Like a mighty steamroller, when The Beatles first arrived on U.S. shores back in February of ’64, they flattened virtually every band and solo act occupying the Billboard charts. But there was one gang of rough and tumble New Jersey misfits who refused to take it lying down… The Four Seasons.
Bolstered by Frankie Valli’s soaring multi-octave voice and blessed with a miraculous array of exquisitely crafted chart ready hits, courtesy of Bob Gaudio and Seasons producer Bob Crewe, The Four Seasons rallied and stood head to head, toe to toe with their shaggy-haired Liverpudlian counterparts.
And while they admittedly didn’t possess the cheeky charm of The Beatles, the “bad boy” appeal of The Rolling Stones or the arresting lyricism of Bob Dylan, The Four Seasons embraced their “everyman” ethos, quietly staying off the pop culture radar and selling over a 100 million records.
Five decades later, the Four Seasons’ signature gritty brand of blue-collar pop continues to resonate with the sounds of the street. The unprecedented success of the Broadway play, “Jersey Boys,” based on the group’s life story, has finally afforded the Four Seasons the respect and acclaim they so richly deserve.
Romancing the ’60s is the first new solo album by Four Seasons lead vocalist Frankie Valli in many years. Produced by Four Seasons founding member and long-time Valli friend and business partner, Bob Gaudio, the new record finds Frankie tackling a host of his favorite sixties nuggets numbering the likes of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” The Drifters’ “Spanish Harlem,” Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny,” the Burt Bacharach-Hal David penned classic, “This Guy’s In Love With You” and an energetic rendition of “On Broadway,” featuring backing by the Jersey Boys.
A stone’s throw from Beverly Hill’s swanky and ultra chic Rodeo Drive, I met with Frankie Valli for a sitdown at a small Italian restaurant. One thing’s for sure, he’s come a long way from the mean streets of New Jersey. Charming and immaculately dressed, Valli spoke frankly and eloquently about five decades of music making.
Goldmine: From Rod Stewart to Michael McDonald to Smokey Robinson to Barry Manilow, they’ve all released records that pay homage to their musical roots. What inspired you to put together a record like Romancing The ’60s?
Frankie Valli: The idea came from Universal. One of the reasons I liked the idea was because I’m always looking for material. Some of the best songs that were ever written were in the ’60s. The Burt Bacharach songs, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann, just great stuff. I went through a list of 60 songs and thought, “Geez, how am I gonna pick?” We had to go through the process of elimination. I wanted to do two Chris Montez songs, “The More I See You” and “Call Me.” We wound up doing “Call Me.” We approached the Bobby Vee song, “Take Good Care Of My Baby” in a totally fresh way by doing it as a ballad. Doing the record was very challenging because you’re taking songs the public already knows. If you’re recording songs that everybody knows you have to make it yours or you shouldn’t do it. And I think we were able to do that.
GM: Pick a few songs from the new CD that demonstrate that reinvention.
FV: There are several. “Take Good Care Of My Baby” is one of them. If someone in radio came along and played it and it became a hit it wouldn’t surprise me. Another one is The Everly Brothers song, “Let It Be Me.” It’s one of the all time greatest songs. I Iistened to everybody’s record before I went in and figured out what I didn’t want to do. That song was a duet and I didn’t want to do it a duet. I wanted to make it a one on one, personal kind of interpretation. I’ve recorded “Sunny” twice in my career. I did it once as a ballad and this time I did it much differently than the way it was originally done. I also had an opportunity to use some of my jazz influences in “Sunny.” I’ve always been into this jazz-Latin bag. The guy that brought Latin to jazz was Stan Kenton. Another song I think we brought to another place was “Any Day Now.” I listened to both Chuck Jackson’s and Ronnie Milsap’s records and I said, “This is a great song but I have to do something here that they haven’t done. I have to get inside the song and let it be a part of something that’s going on inside of me.” And that’s exactly what I think we accomplished.
GM: How did you decide upon using the Jersey Boys on “On Broadway”?
FV: Just the fact that we had a play on Broadway I thought it would be a kick to do that song. And Bob (Gaudio) said, “Maybe we can get the Jersey Boys to do background.” And we did and it was a lot of fun. Records should be fun.
GM: Bring us back to first time you sat in the audience to catch Jersey Boys. What was like for you to see your life unfold on the stage?
FV: Bob (Gaudio) and I stayed out of it while they were initially putting it together. When the play first went to La Jolla, California it was a workshop. I had no idea what it was gonna be like. But I did have the opportunity to read the early script. When I saw it for real, acted out, it was rough on the edges and it was strange to see somebody play me. Usually they play people after they die so the person can’t have anything to say about it (laughs). Having an interest in acting I understood that the actor would have to play it from his point of view to some degree. He would have to apply some of himself to the role or it wouldn’t be real. The thing I was most concerned about was the singing. And I was quite pleased after seeing it for the third time. I had to see it about three times before I felt comfortable with it. And when it went to Broadway and they were auditioning people, I went to all those auditions because I wanted to be sure that the integrity was there.
GM: Having seen the Jersey Boys play, what struck me was how the story was even more important than the music.
FV: Yeah, you’re right. Jersey Boys isn’t a jukebox musical. The first forty minutes of the play there’s no Four Seasons music. We were doing cover songs. We’re telling the story of four guys who ended up getting together. Guys who lived in the ghetto and worked their way up to become successful and who had lots of problems, guys not getting along with each other, financial problems, breaking up and going on. The play ends when the whole group broke up totally and I had my first shot being out alone. The next time you see the guys together is at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
GM: What are your memories of being together again for The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies?
FV: It was the first time we’d been all together in many many years. There’s a line in Jersey Boys where Tommy talks about inviting me to a party in his room afterwards and we never really did connect. After the play opened on Broadway, Nicky (Massi) had already died. It seemed that Tommy and I buried the hatchet. But the feeling of closure has never really locked in for me. It wasn’t like I was looking for anybody to say, “Hey, thanks man! Wow!” But some acknowledgement of something that you don’t have to do (pauses)…I’m not very surprised that didn’t happen.
GM: You did reconnect through the years with Nick Massi.
FV: Yeah. I loved Nick so much. I’d always ask him, “Why did you leave?” And he said, “I can’t be out there.” If we had to see a lawyer he’d say, “I don’t wanna go, you guys handle it and tell me about it later.” He wasn’t that kind of a reality guy. He lived in the framework of music. His life was all about that. Music. Girls. Sitting in a bar having drinks. But I know he was proud of The Four Seasons legacy.
GM: What do you attribute the incredible success of Jersey Boys?
FV: I think the success of the show was certainly about the fact that most people didn’t know that much about us. We kept our lives very quiet. It was a period of time where we had this feeling if anybody knew that you were ever in trouble you wouldn’t be able to get a record deal and radio wouldn’t play you. Today you need to get arrested in order to have a success so things have really changed quite a bit. (laughs)
GM: Did it work for the band that you purposefully kept out of the spotlight?
FV: Yes, it did work for us without realizing it was gonna work for us. To finally come out and tell the truth about everything was important. Keep in mind that we were the kind of group that recorded in a lot of different bags. Most artists stayed fixed right where they were all the time. One of my favorite rock and roll groups was The Stones, but they always stayed basically in the same place.
We just always sought broader than that. We thought if you were a singer you should be able to sing a great standard or you can sing a rock and roll song or sing a gimmick song and do it all different ways. So we were able to have a success with Frankie Valli solo, with the Four Seasons and we also had success with The Wonder Who? record (“Don’t Think Twice (It’s All Right”), a Bob Dylan song. I talked to Dylan about our version and he absolutely loved it.
GM: It’s a very unique version of the song.
FV: Well, the way we did it was very campy. To take a song that seriously and do it that way puts it in a kind of camp place. I enjoyed doing it. First of all, I’m probably one of the biggest Bob Dylan fans that ever lived. It was an interesting take on the song. I think Dylan will go down in history as one of America’s great poets just like I think (Bruce) Springsteen will. And they were coming from two opposite places. Springsteen was in a more positive place where he spoke about hope and Dylan talked about how society was crumbling right before our eyes.
GM: Getting back to Jersey Boys, the story showed how personally saved Tommy DeVito’s hide by paying off a ton of money in debts he incurred. That act of unselfishness says a lot about your strong character.
