THE FOUR SEASONS
THE ORIGINAL “JERSEY BOYS”
HONORED ON THE STRIP’S WALK OF STARS
By Frank Ariveso
The anticipation started with Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Nevada Senator Dean Heller declaring the day: “Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons Day.” Celebrating the fifth anniversary of Jersey Boys on the Strip, and the first anniversary at Paris Las Vegas, a star with the name “Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons” was added to the Las Vegas Walk of Stars on Las Vegas Boulevard. It was the 64th star to be dedicated, and is located under the Eiffel Tower, just outside the Paris Las Vegas.
On a beautiful spring day in Vegas, just perfect for the unveiling and special performance by the cast of Jersey Boys, a large, enthusiastic crowd gathered for the presentation. Travis Cloer (Valli), Rob Marnell (Gaudio), Deven May (DeVito), Jeff Leibow (Massi) and Graham Fenton (Valli extra) performed “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, and “Walk Like a Man”, live and incredibly well. They make the difficult seem easy and joyful. You can really tell they enjoy what they’re doing.
Original Four Seasons group members Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio flew in to attend the ceremony. Valli, who is still performing, humbly said: “This is really very, very exciting and probably one of the most important highlights in my life.” Gaudio, who added some humor, jokingly added: “I did have apprehensions about being put in cement, but this is indeed a pleasure.” They were presented with replicas of the stars to take home.
Jersey Boys is the musical story of the 1960’s pop sensation, a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey, who became so popular they sold over 175 million records worldwide.
Going back to the beginning and telling the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons is a fascinating adventure. Valli, born Francis Castelluccio in 1934, grew up in the projects of Newark, New Jersey. By age seven, he had already decided to become a singer. “I was always singing, as far back as I can remember,” says Frankie. Growing up around mobsters, a Mob boss named Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo, Valli says, “was like a father to me.” Stewie Stone, a close friend and comic who has opened for Valli for thirty-some years says: “Valli thinks like a Mob boss and lives by that Mafia code: Don’t squeal, don’t lie to, or turn on a friend.” Frankie’s life of crime was brief, because he didn’t want to hurt his parents who he loved and respected very much. If you were from his neighborhood, it was said that you could get a factory job, join the army, get mobbed up or become a star. Frankie decided he was going to be a star after his mother took him to see Frank Sinatra. Frankie recalled: “The way he was lit up, it was like he had an aura around him. I decided then and there, that’s what I was going to do—be a successful singer.” That was not as easy as it sounds, because hanging out in Newark back then was a risky situation for young, impressionable teens. A few of Frankie’s friends, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, who would end up being original members of The Four Seasons, did stints in jail for smalltime robberies. “If you didn’t watch out,” said Valli, “You could wind up in the trunk of a car.” Frankie was soon known in the neighborhood for his incredible voice. “For years, I thought everyone had falsetto, and it was much later I realized I had been blessed with an incredible range,” said Frankie. Joe Pesci, (Goodfellas, Casino) another Newark friend, worked as a barber and used to cut Frankie’s hair. Pesci and Valli are really close friends and Valli claims: “Pesci comes from an incredible family, and if he hadn’t gotten in the acting business, he probably would’ve mobbed up. He was also an incredible singer and musician.” It was Pesci who introduced Bob Gaudio, a songwriting prodigy who had written the hit “Short Shorts” at age 15, to Valli, DeVito and Massi. Gaudio joined the group to play keyboards, sing, and he was also able to supply the group with original songs. After they failed an audition to play in the lounge of a bowling alley, they decided to take the lounge’s name for their group: The Four Seasons. The four started working with Bob Crewe, a songwriter and producer with a golden ear. In 1962, the group released their
first album, featuring the single “Sherry” that went to No. 1. With Bob Crewe guiding them, they followed up with “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man”. Then they recorded “Candy Girl”, one of the few hit songs not written by Gaudio. “Candy Girl” was written by Larry Santos, who had his own hit record 13 years later in 1976 (“We Can’t Hide It Anymore”). From 1962 to 1978, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons sold more than 100 million records. In 1990, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, only five years after the Hall opened for business.
In an unusual turn of events, Valli ultimately did become a Mafia member in the popular television hit series The Sopranos. Tony Soprano bragged that he used the same florist as Frankie, while other characters offered their admiration for The Four Seasons’ star. The group’s music could often be heard in the body of the show and over the credits. Valli himself got to guest star in Seasons 5 and 6 as mobster Rusty Millio, a capo in the Lupertazzi crime family. In the end, like most Mafia members, he was assassinated in a hail of bullets by hitmen contracted by Tony Soprano.
