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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 17, 2017

The Four Seasons, led by original member Frankie Vallie, coming to Cedar Rapids

By Diana Nollen, The Gazette | Nov 30, 2017

The City of Five Seasons is about to welcome The Four Seasons — led by the legendary Frankie Valli.

The original Jersey Boy and his new lineup will perform Friday (12/1) at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Cedar Rapids.

“We’re really looking forward to coming out there,” Valli, 83, said by phone from Los Angeles, where he moved to embrace a sunnier clime. “I decided that the time came in life where I’d like to begin to avoid winter if I could.”

However, he’s heading to the Midwest this week, before working his way back to concerts in California, Las Vegas and Arizona. With him will be Erik Bates, one of Broadway’s early “Jersey Boys,” as well as Todd Fournier and brothers Brian and Brandon Brigham.

Valli said audiences can expect to hear the hits. And what a string he has to choose from, beginning with “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” in 1962; on to “Walk Like a Man” in 1963; “Rag Doll” in 1964; “Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye)” and “Let’s Hang On!” in 1965; “Working My Way Back to You” in 1966; “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in 1967; and many more, all the way up to the disco era with “My Eyes Adored You” in 1974 and “Who Loves You” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” in 1975.

Even though Valli sees multiple generations in his audiences these days, thanks to the crossover appeal of “Jersey Boys” onstage, the vintage hits “are what most people came for,” he said. “It doesn’t seem as though people want too much more. They don’t mind a little bit more than the hits, but they come to hear the songs that they relate to.”

He credits the hit Broadway musical with making people aware of just how many hits he and The Four Seasons have had in their various iterations.

“We have solo hits with Frankie Valli, hits with The Wonder Who? and The Four Seasons,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t really know that we had all those hits, and I think were quite surprised.”

Valli and his early collaborators — Tommy DeVito on lead guitar, songwriter Bob Gaudio on keyboards and Nick Massi on bass — were surprised, as well.

“We were not trying to follow anything that anybody was doing or copy anything that anybody was doing,” he said. “Before there were any hits, we worked like a cover band, and we did everybody’s whatever it was, to make a living. We were just in the studio creating and having fun doing songs that we liked. Fortunately most of them became hits, but there were some that didn’t.”

Valli was blessed with a strong head voice that soars to the highest heights.

“I always had it,” he said. “It was something that I had naturally. I never gave it very much thought. Because I had it, I thought everybody could sing and do all the things that I was doing.”

Those high tones became his signature sound, even though with the effects of age on a person’s voice, he’s had to lower the keys a bit.

“With the first three hits we had — ‘Sherry,’ ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry,’ ‘Walk Like a Man’ — we tried to create an identity so that if you heard it, you knew who it was, but then we moved on. Those three songs were recorded almost totally by the members in the group. We didn’t bring any orchestra in, and then we started to experiment.

“I think the first song we did that had any major anything as far as orchestration was concerned, was ‘Dawn.’ We used a full orchestra,” which he said was a “fantastic” experience. “It was almost like having a dream. You didn’t want to pinch yourself, because you might wake up and find out you were dreaming.”

That dream began in Newark, N.J., on May 3, 1934, when Francis Castelluccio was born the eldest of three sons of a barber and a housewife. He and his brothers grew up in a city housing project.

“We didn’t have very much,” he said. “In those days, you learned how to sing in a choir or on a street corner under a streetlight, with everybody emulating the songs of the day.”

He grew up “at the tail-end” of the Big Band era, and gravitated toward jazz and the music of Frank Sinatra, The Four Freshmen, The Modernaires, Little Jimmy Scott and Dinah Washington.

“Music is something that I’ve done for just about all my life,” he said, making his first recording at age 16, and changed his name in the ’50s first to Valley, then Valli. “I did other things while I was pursuing a musical career. The wonderful thing that’s come of all this, I’ve been able to do the thing that I love more than anything, and make a living at it and have fans and still be out there. So I really feel privileged.”

As for his legacy, he’s proud of the way “Jersey Boys” has paved the way for other musicals pairing autobiographical stories with songs. He said it took several years to bring the idea to fruition, but he’s thrilled that after ending an 11-year run on Broadway in January 2017, the show recently re-opened off-Broadway.

More than anything, though, he said: “I hope I’ve given some happiness, and all I can say is I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have been able to be on a stage and have as many fans and people come to see me as they do — so I hope I’m remembered for that.”

And he advises other aspiring performers to follow their passion.

“I’ve always thought it was important to follow your dream, whether it comes true or not,” he said. “I would rather follow a dream, even if it didn’t come true, than to always wonder, would it have.”

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