'Ladies and gentlemen," says the dapper drumming singer of Gary Lewis and the Playboys (and son of Jerry Lewis), "the Lake Arrowhead Pavilion is proud to present to you a group known worldwide for their surfing and hot-rod records - Columbia's recording artists, the Rip Chords!"
And so, in the 1965 beach movie classic A Swingin' Summer, three well-groomed guys in blue V-necks take to the stage and start singing "Red Hot Roadster."
Well, lip-synching "Red Hot Roadster" - and not very convincingly, at that.
"We were doing that scene early in the morning," recalls Richie Rotkin, who along with Arnie Marcus and Phil Stewart comprised the Rip Chords. Rotkin will be on hand tonight for a rare screening of the Robert Sparr-directed So-Cal chef d'oeuvre, as Secret Cinema unspools a gorgeous 35 mm archival print, in vibrant Technicolor, at International House.
"It was early in the morning . . . and we're doing the song and the camera comes up really high, a huge camera, and it's coming right at us and all of a sudden the director yells, 'Cut!' " says Rotkin, a longtime resident of Southampton, Bucks County, who still rolls out with the Rip Chords for oldie shows.
"And he says, 'The guy on the left' - which was me - he said, 'You're doing great, you're smiling, you're dancing, you look good. How about moving your mouth? I know it's traumatic when you see that thing coming at you, but you've got to move your mouth.' "
A Swingin' Summer is a veritable time capsule of pre-psychedelic California pop. In addition to the Rip Chords and Gary Lewis' band, the film featured the songs of The Righteous Brothers, Donnie Brooks and Jody Miller. And bespectacled, bikinied star Raquel Welch (in her major movie debut) sheds her bookworm ways (hence the glasses) to deliver "I'm Ready to Groove." Right there is reason enough to revisit this big-screen gem.
Rotkin, now a spry 70, grew up in Southern California. He was a showbiz kid (a short-lived local TV show, radio, TV, and movie roles), and he rode the surf-music wave to the top of the charts. "Hey Little Cobra," released in 1964 - the year they shot A Swingin' Summer - was only one of many Rip Chords hits: "Three Window Coupe," "Here I Stand," "Gone," "409" and, of course, "Red Hot Roadster" from A Swingin' Summer.
"Our producers were Terry Melcher - Doris Day's son - and Bruce Johnston," Rotkin says. "They were also the writers of most of our songs, and they sang on the tracks.. . . And then when we broke up, Bruce's next gig was, of course, with the Beach Boys. . .. And Terry went on to be one of the greatest producers in the history of rock and roll. His next act was the Byrds, and after the Byrds, Paul Revere and the Raiders."
And yes, it's true what Rotkin says, the Rip Chords did break up. In fact, by the time A Swingin' Summer had its red carpet Hollywood premiere in April 1965, the band had dissolved and Rotkin had moved east to Philadelphia, where his girlfriend and soon-to-be wife was from.
He's lived here ever since. And in 1990, along with Marcus, producer/guitarist Mitch Schecter, and a gang of musical cohorts, he reassembled the band. The Rip Chords are still rocking.
"If it's a choice between singing and anything else, it's not even a question," Rotkin says. "Put me on stage in front of a few thousand people, and I'm the happiest guy in the world."
See him looking happy - "with a lot more hair, and 30 pounds lighter" - in A Swingin' Summer, too.