Saturday, September 13, 2014

A passing worth noting

Frankie Valli (left) and Bob Crewe at the Broadway opening of Jersey Boys

Bob Crewe died Thursday and not much has been mentioned about it. Maybe it’s because Crewe was one of those "behind-the-scenes" music geniuses.

He is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. If he had only written one song, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, it would have qualified him for the Hall, but he, along with co-writer Bob Gaudio wrote most of the big hits made famous by Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. He also wrote a song Bob Dylan recorded during his "basement tapes" sessions, although Dylan’s version of the song has never been released.

Crewe’s first major success came in 1957. He had started his own record label, XYZ, and one of the groups he signed to that label was The Rays. In 1957 he and Frank Slay Jr., a pianist from Dallas, co-wrote a song called Silhouettes, which The Rays recorded. The song was picked up by the larger Cameo Records label and climbed as high as No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. (The song came a hit again in 1965 for Herman’s Hermits and that’s the above-referenced song Dylan recorded.)

On the B-side of the Rays recording was another Crewe/Slay composition called Daddy Cool which became a Top 10 hit in 1957 for The Diamonds.

That success led Crewe and Slay to be signed with Swan Records and while there Crewe produced such hits as Lah Dee Dah for Billy and Lillie and Tallahassee Lassie for Freddy Cannon.

He teamed with Gaudio in the early 60s. Gaudio, at the time, was regarded somewhat of a boy wonder in the music business. At the age of 15, while singing with a group called The Royal Teens, he co-wrote its only hit, Short Shorts. Crewe’s and Gaudio’s first collaboration, Sherry, in 1962 for The Four Seasons. They later wrote (and Crewe produced) such additional Four Seasons hits as Big Girls Don’t Cry, Rag Doll, Walk Like a Man and Bye, Bye Baby (Baby, Goodbye), Together with Sandy Linzer and Denny Randall, Crewe wrote my favorite Four Seasons hit, Let’s Hang On.

In the mid 1960s, he discovered a band called Billy Lee & the Rivieras. He renamed the group Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, which scored major hit singles with Crewe’s arrangements of such songs as Devil With a Blue Dress On and Jenny Take a Ride.

Crewe’s last major success came in 1975 when he co-wrote with Kenny Nolan the song Lady Marmalade that became a No. 1 hit for Labelle.

Crewe was featured prominently in the Broadway musical Jersey Boys about The Four Seasons.

In April of this year Crewe, who had been in declining health for several years, checked himself into a Scarborough, Maine, nursing home. He was 83 when he died there Thursday.

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