At age five, Bobby began taking drum lessons because he admired Gene Krupa, and by age seven, he had begun to work night clubs in Philadelphia. At nine, he was a regular on Paul Whiteman's television show that was broadcast from Philadelphia and performed on it for three years. It was during this time that Whiteman changed Bobby's last name to Rydell, because he had trouble pronouncing Ridarelli.
By the time he was a teenager, Bobby was playing drums in a dance band called "Rocco and the Saints", that featured Frankie Avalon on the trumpet. The band played summer bookings in the seaside resorts around Atlantic City. Rydell also played the guitar and bass and was a natural comedian.
Frankie Day, who managed Rocco and the Saints, became interested in Rydell as a solo act. With Bobby's father's approval, Day began taking Rydell to different record companies. Day was unsuccessful for several years, though Rocco and the Saints had backed Frankie Avalon's first sessions on Chancellor Records.
In late 1958, Bobby recorded a song called "Fatty Fatty" for Veko Records in Baltimore. The release went nowhere, the promoters disappeared with the masters and Rydell's father was left with the bill for the sessions. Finally, Frankie Day approached Bernie Lowe, the owner of Philadelphia's Cameo Records, who had been Rydell's vocal coach when he was ten. In January 1959, Rydell signed a contract with Cameo and his first single "Please Don't Be Mad" was released in February, 1959. "Please Don't Be Mad" did no better than "Fatty Fatty." Lowe then got him a guest spot on "American Bandstand." He was only interviewed and didn't sing, but he did manage to plug "Please Don't Be Mad."
In 1959, Cameo released his second single "All I Want Is You" but again the record saw little action. Rydell became discouraged as his old friend Frankie Avalon had been making hit records for over a year. "Venus" was one of the biggest hits of 1959 and even Fabian, who couldn't sing a note, had been having hits since the first of the year.
Rydell had almost resigned himself as being a drummer in a second rate combo, when Bernie Lowe came up with a song called "Kissin' Time." Released in mid-June, the record caught on in Philadelphia, followed by Detroit and Boston. Dick Clark began playing it on American Bandstand and within three weeks after its release, it was a national hit. Bobby Rydell was just seventeen
In August, Rydell appeared on American Bandstand where he lip-synched "Kissin'' Time" and "We Got Love", which was a solid follow up.
Rydell appeared at the Michigan State Fair in September, 1959 with a Dick Clark show. This led to him touring with Dick Clark's first rock and roll caravan that began on September 18 and was booked for forty-four shows through the end of October. By then, "We Got Love" had gone gold and become Bobby's first Top Ten hit.
Rydell's biggest selling single, the million selling "Wild One" was released in early in 1960. "Swingin' School" was a springtime hit and third million seller. That summer, Bobby showed his amazing voice on an song called "Volare". The song had been pulled from a previous session of songs that were recorded in a big band style, meant to introduce Rydell to an older audience.
Over the next three years, Rydell had a string of hits that sold more than a half million copies each. Several, including "Good Time Baby", "I've Got Bonnie", "I'll Never Dance Again", "The Cha-Cha", and "Wildwood Days" made the Top Twenty. 1963s "Forget Him" almost made #1 and sold over a million copies.
Rydell appeared in the 1963 version of the Broadway hit musical "Bye, Bye, Birdie." Though the story dealt with a rock and roll singer, Rydell was cast with Ann-Margaret as a pair of high school sweethearts.
In 1964, the British invasion began and Rydell, like many American acts, was shut out from the hit making machinery of the record business.
Receiving a draft notice, Rydell tried to get out of service as a "hardship case." He wrote to the board that his father worked for him and was the sole means of support of his grandparents that lived with him. When the request was denied, Rydell joined a local Philadelphia National Guard unit. His career was interrupted for six months of basic training in 1964.
Rydell signed with Capitol Records, but never did anything of interest. In 1969, he signed with Reprise, a label founded by Frank Sinatra. His first single, "Lovin' Things" with "It's Getting Better" on the flip side, received no promotional support. "Lovin' Things" was covered by the Grassroots and "It's Getting Better" by Mama Cass, and each became a mid-size hit. His next single "The River Is Wide" went nowhere, but the Grassroots version moved up the charts. After, three failed singles, he quit.
In the late 60s, Rydell joined the rock and roll revival shows at Madison Square Garden. In the 70s, he was a popular entertainer at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Clubs. He also worked at the Hyatt Regency and Waldorf Hotel chains and appeared at Disney theme parks.
In the late 70s, Rydell tried moving into a Pop direction pioneered by Barry Manilow, but met with little success. He appeared in a summer stock of Bye, Bye, Birdie, this time playing the part of the father. He also appeared in a failed pilot comedy-variety television show, "One More Time" that was to be produced by the Osmonds.
In the summer of 1985, he joined his old friends Frankie Avalon and Fabian on the Boys of Bandstand tour. The next years saw Rydell performing in clubs all over the world. He also appeared on a number of Dick Clark television specials, recalling the early days of rock and roll era.
In 2000, Bobby released a new album called "Now and Then", made up of re-makes of his old hits and some new material. It was his first new album in over twenty years. He has contined to tour the world and his 2012 schedule was booked solid with appearances across America with The Golden Boys and in Australia as a solo act. Those touring plans were interupted when the 70-year-old singer underwent a liver and kidney transplant in early July. In January 2013, six months after double transplant surgery, Rydell returned to the stage in Las Vegas for a three night engagement to a sold out audience. He continues to perform internationally and he returned to tour Australia in 2014.
Billboard magazine lists Bobby Rydell as earning 19 US Top 40 hits, making him one of the Top 5 artists of his era.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' Interview With Bobby Rydell