Bob Crewe is a strappingly handsome, freckle-faced, reddish-blond Irishman of a bachelor in his early thirties-he says “early” and he looks it–who bluntly calls his record production company Genius, Inc.
Bob has had no musical training, other than piano lessons for a short period of his boyhood in Belleville, N.J. He was born in Newark and at eight was the singing and dancing star of a program presented at the defunct Mosque Theatre by the pupils of the Lippel School of the Dance. Peggy Ann Garner was vis-à-vis in two songs, which he remembers as “The Good Ship Lollipop” and “Shuffle Off To Buffalo.” Stanley and Mabel Crewe lived in the basement apartment of a building with Bob’s younger brothers, Dan & Tommy. Bob had much room in which to indulge his feeling for the theatrical. He recalls decking out the entire area with crepe paper and flowers as if it were King Arthurs’s court.
Returning to the United States after working as an entertainer and painter in Europe, Bob began writing songs. It was easier earning a livelihood as a male model. He was frequently cast as Sandra Dee’s and Carol Lynley’s boy friend in ads, and soon was greatly in demand. He was thinking of studying architecture when “Silhouettes” launched him as a songwriter and record producer. Shortly thereafter he stepped into the limelight as a singer, recording an album titled Kicks With Bob Crewe. Out of it came his first hit single, a rocking treatment of “The Wiffenpoof Song.” Guest shots on television led to a screen test by Columbia Pictures and the proffer of a contract. Surprisingly, he turned it down.
In 1957 Arnold Shaw wrote that before writers-artists had made a personal instrument of the recording studio and before independent record production became the modus vevendi of music business, Bob Crewe and his “Silhouettes” collaborator, Frank Slay Jr. decided to produce their own recording of the song. The recording of “Silhouettes” by the Rays, released on Cameo, became a two-million-record seller.
The following year, Bob Crewe and Frank Slay Jr. wrote and produced “Lah Dee Dah,” a hit for Billy and Lillie on Swan and, in the succeeding year, “Tallahassee Lassie,” a top number for Freddy Canon, also on Swan.
Although independent record production is now the mark of pop music, the record scene of 1957 was dominated by a small dictatorial group of Artist and Repertoire men at the major record labels. If they rejected a new song proffered by a writer or publisher, it had no future other than that afforded by a dusty bottom desk drawer. Faced with this problem and frequently dissatisfied with what A & R men did to his songs, Crewe turned to one of the indie publishers of the day, Regent Music, a firm run by one of Benny Goodman’s brothers. Gene Goodman agreed to finance the session in return for the publishing rights, thereby putting Crewe in the vanguard of a development that today is central to music business and that has established a new phalanx of music millionaires.
Bob Crewe produces albums on his own label, DynaVoice Records, distributed by Dot Records, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures, itself a subsidiary of Gulf and Western Company. To complete the Crewe entertainment complex of eleven companies administered by his brother Dan, there are three publishing companies, Saturday Music, Tomorrow Tunes and the previously mentioned Genius Music, to which hits of the Four Seasons, Leslie Gore, Mitch Ryder and other recording artists contribute the mounting royalties.
“Writing songs is like breathing, and making records is like eating. I could no more exist without them, no matter what I get involved in, than a man get along without a functioning stomach and lungs.”–Bob Crewe 1967
Even before we got to talking, he asked whether he could play some new recordings he had just made with the Bob Crewe Generation band. From then on, playing at a volume which overpowers most people but which, I have found, is normal for music men, he became a man wired for sound. He knew and sang all the parts, and enacted with animated gestures, as if he were conducting or playing the various instruments, the rhythms and melodic figures.
Bob Crewe himself is a combination of polarities. He projects a feeling of exuberance, a desire for power, both moderated by esthetic discernment and sensitivity. He loves massive things. At the time Bob Crewe was getting involved as head of several companies, Genius, Inc. for production, Dynavoice for releasing product, Crewe Group Films, and Crewe Video Productions, the latter having acquired the rights to the best-selling book, Birds of Britain and writing the score for an NBC color special of the same name.
Crewe has contributed to the recording success of many other artists, including Lesley Gore, Patti Duke, The Highwaymen, Ike and Tina Turner.
While working on structuring a musical drama, The Great Society, based on the a Life article about New York’s Puerto Rican community, Bob Crewe met a new collaborator in Bob Gaudio. With plans of producing a film with his company, Bob Crewe (perhaps his most important find) took in a Detroit group in Muddy Waters shoutin’ blues tradition that called itself Billy Lee and the Rivieras.
He re-named them Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and helped them produce their first Gold Record in “Jenny Take A Ride.” More recently, he accounted for “Sock It To Me Baby,” a hit that made a colloquialism of an in-group locution. Of Ryder’s newest recording, “What Now, My Love,” Crewe says with characteristic breathlessness, “It’s not a recording. It’s an experience!” Ryder is the star of a motion picture Crewe is currently shooting, as part of his new overall thrust into show business.
Despite these various talents, Bob thinks of himself primarily as a songwriter and record producer, a dual role that shot him to number one in Billboard’s “Hot 100 Producers” in 1967.
When Variety presented a “10th Anniversary Salute” to Bob Crewe, the sensationally successful group known as the Four Seasons took out a full-page ad and said: “Once upon a time–there were Four Seasons. They were able to sing very well but nobody seemed to care. Then a strange thing happened. A man overheard them… The Four Seasons take great pride and pleasure in thanking the man that overhead them…Bob Crewe…the Fifth Season.”
Just as Murray the K is known as the fifth Beatle, so Bob Crewe is known as the fifth Season. When Bob first “overheard ” them, the group was known as the Four Lovers. The group featured an intriguing falsetto voice of lead singer Frankie Valli. Bob renamed the group to the Four Seasons and helped them produce their first million-copy seller.
“Sherry” was written by Bob Gaudio, the youngest member of the group. One listen was all Bob Crewe needed to be sold on the idea. The song was recorded and released immediately. An unknown group only a couple of months ago, today the whole music business and the public alike are talking about the “different sound” of The Four Seasons.–Joey Reynolds-Station WPOP Hartford, Conn.
The group acknowledged that they were going nowhere until he “overheard them,” with the result that “Now, over forty-seven million people are happier because they own round magic things that make the Four Seasons sing warm and groovy.”
Together, Crewe and Gaudio have accounted for such Four Seasons chart climbers as “Rag Doll,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like A Man,” and “I Make A Fool Of Myself.” Crewe and Gaudio also wrote, “Silence Is Golden,” for the Tremeloes, and help launch Frankie Valli’s solo career with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.”
You have no doubt, as you consider Bob Crewe’s accomplishments, acquisitions and talents that this young man has a way of making things revolve around him. “I make my own sun,” he says. …Arnold Shaw, 1968
A special thanks to George Showerer, Harriet Shubert, Otto Fenn, for their images captured of those moments rare to the public and now a treasure to the Crewe Family.