In 1964, Gaudio and Valli decided to hedge their bets, because neither one of them knew where they would end up. In one of the truly remarkable deals in show business, they agreed to split 50-50 every penny of their career earnings, regardless of who pulled in the cash. Bob got 50% of Frankie’s earnings and Frankie got 50% of Bob’s earnings. The partnership remains today on a handshake. Valli says: “We didn’t go through contracts. You shook a guy’s hand. It was your word.” Valli nor Gaudio has broken the agreement. “That would be like telling your brother that he couldn’t come to dinner anymore. We’re family,” Gaudio explained.
After the huge success of “Short Shorts” by The Royal Teens, Bob Gaudio at 15 quit high school and went on the road with the group to open for such acts as Jackie Wilson, Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke, and the Everly Brothers. He later became one of the original Four Seasons doing backup singing for Bob Crewe’s record sessions. Gaudio wrote “Sherry” in 15 minutes, just before he left for rehearsal at Valli’s house. He made up lyrics to keep the melody in his head as he drove, so as not to forget it. DeVito and Massi weren’t crazy about the song, but Valli loved it. “We called Bob Crewe and played it for him on the phone. His response: ‘If I don’t fuck it up, it’s a No. 1 record,”’ and the rest is history.”
Gaudio stopped touring with The Four Seasons in 1971 to focus on writing and producing. Unlike Valli, who still loves performing to a live audience, Gaudio isn’t motivated to reclaim the spotlight today explaining: “I didn’t feel comfortable on stage. It was a goldfish-in-a-bowl type thing for me. I just thought I was wasting valuable hours of my life, and I should be writing and producing.”
In addition to The Four Seasons, Gaudio has been associated with many major names in the music industry. He co-wrote and produced the Watertown album for Frank Sinatra and has produced albums with Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Roberta Flack, and Barry Manilow. Gaudio has had a long time association with singer/songwriter, Neil Diamond, and produced six of his albums including the duet by Diamond and Streisand, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”. Gaudio’s songs have been in an impressive group of movies. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” was in The Deer Hunter, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” in Dirty Dancing, “Walk Like A Man” in Mrs. Doubtfire and “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” in Forrest Gump, to just name a few.
He has made a home for himself in Nashville, where he claims: “I prefer having the successes I’ve had and being able to walk into a restaurant or down the street, and nobody has a clue who I am, or cares. That’s just fine with me.” On February 3, 2009, Gaudio finally received his high school diploma, 50 years after dropping out.
When asked how the idea of Jersey Boys started, Bob shared: “I saw a movie called The Deer Hunter, and there’s a scene in a pool hall before the guys ship out for Vietnam where ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ is prominent and they’re all singing along with it. It was such a moment for me, and a realization that our music reached beyond radio and seeped into the fabric of people’s lives.”
Gaudio calls the creation and success of Jersey Boys the “perfect storm.” “It was one of those situations where it just all came together — everything worked. I think of Bob Crewe’s line where he says: ‘The stars are in alignment.’” “It was just one of those times in your life where everything works,” continued Gaudio. Today he travels frequently as the principal overseer of Jersey Boys at seven separate productions around the globe. He has seen the show about 150 times and is one of the business backers. “It’s obviously surreal,” he says about seeing his life as a Broadway show. “Sometimes I’m able just to watch the show, but sometimes you get a cold sweat. You feel like you want to check yourself into the hospital. You think your time has come, that your life is flashing before your eyes.” To sum up Bob Gaudio’s ability, I quote Charlie Calello, an arranger of many of their hits, and part-time Four Season: “He is one of the best songwriters and creative minds I have ever worked with. He truly was a ‘pop’ genius.” A feature film adaptation of the Jersey Boys musical is set to begin production in 2013, and Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio will be serving as executive producers.
Jersey Boys has entertained guests in Las Vegas for nearly 2,000 performances since opening in 2008. The story takes you on an emotional roller-coaster ride, while the music puts you in a great mood. The young voices of Cloer, Marnell, May, Leibow and Fenton are fantastic and the show is a perfect evening of entertainment.
Paris Las Vegas
Wed–Fri and Sun at 7:00 p.m.
Tue at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Sat at 5:00 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.