The year was 1964. The Beatles were hot. In America, producer Snuff Garret discovered a young, clean-cut band called Gary Lewis & the Playboys that would knock The Beatles off the chart. Right out of the gate, Garret and arranger Leon Russell helped the young band produce a hit with “This Diamond Ring.” The single went straight to No. 1.

The year was 1964. The Beatles were hot. In America, producer Snuff Garret discovered a young, clean-cut band called Gary Lewis & the Playboys that would knock The Beatles off the chart. Right out of the gate, Garret and arranger Leon Russell helped the young band produce a hit with “This Diamond Ring.” The single went straight to No. 1.

Fifty years later, Lewis, who now lives in Rochester, N.Y., is still rocking with his band, although not the original members. Two went to the rock and roll kingdom in the sky and two others are bank executives today. Lewis also has another gig called the Happy Together Tour, with fellow musicians from the ’60s and ’70s. 

The Happy Together 30th Anniversary Tour is coming to the Peoria Civic Center at 7 p.m. Aug. 10. 

“The very first Happy Together tour started in 1984 and I was able to join them in 1985. I don’t know how many years it went after that, but it kind of faded for maybe 20 years or something like that,” Lewis said. “Then, Mark and Howard of the Turtles wanted to revive the entire tour. I think it started again in about 2003. They’ve been going on every year since with different people every year. Sometimes they’ll use some of the same people for two years. This is my second year of doing it. They change who they think might be fresh or new or exciting. It’s been working so far.”

One of the requirements for those on the tour is that they have to be from the ’60s or early ’70s. 

Currently, the tour features Lewis, Chuck Negron, formerly of Three Dog Knight, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman who go by Flo & Eddie from the Turtles, Mark Farner, formerly of Grand Funk Railroad, and Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels. Each act plays for about 25 minutes for about a two-and-a-half-hour show.

Being big acts in the ’60s and the ’70s, these bands crossed paths many times.

“We all recorded together in the ’60s. We all sat in on everybody else’s recordings, did a couple of background parts for them. Some of us played lead guitar solos on some of the other guys’ songs. I’ve known the Turtles since ’65 and I’ve known Mitch Ryder since ’67 and I’ve known Chuck Negron since ’69. It’s like doing a show with all of your family. I like all of the guys and you’re thrilled with the kind of music they do,” Lewis said, adding that he has toured with the Turtles and Ryder many times.

Lewis and the Playboys did not tour with Grand Funk Railroad, however, a band that had a heavier rock ‘n roll sound. 

“His style was totally different from what I did in the ’60s,” Lewis said. “My music was nothing heavy, no heavy messages. They were songs that you could follow. They told little stories. My music in the ’60s was not anger based whatsoever. The people we played to in the ’60s are the same people we play to today except now they’re bringing their kids. The parents and grandparents didn’t think of my music as any kind of threat.”

Adding the different styles to the Happy Together Tour is something that Lewis said works well.

“All put together it’s a lot of different memories in rock ‘n roll that people like to hear,” he said. “Everybody that comes on creates a different type of excitement for the crowds. I’m thrilled to death to be a part of it. We play to full houses almost every night.”

In selecting the music for the tour, Lewis said the road manager and Kaylan and Volman of the Turtles insisted they do their hits. Lewis said he has an advantage in this regard. 

“For some guys that’s only four or five songs, but me, I had like 14 hits that all went into the top 10. I can pick and choose before each show and everybody knows them. I got so lucky in the ’60s. I had a wonderful producer that knew how to pick hit songs, and a great arranger named Leon Russell that arranged everything that we did,” Lewis said.

Out of the band’s playlist, Lewis said he likes playing “She’s Just My Style,” which has a Beach Boy sound, and “This Diamond Ring” because it was the first song the band recorded. 

“‘This Diamond Ring’ actually kicked The Beatles out of No. 1, which they were a major influence getting me into rock ‘n roll. So, when we knocked The Beatles out of No. 1, oh my god, I was just in absolute heaven,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he is a bit amazed looking back at his career.

“I thought maybe we had a longevity of maybe three years and now it’s 50,” he said.

Being in the music business for five decades and now touring with others who have been in the business for decades as well, Lewis said they have much to talk about on tour.

“We have fun every single night. We’re always hanging out in each other’s dressing rooms, telling stories. ‘Hey, remember that time in ’67... and we laugh,” Lewis said. “Mitch Ryder brought up the fact that I was on stage and tried to extend my arm a little too far to hit the cymbal and I fell right off the drums. That had to be visually funny. I didn’t think so. I was embarrassed. Things like that happen. Mitch Ryder has fallen over the stage monitors many times. You know, now it’s funny, but then it wasn’t. Somebody was hurt. There are just a billion stories we can talk about, it’s just so cool.”

Today, Lewis said they are making new memories and stories to tell. These stories are about their fans today.

“They like us so much, they don’t care about security. They’re going to run and jump up on stage. These girls will just give us huge, huge hugs, making it impossible to sing the songs,” Lewis said. “It’s just the way people are. They are so excited to see you.”

About three weeks ago, Lewis said that every act that went on stage had underwear thrown at them. 

“I said, ‘My god, I thought this only happened in the ’60s. What’s going on here?’” he said.

The ’60s were surely an exciting time for Lewis, a rich kid in Hollywood with multiple hit records and  famous father — Jerry Lewis, the comedian. Lewis said his dad didn’t know he was in a band until he had a hit record.

“It was fun. We never had to want for anything. It was that kind of growing up in a rich household. When I turned about 18, I realized here I was going into a business that my dad never did. He never sang rock ‘n roll. So, I said, ‘Let him have the comedy and I’ll do the rock ‘n roll.’ People can’t compare us because we don’t do the same thing,” Lewis said. 

“My mom knew that we had a band and we wanted to rehearse somewhere. She timed it so that when my dad was out of town, we could rehearse at the house. My mom says, ‘All right I’ll buy all the amps and the sound equipment and the guitars and the drums and all that stuff, but you can’t say anything to your father because if this project fails, I’m going to have to come up with an excuse as to where this money went.’ So, luckily she never had to do that. We recorded ‘This Diamond Ring.’ It was at about No. 20 on the charts and still climbing. My mom said, ‘OK, now you can tell him.’”

Being successful and having a lot of money at a young age had some negative impacts on Lewis.

“I’m not very proud of that, but I’m out of it now, so it’s OK to talk about it. I was raised in a very rich Hollywood family. When my first tour started, I had all these hit records and I had, all of the sudden, all of my own tons of money, so I was a little cocky kid. I was cocky and just not the kind of person I would want to be today. Well, I’m not that person today. It took me a lot of years to get humble and to realize what a blessing the gift of song and the gift of so many hit records has given me. That’s where I am now. I am just a very humble, grateful person,” Lewis said.

On July 31, Lewis turned 69 on the road in Toledo. He celebrated by sharing his music with the masses.

“My favorite part of the show, that’s hard to say — my favorite part of the show is doing every single hit that I had and watching people respond to it. A lot of people will, when I started a song, they won’t know it by title, but when I start playing it, I see them look at each other, going ‘Oh yeah.’ After the show they say, ‘I forgot you had so many songs.’ That’s all a compliment to me.”

After all these years, Lewis thinks his music still resonates today because of the stories.

“There’s no anger based music in the ’60s and they’ve all got great stories and beautiful melodies. And what I say to the crowd when I finish a song, I go, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that you can understand all the words?’”

The crowd’s response is always positive, and Lewis said he gets a standing ovation amidst screaming and cheering.

“It sounds like the ’60s again,” he said.

When asked if he thought he’d still be playing music at this stage in his life, Lewis said, “Hell no. I mean you know every bands thought of longevity is like two to three years. That’s what you think you’ve got. Very few people have lasted 50 years. So many of my peers have died already or they’re just not as popular as they used to be. Things just happen. ... All I know is that I’m with good people.”

If invited for a third year for the Happy Together Tour, Lewis said he’s in. “I consider it my responsibility to work as much as I can. That’s the business I’m in.”

Part of that business is being on the road and staying at hotels night after night. Looking at a river from his hotel window in Huntington, W. Va., July 30, Lewis said the tour is not really exhausting.

“If we don’t have too many miles to go to the next gig, we will stay at a hotel and sleep and everybody’s fine, but like tonight we are going to have to get on the bus right after the show and go to the next town because it’s like 600 miles,” he said.

During the interview, Lewis received another phone call. His ride for the gig had arrived. It was time to hit the road.