“Tossin’ and Turnin’” is truly one of rock and roll’s great standards. If you pick up any oldies compilation, especially from the early Sixties, there’s a good chance “Tossin’ and Turnin’” will be on it. Billboard Magazine named it the number one song of 1961. It should have set Bobby Lewis on the path to stardom, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
Bobby started out life in 1936 in Indianapolis, Indiana as an orphan. He learned to play the piano when he was six which may or may not have helped him get adopted when he was twelve. His new parents moved him to Detroit, Michigan where he became acquainted with the blues culture of that town. When rock and roll started making inroads into American culture, Bobby decided he wanted to be part of that, so he moved to New York to pursue his dream.
He became friends with Jackie Wilson who tried to help him get a record deal. Company after company turned him down until one day, he got a job singing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. There he met a white group, The Fireflies, who had had a hit in 1959 with “You Were Mine.” A member of the Fireflies was Ritchie Adams and they were very nervous. The Apollo audience was a tough audience. Even black groups sometimes got the hook while they were singing. The Fireflies didn’t know what would happen to a white group on that stage. But, Bobby told Ritchie, “don’t worry, just do your best, everything will be ok.” The group did just fine.
Still trying to get a record contract, Bobby walked into the studios of Beltone Records and there ran into his friend from The Apollo, Ritchie Adams. Ritchie remembered Bobby’s kindness at the Apollo and convinced his boss to give Bobby a chance. Ritchie told him he had a song Bobby could audition. The song was “Tossin’ and Turnin’”. They say that when Ritchie heard Bobby Lewis sing the opening line, “I couldn’t sleep at all last night,” they knew they had a hit on their hands. The personnel playing on the record included Ritchie on guitar and King Curtis on saxophone and others. King Curtis was one of the great saxophone players of the Fifties and Sixties, playing on hit records like “Yakety Yak” by the Coasters.
Bobby Lewis should have become a major star as a result of “Tossin’ and Turnin’.” but managed to only have one more Top 10 song, “One Track Mind” which hit number nine later in 1961 and then he faded from sight. As far as I can determine, he is still alive today.
“Tossin’ and Turnin’” entered the pop chart on May 29, 1961 and spent seven weeks at number one. This ties the record for the most weeks at number one for a male solo performer. He is tied with Elvis Presley, Guy Mitchell, “Tennessee” Ernie Ford, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and Andy Gibb. Now, that’s quite a list, but it’s good company to be in.