The world lost one of the true giants of the music industry when the legendary Bob Crewe passed away on September 11, 2014, at the age of 83. Although he was best known for his work with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, especially in the years since the musical Jersey Boys made its debut on the Broadway stage, Crewe had an extensive career as a singer, composer and producer spanning several decades.
Often referred to as the Fifth Season, Crewe was a true Jersey boy, born in Newark on November 12, 1930 and raised primarily in Belleville. A partnership formed in the early 1950s with Frank Slay, Jr. resulted in a record label, XYZ; and, ultimately, a national Top Ten hit with “Silhouettes” by The Rays. The song was written by the Crewe/Slay team and the record produced by Crewe. “Silhouettes” was covered by The Diamonds and later remade by Herman’s Hermits with whom the song again garnered Top Ten status, in 1965.
Crewe and Slay subsequently began working with Swan Records, where they co-wrote an infectious ditty called “La Dee Dah” (whose lyrics referenced other popular song titles of the era, a trend which seems to have been more or less in vogue at the time) for the duo Billy and Lillie; the song peaked at #9 on the charts. Additionally, the Crewe/Slay team added a couple of recordings by Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon to their list of successes, beginning with “Tallahassee Lassie” for which the pair wrote additional lyrics and revamped the arrangement. The result was yet another Top Ten hit on Crewe’s resume.
It was about this time when the Philly-based Swan Records signed a new young singer named Eddie Rambeau. “I met him [Bob Crewe] when I was working for Frank Slay in Philadelphia and Bob and Frank decided to rejoin forces,” Ed Rambeau says, referring to the merging of Crewe’s publishing company with Slay’s. Crewe became a songwriting partner of Rambeau’s as well, ultimately co-composing roughly a hundred songs by Rambeau’s estimation. One of these, “Navy Blue,” written by Crewe and Rambeau along with Bud Rehak, became a national Top Ten hit for Diane Renay in 1964. Subsequently, Rambeau adds, “I moved to New York and began working at the Bob Crewe organization along with Frank.”
Before “Navy Blue,” however, Crewe had begun the association with which he would be forever remembered, composing (with Bob Gaudio) and producing the song “Sherry” for a group called The Four Seasons. This record, which went all the way to the top of the charts in 1962, was the beginning of a collaboration which produced a number of hits for Frankie Valli and the group, among them “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and others forever immortalized on record and in the stage play and movie Jersey Boys.
In 1965, Crewe founded DynoVoice records, and its first release was “Concrete and Clay” by Eddie Rambeau. Crewe had brought a demo of the song back to the States after a visit to the UK; the voices on the demo were those of the song’s composers, Tommy Moeller and Brian Parker. Crewe had Rambeau record the song for the new label; the recording was produced and arranged by Charles Calello, who would go on to replace Nick Massi in The Four Seasons later that same year. A week after Rambeau’s version of “Concrete” was released, a second version, by its songwriters and their group, Unit 4 + 2, hit the streets and the airwaves. Despite this, DynoVoice’s inaugural release managed to make it to the U.S. Top Forty. Rambeau followed this up with his second single for the label, “My Name is Mud,” which like “Navy Blue” was composed by Rambeau with Crewe and Rehak.
During the 1960s and early ’70s, before and during his tenure as lead vocalist for The Archies and The Cuff Links, Ron Dante was an A-list session singer in New York City. Dante notes: “Bob was an incredible person. Really talented and visionary about pop music. I used to do backgrounds for him in the sixties. He would call at all hours of the day and night [asking me to] bring some singers over to a studio he was working in. Sometimes the sessions would start just before midnight and we’d work until the wee hours. Bob was a great man. I was so impressed with his musical skills.”
Over the years, much has been written about Bob Crewe’s incredible career and his many successes in the music world as songwriter, producer and recording artist, which in addition to his body of work with The Four Seasons and the other recordings mentioned in the previous paragraphs also included hits like “A Lover’s Concerto” (The Toys, 1965); “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” (The Walker Brothers, 1966; originally recorded by The Four Seasons); “Music to Watch Girls By” (The Bob Crewe Generation, 1967); “Jean” and “Good Morning Starshine” (Oliver, 1969); “Lady Marmalade” (Labelle, 1974); and “Get Dancin'” (Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, 1974). Rather than duplicating everything here, I recommend visiting Bob Crewe’s Wikipedia page, which includes a partial list of his hits over the years, and a second page on Wikipedia which lists songs written by him.
