Gary James' Second Interview With
Bobby Rydell

Is there a nicer guy in Rock 'n' Roll than Bobby Rydell? If so, I haven't found him. In the early 1960s Bobby Rydell recorded 34, count 'em, 34 Top 40 hits! Billboard has him as one of the Top Five artists of that time period. His biggest hits included, "Sway", "Kissin' Time", "Swingin' School" and "Volare". He sold over twenty-five million records. He was a frequent guest on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. At 19, he was the youngest star to ever headline the Copacabana. After hearing Bobby Rydell's version of "Sway", Frank Sinatra called him "The best male Pop singer of his generation." And now Bobby Rydell has written his autobiography titled Bobby Rydell: Teen Idol On The Rocks, A Tale Of Second Chances. (Doctor Licks Publishing, Did we mention that you won't find a nicer guy than Bobby Rydell?

Q - Bobby, the last time I spoke to you was in October, 1978. You were in Syracuse, N.Y. for a P.B.A. (Police Benevolent Association) show at the Onondaga County War Memorial. On that show was Freddy Cannon, Del Shannon and The Marvelettes. After the show you went to the Hotel Syracuse for a party which is where I interviewed you.

A - I don't remember that.

Q - I wouldn't have expected you to remember that.

A - I do remember working the Three Rivers Inn. It was a great club to work. It was really wonderful. I worked there prior to going to the Copacabana. We were working different clubs to fine tune the act before we got to New York City and we worked places like the Holiday House in Pittsburgh and Three Rivers Inn in Syracuse. I loved it. The owner, Dominick Bruno, was so nice. We became really, really close friends. He came to my wedding when I married my my first wife, Camilla. He gave us a beautiful crystal set. He was a very, very nice man.

Q - On the wall of Three Rivers Inn was a photo of Paul Anka and it was inscribed: To Dom, A Wonderful Boss.

A - Yeah, well he was a wonderful guy. He was a real nice man.

Q - After the Syracuse P.B.A. show in 1978, you said you were heading to Australia in a couple of days. I thought, "Australia?"

A - I've been there twenty-three times in my life since 1960. I just love it there, I really do. I mean, I have a big fan base in the states, but it's ridiculous in Australia. After all these years every time I go back they hold banners up, Oh Bobby, You Came Back, like I'm a boomerang. They're just great people. It's a bitch to get there. It's long, but once you're there, the people, the food, the climate, it's a shame it's so far away. It takes you a good day to get there.

Q - What type of venues are you performing in, in Australia?

A - In Australia, unfortunately like here there are no more Copacabanas, Holiday Houses or Three Rivers Inns. Unfortunately that's kind of run by the wayside. There was a club in Australia called Checkers. I worked there and it was a cabaret. As a matter of fact, my first appearance there I broke Shirley Bassey's record on a Saturday night. They had to turn people away. It was great. The owner was a guy by the name of Dennis Wong. He was a wonderful man. Because I was doing so well at the club, he had his family come in the night the club was closed and I had dinner with him, him and his family. There was this fish laying on the table. I don't know if it was alive or if it was dead. I didn't want to look at it. Mr. Wong said to me, "Bobby, you eat eye of fish." I said, "No, thank you so much Mr. Wong." He said, "Oh, no, no. You must eat eye." (laughs) It was kind of like a tradition. If they tell you you're going to have dinner with this Chinese family, this is something that is like an honor. So, I ate the eye. I just put the eye in my mouth and swallowed it. I didn't chew it. (laughs) Now in Australia they have these things called RSCs, Return Soldier League, and you work them and they're wonderful. They're gorgeous nightclubs. They're more like auditoriums, but they're beautiful. Always great musicians. And they have these football clubs 'cause they're very big with rugby, football. Everyone at the football clubs have their own private clubs and they are absolutely gorgeous. Wonderful places to work.

Q - What accounts for all these famous singers coming out of South Philly? Could it happen anyplace else?

A - (laughs) Well, I really don't have an answer for that. The thing that I would always say is that the reason so many people in and out of South Philadelphia was there was this one great water trough on 9th and Dickinson. If you drank out of it you became a singer. If you put your feet in it you became a dancer. If you drank and put your feet in it you became a song and dance man. That's how all these people came out of South Philadelphia. They all drank out of this horse's water fountain. (laughs) I don't have an answer for that.

