The Disco Years
It’s not surprising that Bob Crewe scored several big Disco hits in the ’70s; it was all but inevitable that he would. Clearly, his ’60s productions anticipated Disco music; they’re the missing link that falls between Cameo-Parkway’s dance novelties and Motown’s big beat concertos. All three styles form part of a direct line which connects the mambo and the cha-cha-chá to the Bump and the Hustle.
Crewe’s tickets to dance music immortality were the glam Rock trio LaBelle, who rode his Creole hooker fantasy “Lady Marmalade” to the top of the charts in 1974; Frankie Valli, for whom he wrote and produced the 1975 club classic “Swearin’ To God”; The Eleventh Hour, with whom he waxed the cult favorite “Hollywood Hot” (1975), a revamped Bob Crewe Generation, who came back strong with “Street Talk”(1976); and the infamous Disco Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes, for whom he crafted the high camp anthem of 1974, “Get Dancin'”. His Disco Tex LP is revered by dance music aficionados; a concept album revolving around the androgynous stage persona of former Las Vegas headliner Sir Monti Rock III, it features guest vocals by Sugarloaf’s Jerry Corbetta, Crewe’s new songwriting partners Kenny Nolan and Cindy Bullens, old friend Freddy Cannon, and ’60s beach movie soundtrack singer Lu Ann Simms. Without a doubt, this was the wildest party Crewe ever staged on wax.
As important as the aforementioned records are to Disco music, Bob Crewe made his most significant contribution to the genre not as a producer, but as an organizer. After moving to Hollywood in the mid-70s, he co-founded the Los Angeles Deejay Pool. In his book Turn The Beat Around, Disco historian Peter Shapiro explains the significance of these organizations: “The idea was that the record companies could save money by sending promotional material to one centralized office (and) the deejays would get all the new records without . . . being rejected because their club wasn’t (considered) important enough.” By ensuring that the best dance records would be heard in a large number of discothèques, deejay pools facilitated Disco’s transition from an underground phenomenon to the cultural explosion that it became. As always, Bob Crewe was primarily interested in promoting his own product, but with LADP, he helped foment a musical revolution in the process.
Even though his hit streak extended into the ’70s, that decade was not a particularly happy one for him. He endured a rocky tenure as a Motown Records staff producer, where he clashed creatively with Berry Gordy, Jr. Later, he struggled with writer’s block and alcohol addiction. At one particularly low point, he got drunk and destroyed all the music industry awards he’d accumulated over the years. An attempt to revive his dormant singing career in 1977 nearly ended his life; shortly after longtime mentor Jerry Wexler produced a new album for him in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Crewe fell victim to a crippling hit-and-run car accident. The crime was never solved, and many months of slow, painful rehabilitation followed.
He overcame his obstacles and re-emerged in the ’80s, writing new material with Jerry Corbetta, and grooming fresh talent under the auspices of CC Trax, a new production company. In 1985, he answered Ellie Greenwich’s call to produce the cast album of Leader Of The Pack, a Broadway musical about her life and career. The two-record set was nominated for a Grammy award. That same year, Crewe was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Since then, he’s chosen to concentrate on various multimedia art projects. He operates his own art studio in Los Angeles and stages regular exhibits of his paintings and sculptures.
“I’m not exactly sure when I met Bob Crewe, but we always saw each other around the business from the very beginning. (We) had an affinity for each other (and) still do! He was a joy to work with on all levels . . . he’s a perfectionist, he’s open to any outside ideas, he really knows what he wants and gets it, and most of all, he is passionate about what he does. He puts all of himself into everything he touches . . . I always loved and still do love Bob! I can go on and on about this talented gentleman, and he is just that: A ‘gentle man’.”–Elle Greenwich
The details of his fascinating life would make one Hell of a musical! What an amazing résumé he has! Singer, songwriter, producer, publisher, painter, sculptor, celebrity host, fashion model, consultant, entrepreneur and now, author . . . it’s almost like he’s lived several lifetimes at once. What new vistas beckon him? What creative challenge will he take on next? His many admirers can hardly wait to find out.– Don Charles Hampton
We wish to thank Don Charles Hampton for his contribution to this website.