Tom’s interview with: Bobby Rydell

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, November 30th, 2018

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TOM WARD
TOMPWARD@SBCGLOBAL.NET

Bobby Rydell. I asked him about his plans for the Thanksgiving holiday
and learned that he is scheduled for a spinal operation the following
week. He immediately followed up that statement by saying that he
plans to be back on the road performing with the guys down in Florida
for a couple of dates in early January. The guys he is referring to
are his long time Philadelphia friends and fellow singers Frankie
Avalon and Fabian Forte.
Since 1985, “The Golden Boys”, as they are now known, began doing
a series of one night shows. Rydell said,
BR: We did like 40 to 60 one nighters traveling in a bus and
occasionally we flew. It was wonderful and I remember turning to Frank
and saying, this is great, but how long is this going to last. Maybe a
year or two tops. Well, here we are still doing it 33 years later and
it’s better than it’s ever been. Not only do I do the show with the
guys, but I still do my own thing too paying homage to both jazz and
The Great American Song Book in my solo act.
Rydell (born Robert Louis Ridarelli) burst onto the national
scene and into the public’s consciousness in 1959 with his hit song
“Kissin’ Time”. Almost immediately Rydell became an overnight
sensation and in the process became a certified “Teen Idol” alongside
his fellow Philly neighbors Frankie Avalon, Fabian and James Darren.
Bobby’s recording career amassed an impressive 34 Top 40 hits,
placing him in the Top 5 artists of his era (Billboard Magazine).
Bobby’s hits include million selling singles Volare, Wild One, We Got
Love, Kissin’ Time, Swingin’ School, Wildwood Days, and Forget Him,
selling a combined total of over 25 million records.
      BR: One of the questions I’m always asked about is why so many teen
idols came out of our area in South Philly? I always say that there
was a water-trough on 9th & Nicholson here and if you drank out of it
you became a singer. If you put your feet in it you became a dancer.
If you drank out of it and put your feet in it you became a song and
dance act. Who in the hell knows why? Fabian lived a half a block away
from me on 11th street.Frankie (Avalon) lived on 9th street, Jimmy
Darren was around the corner on 10th street. It was unbelievable!
It turned out that Rydell’s childhood connection with Frankie
Avalon would come in handy when he was 15 years old. BR: Frankie and
I go back a long way as I’ve known him since I was 10 years old.
Frankie was two years older than me. They were working at a place
called Bayshores in Summers Point, New Jersey right outside of
Atlantic City. Frankie was a trumpet player with a group called Rocco
and the Saints. His drummer named Chippy was sick and Frank knew that
I played drums and asked me to fill in? I said sure and that’s how I
met my very first manager Frankie Day.
     TW: How did you get interested in show business and in particular drumming?
     BR: The only reason I’m in the business today is because of my dad.
At a very early age he saw some talent in me and he used to take me
around to different clubs here in Philly when I was 7 and 8 years old.
He would ask the club owners if his son could get up and sing and do a
few impersonations. My dad took me to see the Benny Goodman band when
I was 5 years old. I didn’t know who Benny Goodman was from a hole in
the wall. My dad wanted me to get a feel and respect of that type of
big band music and I loved it. Drummer Gene Krupa was the one guy in
the band that I told my father I wanted to be like when I grow. I
started to play drums not too far after that.
      TW: During the late 1950’s and early-mid 1960’s the widely popular
TV show  American Bandstand was based in Philadelphia hosted by Dick
Clark. The show was a powerful player in the music and entertainment
industry. What kind of impact did appearing on Bandstand have on your
career?
     BR: Although a lot of us came from Philadelphia it didn’t mean you
were going to be on American Bandstand which was a hugely popular and
influential show back then. I had three records for Cameo before my
first hit “Kissin’ Time” and Dick Clark turned all three of them down.
Then Bernie Loeb who was the owner of the company took the dub and
acetated the disc and gave it to him. Dick dropped the needle on the
record and he said, “That’s a hit.” Being on the show going from coast
to coast from 3:30 to 5 o’clock every day you get kids across the
country saying if Dick Clark’s playing it we’ve got to go out and buy
it. He meant an awful lot to me. Not only me, but Frankie, Fabian,
Jimmy Darren and many others. He was a wonderful guy.
     TW: Throughout the early 1960’s you were on a roll churning out the
hit records. What do yu remeber about thathose days?
     BR: I was really lucky with Cameo as I had a string of records that
all charted. I never had a number #1 record. But “Wild One” was my
first million seller went to number #2. “Forget Him” was another
million seller that went to #4. Volare I think went to 2 or 3 I can’t
remember.
Then suddenly Rydell got an offer to co-star in his first movie in
1963 opposite Ann Margaret, Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh. TW: Tell
me about how you landed the role in the movie Bye Bye Birdie?
BR: The part I played in the movie of Hugo Peabody had no speaking,
singing or dancing parts in the Broadway play. George Sidney who was
the director had me screen test with Ann Margaret. Two weeks later my
manager called to tell me I landed the part in the film. Every day I
went to Columbia Pictures my script got bigger and bigger because the
director saw some kind of magic between me and Ann. I am so proud to
be in a classic like Bye Bye Birdie. I’ll tell you it was a lot of fun
and a lot of work. Just the Lotta Livin’ number alone was two weeks to
rehearse and two weeks to shoot. I wasn’t like a tap dancer, but I
always did good moves.
     TW: What were your thoughts the first time you saw yourself in the film?
     BR: I did a personal appearance in Philadelphia at one of the movie
theaters there. It was just wonderful as I saw myself up there on the
silver screen.
     TW: Speaking of another musical screen classic your name was used as
the high school for the film “Grease” what did you make of that?
    BR: It was a great honor for me to have Rydell High named after me in
Grease. It could have been Presley high, Fabian high or Everly high.
    TW: Your musical influence as a singer wasn’t just reserved for the
teenagers back in the day. Did you ever meet Frank Sintra Jr.?
     BR: Frank Sinatra Jr. and I became very close over the years. We were
doing a radio station here in Philadelphia with a man by the name of
Sid Mark who played nothing but Sinatra music on his show. During a
break on the show I turned to Jr. and said, “Frank I just want to
thank you for what you said about me that I’m one of your favorite
singers.” Frank Jr. said,” I didn’t say that. It was my father who
said that.” Now nothing to put Jr. down, but that came from the old
man which was special.
     TW: After all these decades performing how has your act changed?
     BR: When you first start out it was lip syncing and miming records. I
was the youngest guy to ever work the Copacabana. Then I did a lot of
nightclubs which unfortunately there are no more. I was doing concerts
in big arenas. The longer you’re in this business the more you nurture
your craft and the more you learn. I remember my first two weeks in
Las Vegas with George Burns. When I was done with Mr. Burns we would
do a soft shoe together to the song Some of these days. After my act I
would stand in the wings and just watch George Burns and how he
delivered a line with his timing. I learned from the people I worked
with like Burns, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Perry Como and Red
Skeleton. I was able to learn from the masters.

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