Friday Night Forgotten Oldie: “More like a crooner than a rocker”

As Elvis Presley’s career was still skyrocketing in late December 1957 the federal government did a really stupid thing.

They drafted him.

Apparently Uncle Sam didn’t care that he was about to lose about $500,000 in federal income taxes while Elvis was in the service. In today’s dollars, that works out to be more than $3.8 million.

Fans were distraught.

But not everyone was sad. Elvis’ departure from live performances and TV offered an opportunity for a select group to take advantage. Other teen idols came out of the woodwork to capture young hearts.

One of them, Bobby Rydell died this week from complications of pneumonia. He was 79. The Guardian wrote, “Rydell’s photogenic looks and endearing personality ensured he would prove far more durable than many flashier, more confrontational artists. Rydell and many of his generation were knocked off their pop pedestals by the dramatic arrival of the Beatles and their British counterparts, but he had the staying power of mainstream performers from a slightly earlier generation.”

Rydell made his performance debut as a 7-year-old drummer. His first drum kit was a gift from his father, Al Ridarelli, who inspired his son by taking him to see Gene Krupa perform.

At age 9, he debuted on an amateur television show and became its regular drummer for three years.

Rydell got his big break in 1959 on “American Bandstand.’

“Rydell is not your hard rocker—his era was the late nineteen‐fifties, when rock was being softened and made less frightening….he emerges more like a crooner than a rocker.”
The NY Times, 1975

In 1963 Rydell was cast as Hugo Peabody in the film version of the musical Bye Bye Birdie that tells the story of, can you believe it, a rock and roll singer who is about to be inducted into the army.

Rydell’s last Top 100 hit was in 1965. But years later his name was chosen for Rydell high school in Grease, the Broadway and later film musical that depicted teenage lives in the early rock ‘n’ roll days of the late 50s.

Rydell said it was a “total honor. It was so nice to know that the high school was named after me. And I said, ‘Why me?’ It could have been Anka High, Presley High, Everly High, Fabian High, Avalon High. And they came up with Rydell High, and once again, total honor.”

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