We look back with Jimmy Ryan on his work with The Critters, Carly Simon and some others, before becoming a founding member of The Hit Men. Don Ciccone’s daughter Marli and son D’Arcey share their Critters and Four Seasons memories.
By Warren Kurtz
Flip side: It Just Won’t Be That Way
A side: Mr. Dieingly Sad
Top 100 debut: August 13, 1966
Peak position: 17
Don Ciccone, 2nd in the photo, Jimmy Ryan, far right
PART ONE: Jimmy Ryan Interview
GOLDMINE: The Critters’ first hit single on Kapp was a cover of an album cut by The Lovin’ Spoonful, “Younger Girl” from their Do You Believe in Magic debut album for the Kama Sutra label.
JIMMY RYAN: We were a New Jersey high school band, called The Vibratones. Over time, the Vietnam War era draft starting picking off members to go to war. We evolved into The Critters and backed up Jay and the Americans. A fan’s enthusiasm for us led to an audition with Kama Sutra. Then Kama Sutra did a production deal with Kapp, assigning Artie Ripp as our producer. He was a fan of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Younger Girl” as a song for us and it also became the title of our first album. By then I was a student at Villanova. I was in my dorm room where there was a pay phone at the end of the hall. My sister called me on it, from Merrimack, to let me know that “Younger Girl” was a pick hit on WBZ AM radio in Boston.
GM: While “Younger Girl” peaked nationally at number 42, the next single, Don Ciccone’s composition “Mr. Dieingly Sad,” brought you officially into the Top 40.
JR: We had wanted this to be our first single, before “Younger Girl,” but fortunately “Younger Girl” paved the way for DJs to listen and give “Mr. Dieingly Sad” a chance. It came out while we were on Dick Clark’s “Where the Action Is” tour, which lasted a month and went all over the eastern and southern U.S., with The Young Rascals, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Knickerbockers, Shades of Blue, Steve Alaimo, Keith Allison, B.J. Thomas, The Kinks, and The Dave Clark Five.
Official tour brochure, courtesy of Jimmy Ryan
Tour promotional photo, Don Ciccone 4th and Jimmy Ryan 5th in line, courtesy of Jimmy Ryan.
GM: Speaking of The Kinks and The Dave Clark Five, the flip side of “Mr. Dieingly Sad” which you wrote, “It Just Won’t Be That Way,” certainly captured an up-tempo British Invasion sound. The drums remind me of Dave Clark.
JR: That was the second song I ever wrote. I was looking for a unique sound. Jerry Ragovoy came up with that drum part.
GM: The following year, in 1967, you composed your final Top 40 single, “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down on Me,” which shared strong vocal harmonies, similar to what we heard on Turtles’ records that year.
JR: You had to wear a suit at Villanova, which was still an all boys college in the ‘60s. I was coming out of calculus class in my suit, hoping that the rain wouldn’t come down on me, as I had a two city blocks walk to the dorm. The sky opened and it poured on me. I went back to my dorm and wrote this one quickly. Many people like this Critters song and a version of it is also on our Hit Men album Hit Men 2.
GM: In the next decade, I know your work with Jim Croce came from you both being Villanova students, but how did your work with Carly Simon begin?
JR: Dan Armstrong was a later Critters producer and his girlfriend was Carly Simon, who briefly was with the band Elephant’s Memory at the time. Dan had a music store and I worked there. Carly would come in and we would play guitar and sing.
GM: After “That’s the Way That I Heard It Should Be” and “Anticipation,” she had her biggest hit with the number one gold single “You’re So Vain” from the No Secrets album.
JR: “You’re So Vain” was a long recording session, with Richard Perry as a producer. He was a real drum stickler. He kept changing drummers and ultimately settled on Jim Gordon. I played guitar and Klaus Voorman played bass. While we were hanging around, Klaus was playing a guittarone, which is a six string deep acoustic bass, played in Mexican mariachi bands. Richard liked what he heard, and that became the opening for the song.
GM: You also did work in the ‘70s with Cat Stevens, Rod Stewart and Kiki Dee.
JR: As a member of Carly’s band, we opened for Cat Stevens at the Troubadour in Los Angeles and Carnegie Hall in New York City. Then I played guitar on his Buddah and the Chocolate Box album which included his hit single “Oh Very Young.” I moved to England in the mid-‘70s. Around 1974, decades before Rod Stewart was doing his Great American Songbook album series, with producer Jimmy Horowitz and his wife Lesley Duncan, we worked on some Cole Porter tunes in the studio. I learned that Rod sings quietly. With Kiki Dee, a favorite was her single “Amoureuse,” with Elton John producing. He certainly knew what he was doing and is such a nice guy.
