Bob Crewe — the singer, songwriter, producer and label owner who created many of the Four Seasons‘ hits, discovered Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels and was behind a few disco-era standards — died Thursday at his home in Scarborough, Maine. He was 83.
Crewe had been living in an assisted living facility since sustaining a brain injury in a fall three years ago. He moved to Maine from Los Angles four years ago.
Sire Records co-founder Seymour Stein was sorry to hear of Crewe’s passing when reached by Billboard. “He was a great friend and taught me many things, not only about music and the business, but about style and how to live,” Stein said of Crewe, whom he has known for 50 years. “He had amazing talent, but equally amazing taste — and he was a great painter to boot.”
As a producer, Crewe used Frankie Valli‘s group the Four Lovers as backup singers before having them change their name to the Four Seasons and recording their first single, “Sherry,” which hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1962. Crewe and Four Seasons member Bob Gaudio co-wrote the group’s follow-up, “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” which also went to No. 1.
As a writer and producer, Crewe had a hand in all the Four Seasons’ hits, co-writing “Walk Like a Man” and “Rag Doll,” as well as Valli’s solo hit in 1967 “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” which peaked at No. 2. The song would later be covered by the Supremes, Julio Iglesias and others. Versions by Lauryn Hill, the Lettermen and Nancy Wilson charted on the Hot 100. The Pet Shop Boys had a No. 4 U.K. hit with the song in 1991.
In 1975, Valli’s version of the Crewe-Kenny Nolan song “My Eyes Adored You” hit No. 1 on March 22. A week later, Crewe and Nolan’s “Lady Marmalade,” recorded by Labelle, replaced it atop the Hot 100, making it only the third time a songwriting team had replaced themselves at No. 1. A 2001 version of “Lady Maramalde,” recorded by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink, would hit No. 1 in 2001.
During the disco era of the mid- to late 1970s, Crewe formed the group Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, who had top 40 hits with “Get Dancin'” and “I Wanna Dance Wit’ Choo.” His last song to reach the Hot 100 was Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack‘s “You’re Looking Like Love to Me,” which peaked at No. 58 in 1984.
Crewe grew up in Belleville, N.J., attending the Parsons School of Design in New York. He scotched plans to be an architect in favor of working in a recording studio and writing songs. Working with Frank C. Slay, his early co-writes in the 1950s included “Silhouettes” by The Rays and Freddie Cannon‘s “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.”
He recorded as a singer in 1961, but that took a backseat after he began working with Gaudio and the Four Seasons. After the Four Seasons had a string of hits, Crewe launched his own label, DynoVoice Records, and formed a vocal group, the Bob Crewe Generation, which had its biggest hit with “Music to Watch Girls By,” which hit No. 15 in 1967.
One of the label’s early hits was “A Lover’s Concerto” by the Queens, N.Y., girl group the Toys. Released in September 1965, the record peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100. Their follow-up, “Attack,” reached No. 18. He also had the Crewe label, the first release being his production of Oliver singing Rod McKuen‘s song “Jean,” which reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 in 1969.
As a producer at the time, he signed a young band from Detroit named Billy Lee and the Rivieras, gave them the new name of Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels and produced their three top 40 hits “Jenny Take a Ride,” “Little Latin Lupe Lu” and “Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly.”
Crewe was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992.
Crewe and his brother founded the Bob Crewe Foundation in 2009, and earlier this year donated $3 million to the Maine College of Art in Portland to establish the Bob Crewe Program for Art and Music.