The Four Seasons

As a teenager living in Newark, New Jersey, Franki Valli (born Francis Castellucio), sang and played drums with a band called The Varietones, who later changed their name to The Four Lovers. The group had a #77 hit with an Otis Blackwell number called, "You're the Apple of My Eye" in the Summer of 1956, which would lead to an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. A follow-up hit never came and the quartet found themselves stuck in the New Jersey lounge circuit. One night the group auditioned to appear at a local bowling alley, but were turned down flat. Instead of just walking away, they adopted the name of the place and became The Four Seasons.

With the addition of organist Bob Gaudio, The Four Seasons' definitive line-up included singer/guitarist Tommy DeVito and bass player/vocalist Nick Massi (replaced in 1965 by Joe Long). The band managed to get some session work through producer George Goldner, who also recorded their first single, "Bermuda". The song was released on Gone Records in 1961, but went nowhere. One afternoon in 1962, Bob Gaudio, who had sung with the Royal Teens before joining Frankie Valli's Four Lovers, was getting ready to go down to a Four Seasons rehearsal. Before he left, he sat down at a piano for fifteen minutes and the music for an entire song came out. He didn't have a tape recorder in those days, so he quickly wrote down some words and made up the title, "Terry", as a way of remembering the new melody. He didn't intend to keep the lyrics, but when he got to rehearsal, everybody liked them. Only the name needed to be changed. By this time, The Four Seasons had signed a deal with producer was Bob Crewe, a singer-turned-songwriter/producer who worked with acts like Bobby Darin, Freddy Cannon, and Danny And The Juniors. The group called Crewe from rehearsal and sang Gaudio's new song, "Terry", to him over the phone. Crewe was wild about the song, but the name became an issue. They almost changed it to "Peri", the name of the record label Crewe worked for (Peri was also the name of the label-owner's daughter). They also considered changing it to "Jackie", a tie-in with Jackie Kennedy, who was at the height of her popularity. But in the end, Crewe rejected both of those ideas and eventually settled on "Cheri", after radio station WMCA disc jockey Jack Spector's daughter. Subsequently, Crewe left the Peri label, signed The Four Seasons to the Chicago-based VeeJay Records, and financed the recording session of what was now "Sherry". The record made its way to WMCA and was reviewed in a deejay meeting where songs were picked for air play. Spector had given the song its name, but he'd actually never heard it. "We listened to it," he recalled, "and everybody said, 'Oh wow, what a different sound. Listen to this guy with the falsetto, he's unreal. Who is that guy?' Nobody knew who he was. Everybody thought they were a Black group at first." WMCA, whose audience was building rapidly, started playing the record, and soon the station's chief rival, WABC, picked it up as well. "Sherry" quickly broke out of New York and rose to #1 in the nation in August, 1962, launching the career of The Four Seasons and making Jack Spector's then-three-year-old daughter, a part of Rock 'n' Roll history.

The Four Seasons and The Beach Boys were virtually the only American groups whose successful careers were not derailed when The Beatles and the British Invasion bands hit the States in 1964. In fact, 1964 ranks as the Four Seasons' biggest year of all, despite the insurgency from abroad, which attests to their durability and appeal among America's teenagers. That appeal stemmed from The Four Seasons' ability to complement spotless Italian-American doo-wop harmonies with the forceful falsetto and three-octave range of lead vocalist Frankie Valli, superb songwriting from Bob Gaudio, and arrangements and production that drew upon everything from Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" to the danceable beat of Motown's Pop / R&B singles.

During a hit making streak that spanned the years 1962-68, The Four Seasons netted two dozen Top Forty singles, including the number one hits "Sherry", "Big Girls Don't Cry", "Walk Like a Man" and "Rag Doll." They've sold over 100 million records worldwide, making them the most successful white doo-wop group in Rock 'n' Roll history.

The Four Seasons racked up an incredible list of top 40 hits:

#1 - "Sherry" [8/25/62]
#1 - "Big Girls Don't Cry" [10/20/62]
#1 - "Walk Like a Man" [1/26/63]
#23 - "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" [12/15/62]
#3 - "Candy Girl" [7/6/63]
#36 - "Marlena" [7/13/63]
#3 - "Dawn (Go Away)" [2/1/64]
#22 - "Ain't That a Shame!" [4/20/63]
#16 - "Stay" [2/15/64]
#6 - "Ronnie" [4/11/64]
#28 - "Alone"[ 6/6/64]
#1 - "Rag Doll" [6/20/64]
#10 - "Save It for Me" [8/29/64]
#20 - "Big Man in Town" [11/7/64]
#12 - "Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye)" [1/16/65]
#30 - "Girl Come Running" [6/19/65]
#3 - "Let's Hang On" [10/9/65]
#12 - "Don't Think Twice" [11/6/65]
#9 - "Working My Way Back to You" [1/29/66]
#13 - "Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'Bout Me)" [5/21/66]
#9 - "I've Got You Under My Skin" [9/3/66]
#10 - "Tell It to the Rain" [12/10/66]
#16 - "Beggin'" [3/4/67]
#9 - "C'mon Marianne" [6/10/67]
#30 - "Watch the Flowers Grow" [10/28/67]
#24 - "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" [2/24/68]
#3 - "Who Loves You" [8/23/75]
#1 - "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" [12/27/75]

In the mid sixties, Frankie Valli decided to try to establish a solo career without actually leaving the Four Seasons. His first attempt was in 1966 with "You're Gonna Hurt Yourself" which became a very mild seller. Frankie then turned to his old friend Bob Gaudio for help. "I want you to write me a hit song... the greatest song you've ever written". It took less than a day to write and Frankie was simply blown away. The song was "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and it was released in May 1967. Peaking on the charts two months later, it sold two million copies, yet it was a bitter sweet victory for Valli. He couldn't hear it. Doctors had discovered that he had otosclerosis, a rare ear disease for which there is no real cure. One day Frankie just began to notice sounds around him dropping out. "I was destroyed," he later said. "I mean, if I couldn't hear, I couldn't sing, so what was the point of living? I was ready to throw myself out a window." Fortunately, delicate operations restored much of the hearing loss and many fans never learned anything of his crisis. Frankie went on singing to further success.

By the early '70s, original band members Nick Massi and Tommy DiVito had quit, and Bob Gaudio had retired from the road. Gaudio and Valli remained business partners though, owning all the rights to the group name and all of their old masters as well. Frankie kicked off a resurgence with "My Eyes Adored You" in the Spring of 1975, a song that he had produced and recorded a year earlier. After Motown Records said they had no faith in the song and refused to release it, Frankie and Bob Gaudio bought the master tape for around $20,000 and issued it on Private Stock records. It went on to sell over four million copies. That number one record was followed by "Swearin' To God", another Top Ten smash. Then, in August, a Disco single, "Who Loves You" introduced fans to the new Four Seasons: John Paiva (guitar), Don Ciccone (bass), Lee Shapiro (keyboards) and Gerry Polci (drums). Over them, Frankie Valli sang lead vocal, backed by two former Seasons, Bob Gaudio and Joe Long. From the "Who Loves You" album came "December 1963 (Oh What A Night)", a song that broke around Christmas 1975 and spent six months on the charts. It was the best selling Four Seasons single of all time up to that point and was the longest-charting single in history, lasting twenty-seven weeks on the Hot 100.

In 1977, Valli left the group to concentrate on his solo career. While he again hit #1 in the USA with the Barry Gibb movie theme, "Grease", The Four Seasons continued with drummer Gerry Polci taking on lead vocals. Valli later returned to the group for a double album recorded live at Madison Square Garden.

The Four Seasons teamed up with The Beach Boys on the single "East Meets West" in 1984, which was followed by a studio album, "Streetfighter", featuring Franki Valli. In 1990, the group was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and although the hit records stopped coming, The Seasons continued to tour, taking full advantage of both the oldies shows and the casino circuit. In 1992, Franki again joined his longtime backing band for the album "Hope + Glory". As the new millennium rolled around, Franki guest-starred in seasons five and six of The Sopranos as mobster Rusty Millio, until Rusty's unfortunate demise in a hail of bullets.

Nick Massi, bass guitarist and bass vocalist for The Four Seasons on their long string of hits, died of cancer on December 24th, 2000 at the age of 73. On September 1st, 2007, at the age of 73, Franki Valli released his first new album in 15 years, a collection of cover tunes from the 1960s called "Romancing The '60s". Valli went on to enjoy a new surge of interest in his work when it was announced that the Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys, which is based on his career with The Four Seasons, was moving from Broadway to the new Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas in 2008.

Frankie continued to tour America with a group called The Four Seasons that consisted of Todd Fournier, Brian Brigham, Brandon Brigham, and Landon Beard. In October 2010, Frankie's duet with Juice Newton, "The Biggest Part Of Me" was included on Newton's album "Duets: Friends & Memories". Former bassist Don Ciccone passed away on October 8, 2016. Valli was still performing across North America in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

For more, be sure to read Gary James' interviews with Four Seasons' drummer Gerry Polci and Four Seasons' bassist Don Ciccone