Oh, what a night: Valli at Hanover
September 18, 2008
By Richard Duckett TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
WORCESTER—“Ladies and gentlemen, the Red Barron Pub and Deli proudly presents — Frankie Valli … ”
No, that won’t be happening Tuesday at the pub opposite the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.
Instead, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons will indeed be performing at the Hanover Theatre, reprising such 1960s and ’70s classics as “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (in all, the Four Seasons had 40 songs in the Top 40, 19 in the Top 10, and eight No. 1’s).
But Valli (the only original member of the Four Seasons that will be performing Tuesday) insisted during a telephone interview that if he hadn’t achieved commercial success as a singer he’d still be singing today at any venue that would take him, pubs included.
“You don’t choose to do these things because of fame and fortune alone. You need to love what you do,” he said. “It’s a very compelling business to be in. It demands a lot of you. The fortune part of it is part of the territory. If I didn’t make it I probably would be doing it in some local bar.”
Some bar in New Jersey?
“Some local bar anywhere,” Valli replied.
New Jersey was mentioned because that is where Valli is originally from. Newark, to be precise. And on the phone he definitely sounds New Jersey. It’s a deep voice, too, especially considering his capabilities of hitting such high falsetto notes in songs like “Rag Doll.” And then there’s the fact that he had a role as mobster Rusty Millio in seasons five and six of “The Sopranos.”
Millio came to a messy end in “The Sopranos.” The interview, meanwhile, got off to a vaguely awkward sort of start. Asked if he had performed in Worcester before, he said, “I’m sure I have in over 40 years of show business.”
What will he be performing Tuesday?
“Probably material the public is familiar with,” he said.
Does he still get up for the material — the classic songs?
“I get up as much as anybody that loves what they do. That’s an odd question in the sense what other reason would I be doing it?”
But matters warmed up after that. Valli is down-to-earth, but asked if he can still hit those high notes, he said, “I think I can hit them pretty well.”
Valli, 74, said he wanted to be a singer after his mother took him to see a Frank Sinatra concert at New York City’s Paramount Theater. Valli was 7 at the time.
He made his first record, “My Mother’s Eyes,” in 1953, but success did not come right away. He was a co-founder of a group called the Four Lovers that also featured Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio. After they flunked an audition to play at the cocktail lounge of a bowling alley in Union, N.J., they decided that the lounge’s name would be a better title for a singing group: The Four Seasons.
They continued to work on a style of their own, and in 1962 Gaudio wrote the song that would be a rite of spring. “Sherry” became a No. 1 record, the singing dominated by Valli’s unique and high vocal range.
“I developed it through the years of being influenced by a variety of different styles of music,” Valli said of his singing style. “Listening to artists that were stimulating to me.”
After “Sherry,” other hits quickly followed. Was there a particular moment when Valli felt that he and the group had that special something?
“When I started out in this business the main thing is, I want to do this because I really love singing,” he reiterated. “I wanted to establish a situation for myself so that I could make a living doing what I want to do. You try to realize what you do with the hope that there will be an audience out there that will like you.”
As Valli acknowledged there were ups and downs within the group — learning to deal with success, for example, and sometimes not dealing with it successfully. There were lineup changes, and Valli for a while was losing his hearing due to otosclerosis (a condition that was corrected by surgery). But there continued to be hits into the ’70s — a testament to the group’s talent and longevity. In the mid-’70s the Four Seasons had two of their biggest hits, “Who Loves You” and “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night).”
The remarkable story of the Four Seasons has perhaps been saved for posterity by the musical “Jersey Boys.” Based on the lives of the group, the musical won four Tony awards in 2006.
“I feel terrific,” Valli said of the show. “It talks about the group, how they got along. It’s about four guys who weren’t overly educated and did something because they loved it.”
Valli said he also loved his stint on “The Sopranos.” Did he ever consider himself an actor? “The funny part about it, all the time I’ve spent as a singer and worked for live audiences I think all of that was a great deal of help. And I’m also of the firm belief some things come to you normally and naturally.”
Meanwhile, he continues to tour with the current incarnation of the Four Seasons, with Valli as the oldest member.
Any thoughts of slowing down? Apparently it’s not the season of winter just yet.
“What else would I do? I’m not a sit around the house kind of guy … I don’t play golf, I don’t ski,” he said.
“Right now I would like to do what I’m doing.”