Early pressings of some of the Four Seasons' biggest hits credited the band name with the "sound" of Frankie Valli. Indeed, the singer's voice was not only his group's featured instrument, but it was also their instantly recognizable ingredient. His impressive range from baritone to falsetto has been featured on over seventy chart hits, including a string of number one singles.
The Four Seasons' R&B-tinged classics were staples of early rock and roll radio. Songs such as "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)," and "Rag Doll" and Valli's own solo hits carried on through the '70s with "My Eyes Adored You," and the theme from the motion picture "Grease." From 1962 to 1978, they sold more than 100 million records. Many of their songs were included in the biographical musical "Jersey Boys," a popular Broadway show, film and touring production.
Born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio, Valli's first single was released 70 years ago and the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer continues to tour, backed with a full band and the current line-up of Seasons. He finally brings his COVID-19-delayed tour to Atlanta's Cobb Energy Centre this Friday night for an evening billed as a greatest hits set. But even with two hours to perform, the legendary vocalist probably won't have time to showcase every one of his hits or material from his most recent solo album, "A Touch Of Jazz."
The AJC recently caught up with the 88-year-old entertainer by phone from his home in Los Angeles for a wide-ranging conversation.
It must feel great to be back out on the road after so many Covid delays and postponements. Was this your longest time ever away from the road?
Ever, even when I was a kid. We're doing so many makeup dates now, it's amazing. With so many of these places, some of them have been delayed for over two years. This virus has really upstaged everything that's going on in life. For a little while there, I wasn't too sure whether we were ever gonna be able to get back out there.
How was the first show back?
It was very exciting. We didn't know what to expect or how many people would show up. But we were surprised that most of the people who'd bought tickets did show up. We have a very, very loyal fan base and we always try to please them in every possible way we can. We're not doing these shows for ourselves, we're doing them for the audience.
Do you notice any difference in crowd reaction from state to state or country to country? Obviously the folks love the songs or they wouldn't be there.
Well, that's exactly it. They like to be involved. I've found that that be true in all the years I've been traveling. The main thing I see - there must be thousands of closet singers out there that sing when nobody's around or when they're taking a shower. So allowing them to be a part of this show is great, to see the way they take it and how enthusiastic they are about it.
The show itself is billed as an evening of greatest hits. Will you have time to do anything from last year's "A Touch of Jazz" album?
Well, the guy that I did it with [keyboardist Joey DeFrancesco] passed away. He had a heart attack and we haven't gone near it or touched it since. But probably sometime in this year, we might do one or two songs from it. It's one of my favorite albums that I've ever done.
You've said jazz was your first love.
Absolutely. I never really intended to be a pop singer. I was more interested in jazz growing up as a kid. Then came groups like the Four Freshmen, the Hi-Los, the Modernaires and the Delta Rhythm Boys. In the beginning when I started doing pop, it was a little hard for me. It wasn't something I wanted to do, but I found that I became very successful at it. So I began to enjoy the fact that other people were enjoying it. Jazz has such a small audience in comparison to more commercial music.
Did you feel that pop was somehow beneath you, having been around so many legendary jazz cats and learning straight from the source?
Well, I think it was a combination of a lot of things. I knew Stan Kenton and I knew Sinatra. But I just liked music. There were certain kinds of music that I did not want to do, but there was always that thing in the back of my mind that I would be able to do some solo stuff. So that was enough satisfaction for me.
I've heard you say that the Four Seasons as a band concept never actually went away, even when you were off doing your solo material for extended periods.
That's right. I would never have stayed if that weren't the case. You know, everybody was a little afraid, especially the record companies, that I would leave to seek a career of my own and that would be the end of the Four Seasons. But I always looked at it as, even if I did go out on my own, people would still expect me to do most of the songs that I recorded with the Four Seasons, so what was the difference? I kept going and did both.
Right, and that's very rare, as you know.
Oh yeah. Well, most singers leave, like Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, they all left their groups. I didn't really see any need for that. This wasn't an ego-driven thing. I wasn't looking to get out there and be a big star.
Without the ego projects, your palette was so much wider. Going from Cole Porter to Bob Dylan material is a huge stretch for any artist.
The one good thing was, very early on I learned how to sing by doing impressions. I listened to songs on the radio and whoever was singing them, I would learn to sing the way they were singing. Or sound as close as I possibly could to what they were doing. I realized all these different things you could do with this vocal mechanism that we all have. So there wasn't any kind of song that I wasn't able to do. If I wanted to do a Bob Dylan song - and I'm a major fan of his - I understood what he was doing.
Obviously you're good at interpreting other people's material - whether it's written by Bob Dylan, Bob Gaudio or Bob Crew. Do you ever regret not doing more Frankie Valli compositions?
No, I was committed to being a Four Season and not breaking the partnership. We began with a handshake, believe it or not, and it continues today. We were a singing group and you have to remember, you're not doing it for you. It's all fresh to the people who come to see you, even though these are songs we've done over and over and over. But people expect to hear what they want to hear, not some new thing you've just written. If you ever want to test that out, all you need to do is say your show is coming to town and in your advertising say 'We're not doing any of our hits tonight. We're doing all new material.' You might get six people to show up. That's why we do the hits. As many as we can.
Those early hits were often billed as The Four Seasons featuring the "sound" of Frankie Valli. The falsetto has been a big part of vocal harmony for years, but you took it to a whole new level.
Well, I used it in a different way. You're right, it's nothing new; R&B groups were using falsetto as far back as I can remember. We just used it singing lead as opposed to being in the background. It helped us to establish a sound that when you heard our record on the radio, you immediate knew it was us.
As a man of a certain age, how do you keep that instrument in tune?
What you need to do is use it every day. Every single day. It's like body building. If you wanna keep your body in good shape, you have to exercise every day. I get up in the morning, I take a shower and like a lot of people, I sing! Then I spend a half hour in the shower doing scales every evening before I go to bed at night. Ya just gotta use it!
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
7:30 p.m. Jan. 13. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 770-916-2852, cobbenergycentre.com.
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