FV: I’m a kid from the streets. The last thing you do is sue a guy you knew your whole life or send them to jail for something that he did. That was nothing that I ever gave a second thought to. I’d rather take the bump and then forget about it. It injured our relationship for a long time. Time is short and you only have one life and to hold grudges is not a way I want to go out in my life.
Even after everything was all said and done—we did buy Tommy (DeVito) and Nicky (Massi) out totally, use of name and everything, when we went to La Jolla, I went to Bob Gaudio, who’s still my partner after almost 50 years, and said, “You know, with all that’s happening for us, I wouldn’t feel right without giving Tommy and Nicky a piece of this play.” And that’s exactly what we did. My partner went along with it and we didn’t have to do it. I was very dedicated to the people that I was working with.
GM: Was Tommy appreciative of your ultimate sacrifice?
FV: I don’t know. With everything that was done I can’t tell you he came to me and said, “Hey that was nice, thanks.” What cam I tell ya? I’m not gonna sit here and make things up. Everybody has their own feeling as to the reason we were successful. The reason that we were successful is that I did it. I’m the guy who went and banged on doors. I’m the one that pounded the pavement. I’m the one who stayed there for the guy who wouldn’t see me until it was the end of the day and he had to leave his office. I did all those things. I know that the relentless pursuit of wanting to be successful was so imbedded in me. I wasn’t out playing golf or lying in bed or in a bar getting drunk. I wasn’t doing any of that. And neither was Bob. We did it as a joint venture.
The Four Lovers came from me. The first record I ever made came from my efforts. A girl heard me sing in a place I was singing every night with these guys. I’d go wherever they worked and I’d get up and sing. Nobody said, “Hey, c’mon, you got a job.” This girl heard me, took me to a publisher in New York whose name was Paul Kapp. He was the brother of Dave Kapp who had Kapp Records. He signed me to a record contract. He changed from name to Frankie Valli.
At that time I would have changed my name to anything he wanted me to to become successful. I did my very first record at 16 or 17. It got regional acclaim, nothing over the top, just airplay.
Then from that point on, when some of the other guys that we were working with went to jail–Nick Massi and Tommy’s brother, Nick DeVito–that’s when I started working with Tommy. Tommy had recently come out of jail. Tommy, Nick Massi and Nick DeVito were a trio called The Variety Trio. I’m the guy that changed it into The Varietones. If anybody introduced any of these guys to R&B music it was me. I was listening to R&B and jazz, that’s where I was at. When we worked in clubs that’s the kind of music I was bringing in, music by The Ravens, The Orioles and The Harptones. Later on, in the early 70’s, when we signed with Berry Gordy, he said, “I’m so glad to have you guys. I built my company on what you guys were doing.” We were the first to use hand clapping and foot stomping on records when nobody was doing it. Those were a lot of the great ideas that Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio came up with. Bob Gaudio worked on every arrangement of everything we ever recorded.
GM: At the beginning of the band’s career, was Tommy guiding the group’s career?
FV: He was the oldest guy in the band so he had his say but the creative parts of what we did were more in the hands of Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi who did a lot of vocal arrangements. And it also came down to the material that we picked. I wasn’t just an instrument there for somebody to use. I was doing a variation of different kinds of music long before I knew Tommy DeVito or Bob Gaudio or Nick Massi. I always wanted to be in the business. I was doing impersonations, people like Dinah Washington, Little Jimmy Scott, Little Willie John, Rose Murphy. I’m doing an impersonation of Rose Murphy on The Wonder Who? Record (“Don’t Think Twice (It’s All Right”). I was also listening to Stan Kenton. That was my favorite band and singing group before any of these guys were in my life. I also loved The Four Freshman, The Hi-Lo’s, and The Modernaires. I was in a modern jazz place. I never really wanted to be a pop singer. It came out of the fact that I was starving. Once I got into it and started doing demos for publishers, I realized that all music is good. The only difference is some music is done in good taste and good quality and some is not.
