Born Robert Louis Ridarelli, 26 April 1942, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Bobby Rydell's standing in rock n roll history isn't too good. He came from Philadelphia, the center of rock's corruption, and recorded there for Cameo- Parkway, a label with a dubious reputation (see Jim Dawson's book "The Twist", 1995). He had his greatest hits during 1959-62, which is generally seen as a lean period in American pop music ("the era of the Bobbys"). Authentic rock n roll as a hit-making force was pushed aside by featherweight teen pop and dance crazes. Nevertheless, in my opinion Rydell deserves more credit than he usually gets. He was probably the most musically talented of the late '50s Philadelphia school of clean-cut teen idols. Rydell grew up in the same Italian neighbourhood of South Philadelphia as Frankie Avalon and Fabian. He was something of a child prodigy on drums and as an impersonator. Encouraged by his father, he first performed in public as a drummer at the age of seven. Bobby was a regular on Paul Whiteman's Teen Club amateur TV show for three years, starting when he was nine years old. Whiteman couldn't pronounce his last name (Ridarelli), so he changed it to Rydell. In 1957, Bobby was a drummer for the local band Rocco and the Saints, which also featured young Frank Avalonne (later Frankie Avalon) on trumpet. He was discovered by manager Frankie Day, who put him up front as a singer because of his good looks.
After leaving the Saints to pursue a solo career, he made his first record in 1958, "Fatty Fatty"/"Happy Happy" (Venise 201). "Fatty Fatty" was soon reissued on his manager's Veko label, with a different flip-side. Early in 1959 Bobby was signed by Cameo Records, owned and run by Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe. His third single for the label, "Kissin' Time" (which owed more than a little to "Sweet Little Sixteen") was his chart debut, peaking at # 11, and had a very good B-side in "You'll Never Tame Me". The next 45, "We Got Love", did even better (# 6) and became his first million seller. But it was the fifth Cameo single, "Wild One", released at the beginning of 1960, that established him as an international star. The disc peaked at # 2 in the USA (the biggest hit of his career) and # 7 in the UK, while the B-side, "Little Bitty Girl", reached the Top 20 on its own strength. Like many other Philadelphia acts, Rydell had the benefit of constant appearances on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. The early Cameo singles were characterized by a sax-driven accompaniment, usually featuring the twin saxes of Georgie Young and Buddy Savitt. On the minus side, however, there was almost always an obtrusive girl chorus.
1960 was a very good year for Rydell, with two more Top 5 hits ("Swingin' School"** and a remake of Domenico Modugno's "Volare") and a # 14 hit with "Sway" (originally a 1954 hit for Dean Martin). He toured Australia that year, with The Everly Brothers, Billy 'Crash' Craddock, The Crickets, The Champs and Marv Johnson. In 1961 he became the youngest performer to headline at the famous Copacabana nightclub in New York. All five 1961 singles went at least Top 25, the best being a swinging revival of "That Old Black Magic", and in 1962 there were three further Top Twenty hits. During a UK tour in 1963 Bobby recorded a single in London, "Forget Him" (written and produced by Tony Hatch), which would be his last major hit (# 4 US, # 13 UK). It was his fifth and last million seller. The arrival of the British groups in 1964 was the final nail in his chart coffin. At the ripe age of 22, Bobby Rydell's career as a hit-making teen idol came to an end. Altogether he had 30 entries in the Billboard Hot 100, 18 of which went Top 40.
Rydell, whose ambition was always to be an all-round entertainer, starred in the movie version of the musical "Bye Bye Birdie" (1963), alongside Dick Van Dyke and Ann-Margret. He later recorded mainstream pop for Capitol, Reprise, RCA, Perception and Pickwick without success. Rydell has continued to work the nightclub and oldies circuit and had some recognition for his role in rock when the high school in the 70s hit musical "Grease" was named after him.
In July 2012, Rydell underwent a double organ transplant to replace his liver and kidneys. Just six months later he made a triumphant return to the stage in Las Vegas for a three night engagement to a sold out audience.
** Though Bobby did not appear in the movie himself, "Swingin' School" was featured prominently in the soundtrack of the movie "Because They're Young" (1960).
Official website : http://www.bobbyrydell.com/
CD : The Best Of Bobby Rydell, 1959-1964 (ABCKO, 2005). 25 tracks. First legal reissue of (a selection of) the Cameo recordings. Liner notes by Jeff Tamarkin.
Acknowledgements : Jim Dawson, Joel Whitburn, Wikipedia.
Dik, December 2013
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