Q - I thought at last, I would have an answer.

A - No, no. (laughs)

Q - You write on Page 121 of your book, "Successful entertainers are usually a combination of talent, hard work and some outside positive re-enforcement along the way." What exactly does "outside positive re-enforcement" mean? Would that be coming from fans, management, agents?

A - I would take them all into consideration. First of all, from family. My dad, if I had any talent at all, my dad was the first one to see it. I had great early management, a man by the name of Frankie Day and the boss of Cameo (Records), Bernie Lowe, the President of Cameo Records. He was a wonderful guy. As a matter of fact, when I was ten years old I was on a TV show called The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club. He was a piano player in the Paul Whiteman band. Then later on in years, when I turned seventeen, he became my boss at Cameo. So, a lot of these people had a lot to do with my career and to keep me on the straight and narrow. Wonderful people to be able to be associated with.

Q - So, Frankie Day was your manager. Let's say you had been approached by a Colonel Tom Parker or Brian Epstein. How different would your career have been?

A - Oh, God. It's all hearsay. It's like the book right now. There's lot of interest in the book. The book is doing well. We got an e-mail from a guy who just did a picture with John Travolta and he wants to buy the screen rights. I just did a cameo role in Robert De Niro's new movie called The Comedian. The director was a guy by the name of Taylor Hackford who did The Idolmaker and The Ray Charles Story and Good Time Rock 'n' Roll. We're gonna send the book to him. Who knows? I want to send it to him. Ronnie Howard, Martin Scorsese. It's the old saying, you throw enough crap against the wall, something's going to stick.

Q - People are interested in that time period you came up in.

A - Well, look, I don't know. If anyone of these directors has an idea, we'll see.

Q - You were in on the ground floor of Rock 'n' Roll.

A - Well, there were quite a few people before me.

Q - But you were in the mix too.

A - Absolutely.

Q - Did you meet Brian Epstein when you were on tour in England?

A - No. I was touring with a girl by the name of Helen Shapiro. She was lkie one of the top, top singers in the U.K. I was doing two weeks and we were doing different theatres in the U.K. One night there was a car in front of us and Helen Shapiro said, They're The Beatles." I didn't know what the hell she was talking about. Who the hell are The Beatles? They came on the bus, the four of the guys. They knew me. I said hello to them and we shook hands. As far as I was concerned they were a band called The Beatles and they did clubs and dances and they did whatever the hell they did. They went their way and we went our way. Then I come back here and now it's 1964 and I'm watching Ed Sullivan and there's The Beatles! I said, "My God. I met those guys!" I met them before they became what they are.

Q - You met them in '63?

A - Yeah, '63, before they hit here.

Q - Do you remember how they looked? Do you remember if they were wearing the Beatle haircuts?

A - I really don't. I guess they did, but when they came on the bus I wasn't looking at their hair. They're just four guys who came on. I said hello. We shook hands and they went their way and I went my way.

Q - And Brian Epstein wasn't with them?

A - I don't remember Brian Epstein. Just the four of them came on.

Q - From 1960 to 1964, you were on the road eight to ten months a year. You were performing in what type of places? The supper clubs?

A - Yeah. Basically at that time we still had supper clubs. We still had cabaret. Basically it was that and theatres across the country. Now, it's a big thing. They renovated a lot of old theatres and they became great venues. Mostly it was theatres and concert venues. Not the kind of concert venues that a Bruce Springsteen would work. When I do the show with Frankie (Avalon) and Fab (Fabian), we'll work tops maybe five thousand seat venues.

Q - You were doing as many as ten shows a day on Steel Pier in Atlantic City.

A - Yeah.

Q - Did you ever tell anyone, "My voice can't take ten shows a day"? That seems barbaric.

A - No, not really. You really don't do that much time. If the show lasted a half hour, there was a comedy team that was on in front of me and I did the fifteen, twenty minutes. Then you get off and the buzzer would sound fifteen minutes and we're on again. That's why we did in the vicinity of ten shows a day. You really had no time in between and the only time you had in between was after the show you were signing autographs for as many fans as you possibly can. Then we were back on stage again.