There are a lot of things the public has never been aware of, the fact that even when I started making solo records, I gave everyone in the group a piece of his solo records. I didn’t have to. I just felt that was the right thing to do. My relationship with Bob Gaudio was never meant to take away from anybody else in the group. Nobody suffered in any way when we became partners. We just believed in each other a whole lot. He believed in me as a singer and I believed in him as a creative writer and I thought we would be good for each other. We thought an awful lot a like.
GM: Speaking of your partnership with Bob Gaudio, unlike The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, you and Bob own the band’s publishing.
FV: Yeah. We also own all our masters.
GM: Was it a fluke that you were able to acquire your publishing?
FV: No, it wasn’t a fluke. It was something I learned from being around publishers and writers for so many years and making demos for different publishing companies. One of my closest friends was Otis Blackwell who wrote all those Elvis Presley songs. He wrote “Fever,” he wrote “Great Balls Of Fire” for Jerry Lee Lewis. He also wrote “Handy Man.” I had an early taste of success before The Four Seasons with a song that Otis Blackwell wrote called “You’re The Apple Of My Eye.” I did an album with a group called The Four Lovers for RCA/Victor. “You’re The Apple Of My Eye” charted. I did The Ed Sullivan Show three times on that little taste of success. Otis would always tell me, “Frankie, if you ever make it, you’ve gotta get into the publishing business. The publishing business goes on forever. You can have a hit and then it’s all over and you’re looking for a job. Your publishing can work for you.” Bob and I talked about having a publishing business and everybody shared in our publishing business. Each of us were partners until the breakup and we bought the other guys out. When things started to fall apart with the debts that some guys were responsible for, Bob and I took on all of the debts.
GM: How much money are we talking about?
FV: It was over a million dollars. We didn’t have the cash money to buy Tommy out. I borrowed it from a guy that was managing us. I paid off everybody. We were advised that we could go bankrupt but my pride and reputation was more important than anything. I told my lawyers, “You tell everyone if they can wait we’ll pay them off.” And that’s exactly what we did.
GM: How long did it take to repay the debtors?
FV: It took about four years and I had to take every kind of job that was out there. We worked wherever there was a job. I made a call to Berry Gordy and got us a deal with Motown Records. It helped get Bob a production job there and a writer job where we were splitting publishing. This all happened in the early 70’s when we were just about destitute with debts. It was hard to believe we had so much debt with all our success. We had problems with Vee Jay Records and found out they owed us a lot of money. Instead of taking the money we took back all the masters. The next deal we made was with Phillips Records and we leased our masters to them. At the end of our contract out masters reverted back to us. And after that we made deals with every record company. So we were innovators in that respect. We were probably the first. Today everybody does it. So hopefully everybody has learned from our experience. I’ve always been out there willing to share the good fortune that I’ve had and tell other artists what to do and how to do it. In many cases we can look at the history of our business and think about all the managers and publishers who beat the writers out of everything that they wrote. It was a really great education. It was also a very expensive one. Being with smaller record companies there was always a possibility that they were gonna steal from you. But the fact that you owned it all in the end was really more important to me than anything. That was the annuity. That was the insurance policy that I was looking for and so was Bob. We thought very much alike and that’s how we formed a partnership. We didn’t need a contract. It was all done on a handshake. It’s been honored all this time. It doesn’t mean that we haven’t had differences between us, but it’s a very unique situation that has lasted.
GM: All the original members left at the band at some point, Nick Massi, Tommy DeVito and then Bob Gaudio, what was that like for you?
FV: I was very upset when Nick left. I didn’t want him to leave. Nick was a creature of habit. He had to get up at a certain time of day. Everything had to be just so. Breakfast had to be absolutely perfect. I was upset when he left because he was a very talented guy. Nick was very talented. He could hear a vocal arrangement in his head. Bob was terrific with that too. With all the ear training I’ve had all these years I’ve also been very helpful from a creative place.
There were problems with Tommy from the get go, even when things were going well. He went to Europe with us once. Every time we went to Europe after that we had to get someone to take his place because he found a reason why he shouldn’t go to Europe.
GM: Was he a talented guitar player?
FV: Yes. He played on some of the early records. He was talented in his own way. He was self taught. There were things that Tommy could do in my opinion that came out of natural ability that very few people could do. Had he really taken the time or had a real love for the business I think he could have excelled way beyond anything he ever dreamed.
