Audience in the clouds as teen idol Bobby Rydell makes their hearts sing
When Joanna Schmeidel read in the Parkland Library newsletter Bobby Rydell was going to be in the Lehigh Valley, she called her sisters Carol Saint Sing and Jeanne Sabol and made plans to attend.
They weren’t disappointed.
“We’re Rydell fans from way back and we like being together,” Sabol said. “The music just got to me. I enjoyed it tremendously.”
The three sisters counted themselves lucky to be among the 100 registered guests at Independent Park, Breinigsville, on a beautiful Friday in September.
“We watched Bandstand and danced at home,” said Saint Sing, who lives in New Tripoli and loves all of Rydell’s music.
She’s not the only one.
“I ran home after school and turned on Bandstand,” Marianne Flueso said. “When my husband asked why I was going, I answered, ‘Why? Why not!’”
Retired teachers Carol Beidler and Barb Schafer were also excited to be at the event.
“Barb belongs to the library and she said she was going to see Bobby Rydell,” said Beidler, who hails from Lehighton. “I love my literature and the arts so I said yes. [Watching] American Bandstand is how we learned to dance.”
“We’re always into artists and authors,” said Shafer, who in the past has volunteered at the Parkland Library telling stories, and Rydell, who made his name in music, is also the author of an autobiography called “Teen Idol on the Rocks: A Tale of Second Chances.”
By all accounts, Rydell is loyal to his home state.
“He still lives in the same home he purchased in 1961,” said Maria Novey, Rydell’s event coordinator. “Most people went to California but he just stayed.”
And he still performs with his Philadelphia buddies, Frankie Avalon and Fabian.
“They were just in Binghamton, N.Y. last weekend,” she added.
It was Novey who contacted Becky Wanamaker at Parkland Library.
“When she told us he likes to travel around the area and [asked if] would we be interested in hosting him, we said absolutely.”
As the Parkland Library is too small to accommodate such a large group, the event was moved to Independent Park in Upper Macungie.
“We’re loving the use of this beautiful facility,” said Wanamaker, who was pleased about the turnout. “We had such a huge response, we had to schedule another [Rydell] event in October but even that’s already entirely booked.”
When Rydell appeared in a cap embroidered with the word “Volare,” he delighted the audience with many stories involving other famous recording artists of the sixties including Little Anthony, Bobby Vee and Annette Funicello.
But Rydell did not gild the lily.
The survivor of a double transplant — liver and kidney — admitted the reason for the transplant was “basically because I drank. After my first wife passed away, I turned to the bottle,” said Rydell candidly.
“My doctor said I should stop drinking.”
Rydell credited an organ donor named, Julia, with saving his life.
“Now, I try to impress upon people how important it is to be an organ donor,” he said.
In the early ’60s, the Philadelphia sound was easily identifiable and influential.
“I would liken it to Motown with performers like Chubby Checkers, Frankie Avalon and the Dovelles,” Rydell said. “If it was a Cameo Record, it was a Philly sound.”
When a fan asked when he ate at Ralph’s last, he barely flinched when he said “just last week. I go out with a bunch of Italian guys every Wednesday.”
Rydell recalled stars such as Eddie Fisher and Al Martino lived a few blocks away from him back in the day.
“Dick Clark was actually wonderful,” he continued. After Clark heard “Kissing Time” for the third time, Rydell made it onto Clark’s influential daily TV show, American Bandstand.
When a man in the audience held up a 45 record of “Volare,” Rydell’s glee was unmistakable.
“‘Volare’ is my signature song, my walk on song,” he said, noting the younger version of himself on the record cover. “What happened. What happened?”
Rydell also starred in the popular movie “Bye Bye Birdie.”
“Most of my scenes were with Ann Margret so it was nice,” he said.
“I just called her because her husband of 59 years passed away.”
Rydell continues to perform on day cruises [with] Dion, Brenda Lee and the Beach Boys,” he said. “We cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale and every two years I do a thing called Malt Shop Memories.”
“We’ve been doing this show called the Golden Boys Tour since 1985 with Frankie Avalon and Fabian,” Rydell said.
He thought the show would last two or three years at best but to this day, it continues to draw crowds.
The Golden Boys played at the Sands, Bethlehem, a few years ago.
“I just worked with the guys at a place call Tioga Downs,” he added.
He also talked about meeting Frank Sinatra at the Copacabana when he was just 19 years old.
“Mr. Sinatra asked me what do you drink and I said ‘Coke.’”
“I do at least three or four tunes related to Mr. Sinatra, such as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” said Rydell, who at 74 has no plans to stop singing. “When the chops go, I guess I’ll retire, but for now, I enjoy it. It’s always fun.”