GM: While you were doing this, Don Ciccone was back from his time in the United States Air Force, as a jet mechanic, and was in The Four Seasons, with mid-‘70s hits “Who Loves You” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” where he played with fellow ‘70s Four Season keyboardist Lee Shapiro.
JR: Jersey Boys has been great for The Four Seasons. Lee and Don got Frankie Valli’s permission to start The Hit Men, playing the music of The Four Seasons, other acts we have been associated with and share our stories. Sadly, Don passed away in 2016. The Hit Men continues with Lee, me, Jeff Ganz, Russ Velazquez and Steve Murphy.
GM: Not only do you record albums, covering material you are associated with, including Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” on the Time Travel album but now on the new Don’t Stop album, you have your first original single, one of my favorites this year, “You Can’t Fight Love,” which reminds me of Toto, Survivor and Chicago.
JR: With “Let the River Run,” we enhanced it, boosted it, filled it out and rocked it out. I co-wrote “You Can’t Fight Love” with Mike Ragogna. In the video there is a young couple in the story, mixed with footage of us old guys playing.
The Hit Men will be performing Saturday, April 28 in Wilmington, Delaware, mid-May in Iowa and many more locations:
Jimmy Ryan, courtesy of Randy Alexander, Randex Communications
Don Ciccone, second from left, Jimmy Ryan far right
PART TWO: Don Ciccone Memories from Marli Ciccone DeFilippis and D’Arcey Ciccone
GOLDMINE: The bridge that your father wrote for “Mr. Dieingly Sad” is quite a poetic proposal, “Take my hand and walk with me. Wake this land and stop the sea. Show me love. Unlock all doors. I’m yours.”
MARLI CICCONE DeFILIPPIS: “Mr. Dieingly Sad” has been the story of my lifetime. My father wrote it about my mother and I’ll be able to play that song for my grandchildren and it will mean something to them. After he passed away in 2016, I got the song’s title, in Dad’s handwriting from his sheet music, tattooed on my leg and D’Arcey got it tattooed on his arm.
D’ARCEY CICCONE: Getting our “Mr. Dieingly Sad” tattoos in Port St. Lucie, Florida, where Dad lived, was a huge thing for us both. He was such a brilliant and eclectic person, so it only felt fitting to use some of his quirks for a tattoo. I’m also a musician, largely trained by our father, and I’ve always admired this tune’s composition. The rather complex modulations, intertwined with equally challenging vocal harmonies, made for a remarkably easy sounding song. That’s a real challenge. We lost our mother in 2012 and this song will always remind me of the best times all in one place.
Helicon album – The Four Seasons, 1977
Frankie Valli, top left, Don Ciccone bottom left, Lee Shapiro, bottom right
GM: I saw your dad with The Four Seasons at Blossom Music Center, south of Cleveland, on Labor Day Weekend, 1976. By then, three singles had been in the Top 40 from the Who Loves You album, “Who Loves You,” “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” and “Silver Star.” Your dad could certainly hit the high notes on the “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” bridge, “I felt a rush like a rolling ball of thunder. Spinning my head around and taking my body under.” This was the year before the Helicon album, which has a Beach Boys-sounding song “Put a Little Away,” that I love, and two years before Frankie Valli’s biggest solo single, “Grease.”
MCD: The song “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” reminds me of being at ‘70s Four Seasons concerts, hearing Frankie Valli introduce my dad as Don “Cyclone” Ciccone, and watching the women go wild for Dad’s falsetto solo vocal. Now when I hear the song and his voice coming from the speakers at a grocery store, dentist office, wedding, or just about anywhere, it makes me feel like a part of him is still with me, and I can count on it being there again and again. I love it.
DC: I love talking about The Four Seasons. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to play bass for Pete Best at the recent Beatles-Fest here in San Diego. He and I swapped stories, late into the night, regarding the glory days of his term with the Beatles, and my father’s time with The Four Seasons. “Who Loves You” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” were major tunes on record and on stage, along with “Grease” on stage, in his life as they were in mine. We had a blast sharing the stage for the fans of a sold out show here in town. One of my favorite local spots was even kind enough to add a Four Seasons record to their jukebox, after his passing, as a memorial for him and in kindness to me. This was a beautiful gesture for me from a large community of close friends. I hear his voice on the radio or overhead speakers every day, virtually everywhere I go. This is truly an honor to his talent and impact on the world.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.