Q - Speaking of fans, these teen magazines would run these contests: "Win A Date With Bobby".

A - Not only me, but everybody else.

Q - Was that on the up and up?

A - Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Q - A fan had a chance to go on a date with you?

A - Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. (laughs)

Q - When they met you, did they get all nervous?

A - I don't remember the girl's name, but I don't think she said two words during dinner. She was like ga-ga.

Q - You met Sinatra. You met The Beatles. How about Elvis? Did you ever meet him?

A - No. Never had the opportunity. I wish I could've met the man.

Q - You were making $500 a week for five or six weeks when you did the Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars tours. Do you realize when Herman's Hermits did those Dick Clark tours they were making $200 a week. And that's for the whole group! They had two records in the Top Ten. So, if you made $500 a week you were being paid pretty well.

A - (laughs) If I made five, I guess I did. (laughs) I don't even remember what I got paid there. To try and remember exactly what I got paid, I just came up with a figure. I don't remember exactly.

Q - You had the best voice going when you compare it Fabian or Frankie Avalon or Paul Anka. I was surprised to read in your book that "Sway" didn't even crack the Top Ten.

A - No, I don't think it did. Maybe Top Twenty. I really don't even know where it charted.

Q - Any idea why that would be?

A - I don't have any idea. I don't have a clue. Maybe there were other records that were better than "Sway" that made the Top Ten that particular time, but one of the favorite songs I do in my act is songs that the fans really love to hear, one being "Sway" and the other, "Forget Him". It was a damn good record. I've very proud of it. It's like a song that people just love to hear. Whey it didn't chart higher, I don't know.

Q - When the British Invasion hit, it killed your career.

A - Not only me, but a lot of the American artists because of the DJs in the country were playing nothing but British music. They're playing The Stones. They're playing The Beatles. It did hurt a lot of American artists, not only me but then after a couple of years went by I think a lot of DJs said to themselves, "Hey, that's enough. Let's start playing some home grown stuff. Let's start playing American artists," which they finally did. To a certain degree that hurt most of the American artists at the time.

Q - In August of 1965 you played the New York State Fair, Empire Court I believe it was called, and the girls still screamed. That was at the height of Beatlemania.

A - (laughs) Back then they used to throw room keys on stage and bras and panties. Now when I walk on stage they throw Depends.

Q - I don't like hearing that, Bobby.

A - (laughs) It's a joke.

Q - It says in your book you performed for Presidents. What Presidents did you perform for?

A - Reagan. As a matter of fact, it was the three of us, Frankie, Fab and myself. It was the Ford's Theatre of all places where we did the show, where Lincoln got shot. You look at where Lincoln was sitting and it was only like five feet above the stage area. That's why Booth could jump from there down to the stage and get the hell out of the theatre. It wasn't that high of a jump. But it was nice. I think Jimmy Stewart was on the show. I think Sid Caesar was on the show. Rosemary Clooney was on the show, and so were we, Frankie Avalon, Fabian and me. That was for President Reagan.

Q - You quit high school in your junior year. Did you ever get your GED? Did your high school ever bestow an honorary degree on you?

A - One of the priests from Bishop Neumann High School, he asked me if I would to a show to raise money for the school and how much money would I want? I told him, "You know Father, I don't want any money what-so-ever. You gotta pay for the band 'cause musicians want to be paid. You gotta pay the musicians." So, he did. I said, "What I want Father, if at all possible, is my diploma and my graduation ring," and I got both.

Q - I should have asked you this earlier, but whatever happened to your manager, Frankie Day?

A - Oh, Frankie passed away quite a few years ago. I would say it's got to be better than ten years. Frank was the kind of guy who when we would travel to Hawaii he said, "Boy, this is Paradise. This is a place I would always love to live," and he did. He moved to Hawaii and spent the latter part of his years in Hawaii. He really enjoyed it. That's where he passed away. It's a place that he truly loved. He was a great man. We were together for a good fourteen, fifteen years and then things changed in the business, but we always remained very, very dear and close friends.

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Bobby Rydell