JERSEY, SURE The Four Seasons & Jersey Boys

The rock pioneers get their due
over and over again, both on stage and screen.
They still make it – spectacular. Deerhunter fans, unite.

 

BY A.D.
AMOROSI

 

It’s not
enough to say how enthralled this writer was at the documentary-musical based
on Sixties pop’s mobbed-up chart toppers The Four Seasons that was Jersey Boys. The play has won Tonys for
Best Musical and beyond, Grammys for its original Broadway cast recording (Rhino),
finds itself with more sterling touring companies than Wicked and is being planned at present for the big screen by its
stage scribes Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise. That seasoned Seasons Frankie
Valli and Bob Gaudio serve as executive producers for the play and its film
version while acting as the prime source for the playwrights’ information
proves the flame is well kept; to say nothing of the fact that Valli is still
on fire at a casino stage near you while Gaudio writes and produces.

 

Famously
bound by a handshake to stick in each others business literally and figuratively
50/50, Valli and Gaudio are the hit-makers and the truth-tellers of Jersey Boys with original members Tommy
DeVito and the late Nick Massi an equal part of the quirky tale. Gaudio has a
lot to say about all matter of the Boys, real and not-so-imagined. (Ed. note: a version of this interview
appears in the current print edition of BLURT.)

 

***

 

BLURT: I read somewhere where a
writer asked Mr. Valli if he was comfortable with the fact that Jersey Boys would far outsell and even outlive
his legend. Great for posterity but bad for the ego as he’s still trodding the
boards. To that he seemed to bristle. What say you? You decided years ago to
retire form the stage. Those songs are meant to go on without you standing next
to them. But there is something chilling about having a band’s legend going on
without you when your still part of the present.

BOB
GAUDIO: I always thought the comment was meant in jest, based on earlier
productions and an iteration about how good it was; adulation. That’s a comment
I would make if I saw a really good show about an act like us.

 

 But there are no bands like you.

 True. (laughs) Now if you’re talking about it
as a competition, there is none. We are what we are and we what we got. Then
again, I suspect if I were still out there performing, I don’t know how I’d
take it either though I don’t think Frankie sees the show as anything than a
tribute to what he’s accomplished and what I accomplished for the last 50
years.

 

 Do you keep pretty good track of the
productions?
Pretty regularly.
I just came from the Sydney Australia production after the Melbourne run where it ran for a year. I do a
lot of opening nights and previews. We have an amazing crew of talented people
who do go everywhere for us – working on the music the sound, the staging and
choreography. We have company managers living on planes monitoring and circling
the globe. By the time its done in one place its opening in another and
there’re the US
touring companies to say nothing of the one on Broadway. Whenever I see a new
company, I’m always surprised – and I’m not just saying this – how unique each
one is and how damn good each show is. Every night is like Broadway opening
night. Pretty amazing when you consider that I’ve seen the show like 150 times.
I have a lot of wows

 

 I agree about the uniqueness of the cast. I
saw it on Broadway and in Philly and the casts – the Frankies in particular –
were radically different. Have you ever met a Bob you didn’t like?

 Let’s just say this -I’ve seen a Bob
performance somewhere in the world that didn’t thrill me on a given night. But
on an average there’re some good Bobs out there. Very good Bobs. There’re two
for every company and one swing so, that’s not s a bad average.

 

 Let’s duck to back to Jersey Boys‘s genesis. You always wanted to take the band’s songs beyond
the radio and the stage. I get that it was that moment in 1978’s The Deer Hunter when you got struck by
that notion that the songs were bigger than even mere music could hold. The
scene with the soldiers and “Can’t Take my Eyes Off of You” was a wake up
moment. [Ed. note: view the classic film
clip here
, and then listen to full track at end of this article.
] Why?

 We were not part of the MTV generation or any
generation before that on any larger visual scale. We never had a video. There
was never was a lot of call for that from us. We were a record band and a live
band. There was the occasional Ed Sullivan appearance or so but never something
that brought a song beyond its moment; to another level , as it had been in The Deer Hunter. That was the first time
I saw it in that sort of context; a brilliant film with a brilliant cast and
brilliant director. The setting was very affecting to me. It was the first time
I had a feeling that our music had longevity radio and records.

 

 That you were part of a bigger moment. There
was something social and cultural at stake. That you guys mattered.

 Yes. That’s not to put down radio. God knows
they put us where we are. But that movie was an awakening. That was the beginning
of me thinking that I should be looking elsewhere, another media, in which the
band could showcase its music.

 

 You said there was few performances on TV
(most of which are captured on a DVD at the end of Rhino’s Four Seasons box Jersey Beat.) Why was there no T.A.M.I. show
or big archival reels? You sold millions of copies of a million hits.

 I don’t know or can’t say that it was on
purpose. Part of it was – and you see this with guys today – so many rock guys
carried their own media. We didn’t do that. We never looked after shooting
ourselves. If there was anything it was because a radio station or a television
station provided it, or we were doing commercials for Beechnut Juicy Fruit gum.
We didn’t travel with an entourage.