I also heartily recommend listening to the audio interview conducted by deejay Ronnie Allen a few years ago. Ronnie, who worked for Casey Kasem’s organization during a 15-year period from the early ’70s to the late ’80s as a researcher for the American Top Forty program, has for the past several years recorded interviews with a number of the music industry’s major players for the Jersey Girls Sing website
Here, word for word, is what Ronnie Allen has to say about his interview with Bob Crewe:
I first communicated with Bob in 2003 when he was my surprise live phone-in guest on a radio show that I did with Diane Renay. Five years later we did an 80-minute radio interview show for the Jersey Girls Sing website in which we focused on his amazing career. Laura asked my permission to share it with you and I said “you absolutely have it!”
If Bob had produced and written songs for the 4 Seasons and nobody else, his enduring place in pop music history would still be firmly established. But he also produced and/or wrote so many hits for other artists including the Rays, Billy and Lillie, Freddy Cannon, Diane Renay, Mitch Ryder, Lesley Gore, Oliver, Kenny Notan, LaBelle and even the outrageous Monti Rock III (AKA Disco Tex)!
In this radio show from January 2008, Bob’s stories about the artists and the hits are as fascinating and entertaining as the hits themselves. The unbelievable success of the 4-Seasons-based show Jersey Boys, the hottest ticket on Broadway and wherever else it is playing, is icing on this man’s proverbial cake; he wrote many of the hit songs from that show. And now there is additional icing as he is one of the main characters in the recently-released Jersey Boys film and of course his songs are prominently featured there as well.
Bob was an incredible talent and, just as important, a true gentleman with an engaging sense of humor.
It was truly an honor to do this show with him as a tribute to his prolific body of work.
And thanks again, Laura, for agreeing to share it with your very large number of followers.
The Bob Crewe Interview, by Ronnie Allen (January 2008):
A truly incredible career, the likes of which might be equaled but will probably never be surpassed. Bob Crewe was truly one in a million.
Sadly, Crewe was visiting his brother Dan’s home a few years ago when he suffered a fall down a flight of stairs, from which he never fully recovered. Crewe passed away at a care facility in Scarborough, Maine, on September 11, 2014. He was 83 years old.
Ron Dante, who was known as “Ronnie” during his demo- and session-singer heyday, remembers Bob Crewe with fondness—and also shares a surprising anecdote: “Personally,” Ron says, “he [Crewe] was so impressive as a human being. A true gentleman and kind taskmaster for the singers. He was the reason I changed my name from Ronnie to Ron. He did my numbers and said I would have much more success with [fewer] letters.”
As for Ed Rambeau, he has this to say about his friend and mentor:
“Bob was a really fun-loving guy and one of the most memorable things I remember about him is that when we went to see a movie, he always fell asleep in the movie theater. We usually went in a group and the person sitting next to him always had to keep nudging him awake … especially when he began snoring. However, as a talent, no one compared. He had an ear for a hit song like nobody else in the business. He was also quite a remarkable painter and that’s primarily what he was concentrating on before the accident when he fell down a flight of stairs at his brother’s house at around age 80. Since that fall, he was never the same. Although he’s gone, his music and art will live on forever. So to Bob Crewe I say, ‘It’s never goodbye, it’s just so long for awhile.'”
Videos and social media tributes from Jersey Boys movie cast members and others:
Bob Crewe performing “Water Boy” on the Jack Spector show, 1959:
“The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” — the Walker Brothers:
“Lady Marmalade” — Labelle
Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio in the movie adaptation of Jersey Boys, 2014):
Sadly I must report the passing the Four Seasons’ fifth member, the legendary Bob Crewe. We love you Bob. pic.twitter.com/Fz4ZfZKH9Q
— Erich Bergen (@erichbergen) September 11, 2014
Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi):
Mike Doyle (Bob Crewe):
So sad to hear that legendary music producer & 5th Jersey Boy Bob Crewe passed away today. I had the… http://t.co/VqkDaq1WDf
— Mike Doyle (@THEmikedoyle) September 11, 2014