“He created The Four Seasons,” Dan Crewe said by telephone Thursday night. “But he will be remembered for the actual songs he wrote, the quality of those songs, which are now considered the standards of the rock ‘n’ roll era.”
The long-running Broadway show “Jersey Boys” and a 2014 movie by the same name directed by Clint Eastwood were based on the lives and careers of bandmates in The Four Seasons. Actor Mike Doyle portrays Crewe in the film.
Crewe grew up in Belleville, New Jersey, before he moved to New York City and attended the Parsons School of Design. After deciding that he didn’t want to become an architect, he started recording demo records and writing songs. Crewe and Frank C. Slay went on to co-write hits such as “Silhouettes” for The Rays and “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” for Freddie Cannon, according to his brother.
Dan Crewe said his brother’s character and “striking good looks” elevated him to teen idol status, landing him on the cover of 16 Magazine and appearances on early 1960 talent shows like those hosted by Dick Clark. During that time, Bob Crewe discovered a young vocal group from New Jersey and hired them to sing backup on recording demos and singles. In collaboration with another young songwriter, Bob Gaudio, Crewe renamed the group The Four Seasons and wrote a number of hit songs for them, including “Rag Doll,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Big Man In Town,” and “Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye).”
In 1967, after hearing a jingle on the radio for a soft drink commercial, Crewe recorded “Music To Watch Girls By,” a hit that his band, the Bob Crewe Generation, recorded. Crewe went on to innovate the concept of independent record production and created his own label, DynoVoice Records.
He continued to look for talented musicians, discovering a young band from Detroit named Billy Lee and the Rivieras. He renamed the group Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels. That collaboration resulted in three top-10 hits, including “Jenny Take a Ride,” “Sock It To Me” and “Devil in a Blue Dress.”
His songwriting career revived in the 1970s after he and Kenny Nolan co-wrote the Frankie Valli hit “My Eyes Adored You.” Crewe and Nolan wrote another No. 1 hit, “Lady Marmalade,” which Allen Toussaint recorded with LaBelle, an all-female group headlined by Patti LaBelle.
Crewe was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992. Nearly every song that he wrote made it into Billboard’s top 20.
His compositions have been heard on numerous films and television shows, including the score for the soundtrack of the film “Barbarella,” a cult classic starring Jane Fonda. Crewe lived most of his life in Los Angeles, but moved to Maine four years ago to be close to his brother, who lives in Cumberland.
The Bob Crewe Foundation, which the brothers founded in 2009, donated $3 million this year to the Maine College of Art in Portland to establish the Bob Crewe Program for Art and Music.
In addition to giving back to the arts and music industry, the Bob Crewe Foundation supported AIDS research and promoted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and initiatives. Crewe was gay and proud of the fact that he achieved success during an era when gay and lesbian individuals were often discriminated against, his brother said.
“Bob will be missed but not forgotten. Every 20 minutes a Bob Crewe song is playing somewhere in the world,” his brother wrote in the obituary.
Memorial services will be held at a future date in Los Angeles and possibly in Maine at the Maine College of Art. The time and dates have not been announced.
Donations can be made in Crewe’s name to the Maine College of Art Scholarship Fund, the University of Southern Maine School of Music Scholarship Fund or to the Frannie Peabody Center in Portland.