The Clint Eastwood-directed movie “Jersey Boys” is a must see for all fans of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. An adaptation of the Broadway hit of the same name, the movie chronicles the rise and split of the Four Seasons music group beginning in the early 1960s. Perhaps the defining moment of the group’s meteoric climb to success is portrayed when Frankie Valli sings the song “Sherry” over the telephone to record producer Bob Crewe.
Crewe is immediately enthralled by the unique sound of the song and tells Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nicky Massi to rush over to the studio and record it. The rest is history as the song is played repeatedly by radio disc jockeys until it climbs to the height of the charts. Later hits such as “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like A Man”, “Dawn” and “Rag Doll” are featured in the movie.
Frank Valli is of course the small kid with the big falsletto and Gaudio is the hit songwriter who wrote “Who Wears Short Shorts” before he was invited to join the group. It was Glaudio’s brilliant songwriting skills as much as Valli’s ability to hit those incredibly high notes which resulted in the groups extraordinary success.
The original group was formed by Tommy DeVito and included Nick Massi as well as Nicky DeVito. Known as the Variety Trio, they performed at a place in Belleville, N.J. in 1961. The first breakthrough moment occurred when Valli was invited to sing with the group. His unique voice caught the attention of Gaudio who was already recognized in the music industry for his “Short Shorts” hit. The movie portrays Gaudio as being so impressed by Valli’s voice that he decided he wanted to join the group and write for them as well as sing.
Known at the time as the Four Lovers, the group was in a state of chaos. DeVito didn’t want Glaudio in the group, but Valli threatened to quit the group if Glaudio wasn’t allowed in. DeVito relented although he was the founder of the original Variety Trio.
With Gaudio joining as the most prolific songwriter of the group, the Four Seasons skyrocketed to fame and fortune. But an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show reveals the cracks in the group’s foundation. It seems DeVito has accrued massive gambling debts and the loan shark is there to collect backstage.
Fortunately, the group is called onstage before anyone’s legs are broken. Although disaster is temporarily averted, the handwriting is on the wall that further trouble is not far down the road.
Valli and Gaudio continue as partners after the Four Seasons ultimately break up. DeVito is forced out because of the massive debts he has accrued via his uncontrollable gambling. In a magnanimous gesture, Valli says the group will absorb the debts which are soaring toward a million dollars because he and DeVito go way back.
Tommy DeVito does not appear with the group again until they re-form for their introduction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1996.
The original members of the Four Seasons inducted into the Hall of Fame included Frankie Valli, member and lead vocalist; Tommy DeVito, founder and lead guitar player; Bob Gaudio, songwriter, member and keyboard member and Nick Massi, member and bass player who helped train Frankie with his singing.
Another major figure in the formation of the band was Joe Pesci, that’s right the same man who later became an actor in My Cousin Vinny and Goodfellas. Pesci grew up as a friend of the DeVitos in New Jersey and insisted that Tommy DeVito meet Bob Gaudio.
When DeVito takes Gaudio to meet Valli at a joint where the ambience is not impressive, the songwriter almost walks before he hears a note from Valli. In the movie, Gaudio turns to the audience and says, “I was born to write for a voice like this” as soon as Valli starts singing.
So not only does Pesci have the distinction of starring in one of the funniest movies ever made, but he also was instrumental in the formation of the Four Seasons which have been rated as the most popular pop rock group before the Beatles. Not bad.
Christopher Walken stars in the movie as the Mafia figure who Valli considers as a second father. He is so infatuated with Valli’s voice that he weeps and promises him help if he ever needs it. That is a true story. Ultimately it is Walken who brokers the deal with the loan shark in which the Four Seasons agree to pay off DeVito’s debt. The sad thing is Tommy DeVito is exiled to Vegas and never gets to perform with his friends again until the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame introduction.
The movie also details how the group came by its name. They were outside a bowling alley when a sign lights up reading; “Four Seasons Bowling Alley.”
Making the movie even more compelling to moviegoers is the fact details of the Four Seasons personal lives are revealed that were concealed during their glory days. Some of the members did jail time while growing up on the tough streets of New Jersey so their reputations were sanitized.
To its credit, the movie goes into great detail answering questions many Four Seasons fans have never had answered before such as why they broke up. It wasn’t because Valli wanted to be a solo star. In fact he was heartbroken over the fact he had to part ways with boyhood friend Tomy DeVito. When Massi also left the group to spend more time with his family, it was Gaudio who proposed a plan in which Valli would be the lead singer with studio musicians backing him up. Gaudio would continue writing and producing which is exactly what happened.
Gaudio recently gave an interview in which he was asked how that breakthrough hit “Sherry” was created. He said, “Well, it’s like its been portrayed in the movie and on Broadway. It popped into my brain. Then I wrote some silly lyrics which I didn’t mean to keep there in my room before I headed over to the recording studio. But we did end up keeping those lyrics. When I got to the studio we sang the song and there was quite a bit of disagreement as to whether it was good enough to record. Frankie liked. Tom Crewe was the tiebreaker, and he liked it.”
When asked how the group had managed to record songs from 30 years ago which are still popular, Valli said, “I guess prayers and lighting candles.”
Gaudio said, “A lot of luck. It hasn’t hurt to have the successful Broadway hit and the tours in London and Las Vegas.”
Valli said, “The cast in London was especially incredible.”
When asked whether the singer or the writer deserved the most credit for a hit song, Guardio declined to answer and Valli said he’d take the fifth.
When Valli was asked what it was like to be the frontman for one of the most famous groups in the world, Valli downplayed it, saying he didn’t consider himself famous. He further said, “I’d still be doing this if I was working for six dollars a night in a bar.”
Valli said Frank Sinatra was a great influence in his life. He said, “My mom took me to see him when I was four. And later on I got to know him. When we started the group we were pressured to perform like the Four Tops and other groups. We were influenced by Sam Cook and Gladys Knight also.”
Whatever the secret of their success is, that chemistry is still there.