Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes The Buddy Rich Big Band

Yesterday’s Music History Monday was generally about nepo (as in “nepotism”) babies:

“the children of celebrities who have succeeded in the same or adjacent career as their celebrity parents or other esteemed relatives. The implication is that, because their parents already had connections to an industry, the child was able to use those connections to build a career in that industry.”

Specifically, yesterday’s Music History Monday marked the 77th birthday of Gary (Levitch) Lewis, the son of the comedian Jerry Lewis and a nepo baby par excellence.  

Patti Palmer (1921-2021) and her eldest child, Gary Lewis (born 1946), circa 1948
Patti Palmer (1921-2021) and her eldest child, Gary Lewis (born 1946), circa 1948

Gary Lewis’ mother – Patti Palmer – was a professional singer who gave her son a set of drums when he was 15.  At the age of 18, he formed a band with four friends.  Since his mother was underwriting the band’s equipment purchases, Lewis got top billing, and the band was called “Gary and the Playboys.”

The band was taken on by the American record producer Snuff Garrett, not because they were particularly good but because Garrett saw the band as an opportunity to capitalize off of Gary’s father, the presumed “King of Comedy” himself, Jerry Lewis.  

In yesterday’s post, we observed that Gary Lewis was not much of a drummer and was eventually replaced as the drummer, becoming the lead singer in the process.  However, something we did not observe was that Snuff Garrett – the record producer – initially tried to make Gary Lewis a better drummer.  To that end, he set up drum lessons for Gary with a private teacher.  Not just any “private teacher,” mind you, but Buddy Rich (1917-1987), one of the greatest drummers of all time.  

Bernard “Buddy” Rich (1917-1987) in 1969
Bernard “Buddy” Rich (1917-1987) in 1969

Alas, we do not know what transpired during these lessons.  Neither do we know at what point Buddy Rich realized Gary Lewis was hopeless, nor what Buddy Rich said to Snuff Garrett about Gary Lewis’ “skill set.”  What we do know is that soon enough, the lessons stopped, and Gary Lewis was “promoted” to lead singer, having been replaced in his own band by a drummer named Jim Keltner.

Buddy Rich, Revisited

My Dr. Bob Prescribes post for August 20, 2019, featured Buddy Rich’s big band album Mercy, Mercy, recorded in 1969.  If ever a musician and an album deserve to be revisited, it is Buddy Rich and Mercy, Mercy.  That’s because that post – written nearly four years ago, in what were my early days here on Patreon – was painfully brief, running just over 1000 words and lacking any video links that would help flesh out Rich’s career and truly stunning talent.  

So here we go again.  This time around, at nearly 3000 words in length, this post is going to give Buddy Rich his due!…

See the post and prescribed recording only on Patreon!

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