GM: Was there a moment in your career where you realized you had found your voice as a singer?
FV: Very early on I was doing “Sherry, “ “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like A Man” and I was having a lot of fun doing it and enjoying it. But I wasn’t being Frankie Valli. I wasn’t singing standards. I wasn’t singing what I look at as being really great songs. I didn’t want to do pop music. We made a plan right from the beginning that once The Four Seasons were launched, that I would have a shot doing solo records and it was terrific. That’s when I had the opportunity to do songs like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You”, “My Eyes Adored You” and “Swearin’ To God.” I never really concentrated on my solo career. It was enough that I could whet my appetite and do all of these others things and I was still a part of The Four Seasons. I never had any intention of leaving the group. And even if I left and appeared anywhere, I’d have to do the songs that people knew me for doing. So I’d have to get another group to do them with. When the original The Four Seasons all fell apart it was very saddening to me. The time during the Motown period was very rough. I was on the road and taking everything that came along and Bob was producing and writing for Motown and getting a salary from that. Whatever was left after paying debts we got to keep. But there was a time after all the success that I had I was living on $350 a week. Nobody really knew that we were going through all of this.
GM: Growing up in a no-nonsense, tough, blue-collar town like Newark, New Jersey, in what ways did that locale impact upon the sound of the Four Seasons?
FV: Being so close to New York City, there’s always the feeling of a pulse when you live in big cities. Something’s always happening. There’s traffic. It’s a cop blowing a whistle. It’s an accident. It’s an ambulance going by. It’s an emergency. It’s all of these things. It’s the ghetto. It’s the dream of becoming successful. It’s “How do I get out of here? How do I take this step to this plateau since no one is sending me to college? What am I going to do with my life? Am I going to work in a factory for my whole life? Am I gonna get a job with the mob picking up numbers? Or am I gonna go and get involved with various crimes? What am I going to do?” When you’re very young and you grow up that way you touch on a lot of those things and then the time comes for you to make up your mind as to whether that’s what you really wanna do. And The Four Seasons music came out of that. Listen to some of the songs, “Big Man In Town,” (recites lyrics) “I’ll be a big man in town, just you wait and see, you’ll be proud of me.” (recites lyrics for “Dawn”) “Dawn, go away I’m no good for you.” Wee were saying, I’m not the right guy for you. You’re from the right side of the track and I’m from another place.
GM: That’s a unique perspective.
FV: Well, we were saying things that people from neighborhood all over the United States were thinking. Guys especially could relate to us.
GM: Everyone who forms a band dreams of having a hit record. Take us back 45 years to 1962 when you landed your first number one with “Sherry.”
FV: It was a big “Oh yeah” moment. There was also a little bit of, “Is this really happening?” I remember we had three number ones in a row and we decided to change up a little bit and we did “Dawn” and it only went to number three. I thought it was over. (laughs) “Oh shit, it’s over. We’re done. We’re finished! It didn’t go to number one.“ Little did I know that our success would continue.
GM: When you finally achieved success, was it like you imagined?
FV: I think in the beginning I wasn’t even sure what was happening. I thought I might be dreaming. I was afraid to say or do anything ‘cause I might wake up and find out that all of this was not really happening. When you wait for any kind of success certain projects become such a labor of love. Genuine Imitation Life Gazette was one of those projects. It was just so different. There’s a lot of songs we had on our albums that never really got the exposure they deserved and they’re some of the most incredible shining hours of our career. We did an album for Mike Curb called Hope & Glory and there’s at least five songs on that album that are real standouts, a song like “Love Has A Mind Of It’s Own”. Streetfighter was another great album. It had some incredible songs– “Once Inside A Woman’s Heart,” “Moonlight Memories Of You.” “Veronica” was unbelievable. It was a real standout. There was a Bob Crewe song on there called “Commitment” that was great. The whole idea coming from an entertainer’s point of view, (recites lyrics) “Getting to the time where a one night stand don’t make it anymore. Baby, are you ready for the real things in your life?”
GM: I’d pick “Comin’ Up In The World” as a should have been smash.
