Pianist and occasional vocalist who was a regular presence on the Los Angeles rock scene from the very start but whose recording opportunities over the next decade were sporadic and often uncredited behind others.

Richard Lewis was born in either 1929 or 1931 (sources vary) and at 16 (or 18) was the first artist signed to Imperial Records upon their starting a “race line” in 1947. He cut one extended session in June of that year and had the first four releases in the 5000 series starting in August, flooding the market with no promotion and little in the way of national distribution, before the label tried the same misguided tactics with the next few artists it signed. The remaining material on Lewis was released over the next two years but by then he’d found a steady job in the band of The Great Gates, playing on his hit “Late After Hours”.

It was during his four year stint (1949-1952) with Gates where he met saxophonist and future vocalist Marvin Phillips with whom he would be loosely associated over the next half dozen years including their one-off release as The Rhythm Riffers for Selective Records – the same company The Great Gates recorded for – in 1949.

Lewis was at the heart of the Los Angeles youth brigade in rock of the early 1950’s and it was through Lewis that Phillips and singer Jesse Belvin first met at a rehearsal at Lewis’s house. Thanks to a brief turn touring with Big Jay McNeely around this time Lewis knew that McNeely was looking for a vocal group to record with and recommended Phillips and Belvin audition for him after a show. The two were hired along with another Phillips cohort, Jimmy Huff as well as Undine Harris who were dubbed Three Dots And A Dash, with Belvin making his debut on record with “All That Wine Is Gone” behind Big Jay in 1951 but Lewis wasn’t involved with the recording, nor in fact did he ever work in the studio with McNeely.

Seeing the opportunities opening up for vocal groups however he started The Barons with Phillips and Carl Green where Lewis and Green sang a duet on one side while Phillips handled the vocals on the other. It went nowhere but Phillips and Green then teamed up as the original version of Marvin & Johnny who had a hit of their own in 1953 before Green left and Emory Perry, who’d been in the Rhythm Riffers with Lewis and Phillips in 1949, joined as “Johnny” and scored hits in 1954. Lewis frequently backed them in the studio according to Phillips but of course received no label credit for his efforts.

But this inevitably led to opportunities of his own and 1954 signing with Aladdin Records where he scored his best seller with a version of Paul Gayten’s “Hey Little Girl” which Professor Longhair had made more famous a few years later. It failed to break into the national charts but sold well enough to result in a sequel wherein Lewis recruited Dolores Gibson for the female answer record “Hey Little Boy”.

But what might’ve become the start of his most prolific stretch as an artist, still in his early twenties with rock reaching an ever expanding audience, became his last hurrah. He very likely did sessions for Aladdin behind some of their other artists including old friend The Great Gates in 1956, but Lewis’s moment in the sun had passed.

He died sometime in the early 1980’s, all but forgotten for his contributions to rock outside of a few mentions as a shadowy figure on the periphery of the L.A. scene who was more notable for the connections he made with those who went on to be stars than for any of his own work.

RICHARD LEWIS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Imperial 5002; September, 1947)
As Dick Lewis… Though the teenager himself is impressive on the keyboards, both his musical choices and the dynamics of his playing, the alto sax that gets two solos is not powerful or frantic enough to match him and raise the stakes accordingly. (5)

(Imperial 5003; October, 1947)
As Dick Lewis… While we can give Lewis some credit for trying to be inventive and mix things up by not churning out more generic boogies, the problem is what they play instead is pretty tepid and without a melody that will stick in your head they wind up crapping out. (3)

(Selective 103; June, 1949)
As sideman… to The Great Gates.

(Selective 108; November, 1949)
As sideman… to The Great Gates.

(Selective 111; November, 1949)
As member of… The Rhythm-Riffers. Lewis provides a rock solid foundation for the horns with his solid boogie piano on this energetic instrumental that finds all of them riding a tough groove throughout. (6)

(Selective 111; November, 1949)
As member of… The Rhythm-Riffers.

(Modern 20-818; May, 1951)
Co-written and sung by Marvin Phillips who shows genuine talent in both areas, the song is a prototype of a lot of what will follow with him and these cohorts – Lewis, Jimmy Huff and Jesse Belvin on backing vocals – but it’s not quite as tight as it needs to be to fully connect. (6)

(Modern 20-818; May, 1951)
With a weak voice that can’t stay in key Richard Lewis’s lead ruins what otherwise is a good composition with a decent arrangement, something which is all the more troubling considering the quality of other vocalists on the session, including Carl Green who doubles on the chorus. (3)