 

 Interesting. Despite what we know now from the
play – that you guys weren’t always kissing cousins – it’s that what bonded
you.

 There’s camaraderie no matter what happens,
even if you don’t hang together 24 hours a day. When you consider your self or
you are considered the under dog, that’s a bonding issue on its own. In that
respect, we innately felt that way.

 

 How though? I mean, look I come from Philly
and have family in Jersey and understand that the Jersey of then wasn’t the Jersey it is now. It was considered a crooked square
armpit state. Plus  you guys were older
and there was no Cute Paul or Thoughtful George in the Four Seasons and that on
occasion the Seasons get painted as almost thugs.

 Right. We didn’t get that sort of fawning
media attention. Surmise in your in your mind why. To us, for our own reasons,
we didn’t want to talk about who we were and what we came from or what we did
or what we were doing. Now cut that in half and figure that’s how much we
intended for it to be that way. I guess there weren’t that many media outlets
interested in four guys who did not fit in an age bracket that was conducive to
pop magazines at that time. I mean, Nicky was eight or nine years older than
me. When I was 21 he was 30. Tommy was up there. Frankie was in the middle. When
you see you’re not getting attention the Beach Boys. The Beatles and the
Rolling Stones are getting even though you were moving the same amount of records
– going toe to toe with them on our singles – you just figure, “hey.”

 

 You guys seemed like loners. Were there any
friendships with other bands?

 Not a lot. I had dinner with Lennon.
Frankie hung out with McCartney once probably when he was on vacation. Real
chance stuff. No, we weren’t buddy buddy with anyone. Never had closeness with
any other bands. The only guy we had closeness with was Sinatra. Frankie and I
spent time with him, a hang out thing beyond the music.

 

 Outside of the crooners like Dean and Frank,
why do you think Italian Americans in rock get no respect? Too few people
mention Steven Tyler’s ethnicity or Jon Bon Jovis – ohhhhhh.

 I would hate to have to think it was because
we were Italian American, I think it was just our age .and that we shunned a
lot of stuff due to our connections. We didn’t consider ourselves glamour boys
by any stretch of the imagination and I’m guessing the media didn’t either. We
were not on the front page. The music luckily spoke for it self for better or
worse. I don’t think it was heritage although being from a minority group you
just realize early on, you got to fight a little bit harder. And we did.

 

 Do you think that the no-respect thing you had
was ever about being a non-album band?

 Hmmm. I don’t think so. That said, we never really went in until later to make
albums. We went in and made singles. Hit records. We were gearing ourselves to
makes songs that would get on radio. We knew there were songs that not only
surpassed others but our own last ones too. There was a competitive thing with
radio in general amongst all of us – who could make a record that sounded
better than the one I just heard and the one that‘ll come after it. That was
exciting. Honest, it was a fun period. I was a fan of radio before the Four
Seasons. Loved the radio. I was inspired by what I heard.  The whole time was how you heard something
and how you wanted to best it. If a song got me off I’d start writing even
harder. Radio fed us and we fed radio

 

 That said, are you happy that critics haven
taken more to the Genuine Imitation Life
Gazette
with new ears? It’s considered a lost psychedelic socio-conscious
classic.

 Yeah, it’s interesting. The albums – not
singles – that I have been most involved with that got the best reviews were
the worst selling for the artists involved. That album for us and the Watertown album I wrote and produced for Sinatra. That was easily the worst selling record
of his career. I hold that award…So, what does that mean?

 

 With The
Deer Hunter
being like ‘78 ’79, the Broadway musical that looked back at
catalogs of music hadn’t come about yet – the Leiber & Stoller, the Johnny
Cash, the ABBA stuff. Yet that’s what you wanted to do?

 You’re right. The first one that lit the
spark was Smokey Joe’s Café. Now if
you’re a thinking person who had more than a passing interest as we did in
doing something on with Broadway you wouldn’t want to go that exact route. But
it was a start. Mamma Mia took that a
step further. The inclusion of a story, a dramatic arc. So where do we go after
that? Something with a bit of a shock, a surprise like ours but like neither of
those. Something no one had done. A spark hit us – our story was pretty
interesting. So maybe that’s part of it, but how do you tell it.

 Something that’s not so pleasant – the mob
stuff, how you guys had to get yourselves out from under that. Marshal Brickman
brought that out of you guys.

 The writers were as excited about our story – no
holds barred tough as we were – and here we are.  I mean it wasn’t as fast as that. Everybody
spun in circles for a few years. But once it landed it landed

 

 Was Mr. Valli – and frankly you too – always
onboard for this telling of his tale? Were you two cool with the mobbed-up aspects
of the story?
 Let’s be honest – that’s what worked best. The
truth. We’ve always been a hard sell. We’re street guys. I may have had that
jazz and classical background but this is what it is. The street music of the
time with the stuff that went on with guys on the corner.

 

 And guys on the corner didn’t always exactly
do the right thing.

 Noooo. (laughs)
We just managed to make it spectacular.

 

[Photo
courtesy Warner Bros.]

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