Acting, however, was never her first ambition. Rapidly building a reputation as a singer, she performed alongside bluesman John Lee Hooker
and R&B band Herbie Goins & the Nighttimers. Signing to Polydor
in 1967, the youthful Lewis cut her first single, "You Turned My Bitter into Sweet"; soon after, she joined the soul-rock outfit Ferris Wheel
, alongside Diana Ferris, Bernie Holland (later of Jody Grind
), and Dennis Elliot, who would go on to both If
. A live favorite in the U.K., Lewis and Ferris Wheel
also found moderate success overseas as they undertook a succession of European tours. Working with producer Ian Samwell, Ferris Wheel
cut two albums, Can't Break the Habit in 1967, and a self-titled effort in 1970, together with a handful of singles, including "I Can't Break the Habit," "Let It be Me," "The Na Na Song," and "Can't Stop Now.". Ferris Wheel
disbanded in 1970.
In 1971, Lewis signed a solo deal with Warners
/Reprise, having been introduced to the label by her boyfriend (and now labelmate) Jim Cregan of Family
. She also launched a career as a session vocalist. Over the next few years, her powerful (not to mention idiosyncratic) range could be heard on hit albums by Al Kooper
, Cat Stevens, and David Bowie
(she appears on 1973's Aladdin Sane LP), among others.
Lewis' own debut album, Say No More -- again produced by Samwell -- was released in 1971, along with several singles, including "We Can Win" and "Old Smokey." Two years later, she followed up with Lark, well-produced by Cregan, and released on Reprise's newly launched Raft
subsidiary. Lark proved to be an early, shining moment, taking Lewis into the U.K. charts with "Rock-a-Doodle-Doo" in June 1973, where the song peaked at number 15 and marked Lewis' debut on the British chart show Top of the Pops. She also visited America as part of Cat Stevens' massive tour that year. 1974 then brought Lewis' final Reprise album, Fathoms Deep, followed by the compilation Heart Strings, an excellent collection that remained unsurpassed until 2002 brought the CD collection Reach for the Truth: The Best of the Reprise Years.
Moving to Bell, the punningly titled "Cordon Blues" single appeared in 1974, before Lewis was transferred to the sibling Arista
label in 1975, releasing her triumphant Not a Little Girl Anymore LP, featuring contributions from Lowell George
, Allen Toussaint
, and the Tower of Power
horn section, among others. A new single covering Betty Everett
's 1964 U.S. R&B Top Ten hit "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" appeared alongside; now retitled simply "It's in His Kiss." Lewis took her version to number six on the U.K charts. The song made a splash Stateside as well, giving the singer her only U.S. hit in July 1975.
Further singles "Baby I'm Yours" and "Winter Wonderland" followed in 1976. While 1977 brought the critically acclaimed Woman Overboard album, together with further 45s "Man in the Moon," "Come Back and Finish What you Started," and "Bonfire." Lewis also maintained a high profile on the session circuit, appearing alongside Rick Wakeman
, Chris Spedding
, Steve Harley
, and Rod Stewart
-- husband Cregan, of course, was then a member of the latter's band, and had himself also worked alongside Harley
As the '70s drew to a close, it may have appeared that Lewis' own career was beginning to wind down. Rather than let things slip away, however, the singer signed to Ariola
and released a knockout of an album, the Mike Batt
-produced Hacienda View in 1979, as well as spinning out a string of singles, including "109 Jamaica Highway" and "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You." 1983 then brought the well received A Tear and a Smile, her debut for Epic.
With well over a decade of non stop touring, performing and recording behind her, Lewis went to ground not long after, spending some time in Los Angeles -- another ten years would elapse before she returned, with December 1995's Second Nature LP. A massive smash in Japan, the album rocketed to the top of that country's charts and it's success sparked a string of sell out gigs that were recorded and compiled on the 1996 live album On Stage: Live in Japan (released, with one extra track, as Born Performer in Japan). An EP, What's All This About, followed in 1996; 1998's Whatever and 1999's Kiss of Life consolidated her comeback. ~ Amy Hanson, Rovi