(photo credit: PR)
The irony of leading a group of tough New Jersey teens to the top of the charts singing in pristine falsetto voices is not lost on Frankie Valli.
The 83-year-old’s golden pipes may not be what they were in the 1960s when his group The Four Seasons made music history with hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Rag Doll,” but his trademark voice surrounded by his Las Vegashoned revue still manages to conjure up a full-borne Spectoresque sound and the nostalgic tones of a bygone era.
Valli, whose silky voice has accompanied countless newlyweds on their journey down the aisle with the standard “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” spoke to The Jerusalem Post from Florida, away from his California home, where The Four Seasons were performing two shows at the Hard Rock Live near Hollywood.
“I’ve wanted to go to Israel for a very long time, and I’m happy it’s finally happening,” said Valli, ahead of his first appearance in Israel uly 4 at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv “It might be the last time.”
Valli – born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio in Newark, New Jersey – has gained stature since his 1960s heyday, in part due to the hit Broadway musical about his life. Jersey Boys ran on Broadway from 2005 to earlier this year, with Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation appearing in 2014.
Interspersed with performances of many of the Four Seasons classics, the Tony Award-winning play featured a loosely based biographical warts-and-all narrative, told as four separate points of view (four seasons) by each of the members of The Four Seasons (Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio).
Gaudio, who wrote most of the Four Seasons’ hits and went on to a successful production career, spearheaded the idea, but Valli was an enthusiastic supporter.
“It was something I believed in, even if it may not be exactly the way things were,” he said, possibly referring to the band’s rough-hewn street beginnings that got smoothed over with sweaters and smiles.
The group’s clean-cut image, combined with brilliant harmonies and arrangements from Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe, resulted in some 30 Top 40 hits from “Sherry” in 1962 through 1975’s “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night).” As solo artist, two of his songs went to number one – “My Eyes Adored You” (1974) and “Grease” (1978), while perhaps his most famous tune “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” reached No. 2 in 1967 (nosed out for No. 1 by “Windy” by The Association.) Valli attributes the success to a keen ear at identifying what’s going to be popular.
“The most important thing is the song – it has to be memorable and as soon as you hear it, you should be able to sing along,” he said. “It should also tell a good story, even if it’s a simple one, and one that people can relate to. It’s always been about the songs. It’s like making a suit – you don’t start using paper, you need quality material.”
When the Four Seasons’ Tin Pan Alley pop sound got drowned out by the burgeoning long-haired rock & roll of the late 1960s, Valli was never tempted to shift gears and join the psychedelic bandwagon. Instead, as his original bandmates left the fold, he added his name to the marquee (a la Diana Ross and The Supremes) and continued to look for material that suited his sensibility.
“I wasn’t all of a sudden going to become something that I wasn’t,” he said. “Look at Sinatra or Nat King Cole. They transcended their times.
They knew exactly who they were and didn’t try to be anyone else.”
Even when the hits became more sporadic in the 1970s and beyond, Valli has continued to fill stages in Las Vegas, Broadway and the usual array of theaters and arenas with a rotating cast of Four Seasons.
“I love what I do, and I’m lucky that I can still do it. So why not keep going doing the thing I love more than anything?” he said.Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons will perform on July 4 at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv.