He was born Franceso Stephen Castelluccio in Newark, N.J., but he will always be known as Frankie Valli, the king of the Jersey boys.
As lead singer of the Four Seasons and on his own, Valli, now 75, has racked up 39 Top 40 hits — seven of which hit No. 1 — and sold more than 175 million records worldwide. He’s also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1990) and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame (1999).
His story is told on stage in the Tony Award-winning smash musical “Jersey Boys,” so upon its arrival in Detroit we took a few minutes to let Valli talk like a man about the phenomenal career it portrays ...
So what has “Jersey Boys” meant to you?
Valli: It’s been incredible. It’s been an entire rejuvenation of a career. It’s not that we ever stopped working, and there was always more than enough as far as work was concerned, but it just brought it up a few notches. There was more awareness. A lot of people who knew of the Four Seasons didn’t really know that we’d recorded that many hits songs because we were constantly changing the bag we were in.
Are you surprised at the musical’s success?
Valli: Well, I had a strong feeling that it was gonna be good after I’d seen it, but I had no idea how big it would be.
What’s the appeal?
Valli: I think it’s the story. I think it was the untold things that were revealed in the play that people didn’t know about us. That was a great big help; like I said, the awareness that we had this music and it all belongs to us. I’m amazed at how many people say, “Geez, I didn’t know you record that” or this or the other.”
What do you think made the Four Seasons special?
Valli: A lot of groups, everything they do sound the same. The instrumentation is the same. A good example is the (Rolling) Stones; they use a basic rhythm, usually, when they record and it’s all kind of the same place whether it’s a ballad or uptempo. There were times we used an orchestra and there were times we were self-contained. We were not afraid to take a challenge on, to try to be innovative and do something different, from “Sherry,” “Big Girls” and “Walk Like a Man” to “Rag Doll” on to “Let’s Hang On!” and “Workin’ My Way,” all of those songs you could classify into different bags.
The Four Seasons spent four years in the early ’70s on Motown — or, rather, the MoWest Records subsidiary. You had been rivals, in a way, with Motown during the ’60s, so what was it like to record for the company?
Valli: It was terrific. It was very surprising to me from the beginning that Berry Gordy said he was influenced by us — y’know, the foot-stomping and the hand-clapping that we did on a lot of the early records. Unfortunately, when we made the deal at Motown back then Berry Gordy was supposed to be getting involved in some of the production and things we would be doing, and then he got caught up in a film with Diana Ross called “Lady Sings the Blues” and it just took all his time. And we sat and talked one day, and I said, “Geez, if you’re not gonna be able to work on the project, and we understand that you’re doing a film, maybe we should get out.” And he said, “Let me think about it,” and he thought and said, “Well, if you really want to get out, fine.” That’s really how it all came about. But we had a good time over there, and Motown has a lot of stuff in the can on us, too, which I think sometime in the future they’re going to be releasing. (The limited-edition Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: The Motown Years” came out in May 2008.)
On your latest album, “Romancing the ’60s” — which is on Motown, incidentally — you fuse the Temptations’ “My Girl.”
Valli: That was really an accident. Those songs were on the (recording) date, but we were rehearsing them and Bob (Gaudio) was playing the piano and somehow when it went to the bridge he went to the other song that we were rehearsing at the time — I’m not sure if it was “My Girl” first or “Groovin’.” Anyway, I said, “Hey, that sounds really great. These songs sound terrific together; let’s do ’em that way.” That’s the way it basically went down.
You’re still working with Bob Gaudio nearly 50 years later.
Valli: Well, y’know, Bob and I have been partners for a long time. We’ve made a lot of music together, so when I go back to do something, who would be better to go back to than him, right? And it’s just as much fun now as it was back then.
Doing “On Broadway” with the “Jersey Boys” cast on “Romancing the ’60s” was a nice touch.
Valli: I figured with everything that was going on and having a play on Broadway, to do “On Broadway” would be a great idea, and having the Jersey Boys was just a little wink at what was going on. Back in the day, when the Drifters recorded “On Broadway,” I always thought it was a great song. They did a whole bunch of songs in a period of time — “On Broadway,” “Up on the Roof,” “Under the Boardwalk” — that, for me, were all spectacular songs.
You played a mob captain (Rusty Millio) on “The Sopranos.” How did you feel about the way the series ended?
Valli: I love the way it ended. What I love about it is the fact that it did everything that everybody didn’t want it to do. (The show producers) were in control, and they did it the way they wanted to do it.
Did you call and ask them why they didn’t use one of your songs instead of a Journey song?
Valli: No, (laughs) I didn’t.
“Jersey Boys” seems tailor-made for a movie treatment, too.
Valli: Everybody’s talking about a movie, but I don’t see that for maybe another four or five years. I look at it this way; it would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Why do the movie? We’re going great with the various companies that are appearing all over the world. “Hairspray” was a movie and it looked like it was gonna do much bigger than it did, but it fizzled. So making a movie doesn’t always mean that it’s gonna be big. You just have to be careful and protect what you have while you have it.”
“Jersey Boys” debuts at 8 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 17) at the Fisher Theatre and runs through Jan. 23. The Fisher Theatre is at 3011 W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit. Tickets are $34-84. Call (313) 872-1000 or visit www.nederlanderdetroit.com.
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