FV: Oh yeah, that was also a good one. Another one would be “Sometimes Love Songs Make Me Cry,” that was an unbelievable song. I did an album with Hank Medress that had the song, “Closest Thing To Heaven. Unbelievable song. We did “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.” We did “Silence Is Golden.” We had the first records on those. We had the first record out on “Native New Yorker.”
GM: In the ’60s, how quickly would The Four Seasons knock out tunes in the studio?
FV: The first session we did of major importance was the “Sherry” session. We did five songs in three hours for three grand. What can I tell you? (laughs) Today that would cost $300,000. You can work on these records and work on these arrangements all you want and all these performances but the bottom line is if you don’t have the song you don’t have a hit. And the proof of that is not everything we recorded was a hit.
GM: Like the band’s underrated concept album, Genuine Imitation Life Gazette?
FV: Yeah. I think that album was a very innovative step for the group. Nobody would have ever dreamed we’d step out that far. At the time Rolling Stone said that if that album had been done by anybody else it would have been a smash. That album was a total Bob Gaudio thing. Some of the songs on that album were really way ahead of their time. The song, “Genuine Imitation Life” was written by Jake Holmes, who also co-wrote the rest of that album with Bob Gaudio. What a song! “Saturday’s Father” is also very good. I remember doing “Saturday’s Father” on The Kraft Music Hall TV show. When we finished the song there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. Everything seemed like it stopped. It must have taken 20 seconds before they even applauded. It was very heavy. We were touching on a subject that nobody was talking about at that time.
GM: The Vee Jay album, The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons album is a highly prized music collectible. What’s the story behind that record?
FV: I have two copies of it and I keep promising Bob Gaudio that I’m gonna give him one. (laughs) Every time I get close I just can’t do it. (laughs) That record happened because the Beatles were with Vee Jay Records before they signed with Capitol. Evidently their contract ran out and they had a lawsuit going with Vee Jay. That album was only out for about a month and it’s gotta be worth a couple grand today. It surprised me when that record came out because we had left Vee Jay Records and then that album surfaced. Someone said, “Hey, there’s an album out called The Beatles Vs. The Four Seasons.” I was kind of shocked, “No kidding?” But I was a big fan of The Beatles right from the beginning. I heard The Beatles when I was in Europe in 1963 before they even got here. I was a major major Beatle fan. I loved their earlier stuff more than anything they did. They were so innovative.
GM: At that point in the career of The Beatles and The Four Seasons, it would have been tough to pick who would have won that battle of bands.
FV: Yeah, it’s like, if they pick five people for a Grammy they should all get it. Same goes for the Academy Awards. How do you compare performances?
GM: Didn’t you meet the Beatles in Italy in the early 60’s?
FV: Yes, I did. They were appearing in Italy and I was on vacation with Charlie Calello. I was in Rome and found out they were staying at this hotel. I picked up the phone and said, “I’d like to speak to John Lennon.” They said, “Well, who are you? And I said, “I’m Frankie Valli.” Next thing I know John Lennon was on the phone. He said, “Hello” and I said, “This is Frankie Valli.” And he said, “Is this really Frankie Valli?” I said, “Yeah, it’s me, I found out you guys were here and thought I would say hi.” He said, “Well, come on up to my suite.” The Beatles were all there. We had a great time and spent about an hour and half together. We were talking about their music and our music. They were telling me how big a fan they were of our music and I was telling them how much we loved their music. It was really terrific.
GM: What’s the weirdest concert bill the Four Seasons ever played?
FV: There was nothing more ridiculous than working at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. The opening act was the diving horse. (laughs) Then you went on after the diving horse.
GM: Can you pinpoint Bob Crewe’s creative contributions to the Four Seasons?
FV: Bob was one of the creative forces. He and Bob Gaudio wrote a lot of our songs together. He had success without us too. He had Diane Renay. He had Oliver. He had Mitch Ryder. He had The Rays. He had the Bob Crewe Generation. He had Billy Lillie. Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio worked very well together. They had a lot of respect for each other. They were a really brilliant team.
GM: Discuss the band’s resurgence in 70’s with “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” and “Who Loves You”.
FV: The thing that really started it for us was I had hits one after the other with “My Eyes Adored You” and “Swearin’ To God.” Then Mike Curb was very interested in doing stuff with us. We did “Who Loves You” and “December 1963.” Originally, I didn’t sing on “Who Loves You.” Originally, Bob Gaudio had Don Ciccone doing it. Don came from a very successful group, The Critters. He wrote “Mr. Dieingly Sad”. Anyhow, Bob brought “Who Loves You” to Mike Curb and Mike said, “Where’s Frankie Valli?” Bob said, “Well, we tried doing something new with these other guys.” He said, “Oh no, no, no, we have to have Frankie Valli on this record.” So we went back on the studio and I sang on it. By “December 1963” we thought maybe the way to do this is have three of us (Valli, Don Ciccone, Gerry Polci) sing on it and that’s what we did. That was the direction we were gonna go. Then we did a second album, Helicon, and I played very little part in it. It did terrible, and that’s when that band broke up.
GM: In the ’70s, your hearing problems worsened and you almost went deaf. How’s your hearing today?
FV: Well, thank God that they have ear monitors now or I would probably be out of the business. I have a disease in both of middle ears. I have auto-sclerosis. It’s hardening of the stapes bone in the middle ear. My hearing is okay. If you talk loud enough I’ll hear you. If you talk too soft, I won’t hear you.
GM: With The Four Seasons you’re no stranger to the power of a great ensemble. Years later, you had the opportunity to appear as the recurring character “Rusty Millio” in The Sopranos. I’ve gotta admit, it was tough to watch you get whacked on the show.
FV: I knew from the very beginning that if you did The Sopranos and you were a guest — it was nice that I had a recurring role and I did seven episodes — I knew eventually I’d have to get whacked or I’d have to be more available. But I was busy touring. I have to say they were really terrific to me and worked everything around my schedule. They didn’t have to do that. David Chase is a big fan of The Four Seasons, and the Four Seasons are from New Jersey. He used several of our songs on the show. And he used my name a lot on the show. Someone would say, “Let’s go to that flower shop. Frankie Valli always buys his flowers from there.”
You know something, the biggest actress in this business had been standing in line for years to do The Sopranos. Seasoned actors would ask me, “How the hell did you get a part on The Sopranos? I’ve been trying to get a part on the show for three years!” (Laughs) The first time I auditioned for the show I got turned down. David Chase said he liked what I did but I wasn’t right for the part. Then four years later he called me to do this part. It was incredible to work on that show.
David Chase is probably one of the most talented writers out there. Lots of people lose sight of the fact that he did all those Rockford Files, so he wasn’t a new kid on the block. He probably ended up with HBO because he didn’t have as much pull with a network. But it worked out because you had to hear the language the way it was. We make more of a stink about language. Language isn’t anything, it’s action that counts.
GM: You’re one of those rare artists who have been successful for five decades.
FV: Yes. You should always remember that you can never give up. If I gave up every time I got turned down I would have been out of this business long ago. Clive Davis once said to me, “You never cease to amaze me. You come from nowhere and come right out again with a hit.” It’s all down to the material. It’s timing. It’s luck. It’s being relentless. To sustain a success you have to keep working at it all of the time. You can’t say, “Okay I’m successful now, bring me a hit.”
You have to do things for the right reason too. You have to do things with love. You have to believe in what you’re doing. We always went in and recorded songs that we loved. “Yeah, that’s different, that’s great, let’s do that!” Whether it was “Beggin’” or “Bye Bye Baby” it was just a little different. We did all kind of styles of music. But it still sounds like us. I’m Frankie Valli. I sing like Frankie Valli. I never tried to sing like anybody else. What bothers me today in our business is there’s so much sameness. Everybody’s copying each other. There’s a lot of vocal acrobats. How about singing the melody? If you’re singing a Cole Porter song how much better can you make it than the way he wrote it?
GM: You’ve experienced a rare gift, a gift of making millions of people happy with your music. Is that the most rewarding part of your continued success?
FV: Absolutely. I hope that with all the records and performances I’ve done through the years that I’ve brought an hour or two of enjoyment to people. I hope I’ve given them some peace of mind from this troubled world. I hope I’ve acted like a tranquilizer or a psychiatrist because we really need to remove ourselves from everything so people can sit back, relax and have a good time. That’s so important and it’s so rewarding to know I’ve been able to do that.