaotic, on a single Lewis did for Roulette in 1959, "You Better Stop" backed with "Fire of Love." He certainly wasn't shy or reserved, but perhaps the best move towards achieving a hit was to dial back the deliriousness a bit. During his brief time at the label he met Richie Adams, a songwriter and lead singer of The Fireflies, a group that made just one single for Roulette.

Bobby's persistence got him in the door as a performer in many nightclubs and during late 1960, while appearing at the Apollo Theater in New York, he and Richie contacted Les Cahan at the Beltone Sound Studio, which had been active for several years; they ended up with the first two releases on the company's offshoot, Beltone Records, started in an attempt to garner a larger share of profits from the studio's recorded output. Richie's solo 45, "No Mistakin' it," misfired, but the label's second disc, Lewis's "Tossin' and Turnin'," a cleverly-conceived ditty by Adams and Malou Rene, wife of Beltone's A&R director and bandleader Joe Rene, fared much better.

Adams played a twangin' guitar and backing vocals were supplied by girl group The Swanettes. Disc jockeys were slow to realize the potential of Bobby's record; Cahan felt he had at least a mid-sized hit and worked overtime to bring radio and retailers on board. A gradual mover after its national chart debut in April 1961, the record topped the pop chart in July, then locked up the number one spot through September (seven weeks pop, ten weeks on the R&B charts). Lewis had accomplished the unthinkable: "Tossin' and Turnin'" was the year's biggest hit.

Lewis followed it up with ‘One Track Mind’ another Top 10 hit. His bright burst of fame dimmed rather quickly, a common occurrence, though a hit the magnitude of "Tossin'" would certainly provide hope for a longer run, but subsequent efforts were commercially disappointing. By 1963 the Beltone label was on its last legs; Lewis departed after nine singles and one album. A couple of 45s on ABC-Paramount in '64 leaned a little closer to his unbridled '50s rants.

After a long stretch, "Soul Seekin'" appeared on Philips in 1968. Bobby settled in Newark, New Jersey, and struggled much of his life with vision problems that had begun as a child. He was a frequent participant in oldies revival shows, routinely receiving standing ovations after many a rousing version of "Tossin' and Turnin'." Near blind later in life, he nevertheless continues to  perform at oldies concerts.

(Info mainly from Michael Jack Kirby @ Way Back Other sources give birth year as 1927)

1 comment:

boppinbob said...

Have run out of time but I found a Bobby Lewis - Golden Oldies compilation album. Will post link if requested.