Frankie Valli Is the Word

With over three dozen hits to his name, Frankie Valli has been a successful performer solo and with the Four Seasons before, during and after the British Invasion. Between 1962 and 1994 Valli had 38 Top 40 singles with the Four Seasons and solo artist, seven number one singles. With his story (that of the Four Seasons) immortalized in the Tony Award winning musical Jersey Boys and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, Valli sees no reason to slow down. Valli recently stopped by the National Top 40 Hall of Fame and Radio Museum in Chattanooga to take part in the induction of 2020’s newest members and then perform later that night. Valli took time out to speak with Hall of Fame radio personality Gene Lovin while visiting WFLI.

Frankie, you’re such a lovable man and such a gift to music. How many generations have grown up with Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons?

I’m hoping to see that show tonight.

Are you? (both laugh) We were talking from “Sherry” – what a recognizable song from the handclaps and foot stomps. The fact that a lot of people thought it was an overnight success, but it took months.

All successes seem like that – an overnight success; but they don’t know about the success until it happens. Everybody thinks “Sherry” was an immediate hit. I’d say it took a month or two of really promoting. Basically, the real push came when Dick Clark had us on his show. And then one day we sold 120,000 records. The work that’s involved; we went around trying to sell the idea, “The Jersey Boys” as a play ten years before anybody became interested. It’s a part of what it’s all about.

I guess you get back as much as you give in. I mean, performing night after night, city after city. “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Dawn (Go Away)”, “Let’s Hang On!”, “Rag Doll”, not to mention your solo stuff; “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, “Swearin’ to God”, “Grease”, you had a regrouping of the Four Seasons, “Who Loves You” – quite a tremendous career. Did you have any idea it would turn out the way it did?

It started out as I was interested in having a record. The rest of that was keep your fingers crossed. I hoped the people that were to radio like the music we were doing. That was the main thrust of what recording was all about. We were recording songs we like and not listening to what anyone else was recording – although we were listening to everybody, we were not copycats.

You guys even survived the British Invasion, which unfortunately knocked of a lot of American singers that were having some kind of success, but The Four Seasons were still having that success. It’s got to be a tremendous feeling to think that generaation after generation after generation loves your music.

It’s a big world and there’s room for a lot of people to have success and that’s the beauty of what this business is all about. It’s challenging and sometimes if you’re not really on fire the fact that somebody else could be having a great success at the same time. People going into record stores to buy their record and they would look around and buy your record too. Success helps everybody.

I can remember being in New York; I think I was walking around there to see the Brill Building. All the music and songwriting that came out of the Brill Building, but the record stores with these speakers out in the sidewalk area and they would be playing the hits. I don’t know how many times I heard “Sherry” and then a few years later it was “Big Girls Don’t Cry” or “Rag Doll”. Your music was so acceptable – whether it was north, south, east or west. As a listener of your music I was wondering, do you have a favorite?

It’s like having all these hit records are like your children and choosing and choosing a favorite.

“Jersey Boys”, you worked on it for ten years – a successful movie, a successful play. It depicts also the time you were leaving the group to become a solo artist.

I never really left the group. It was a part of the original plan that we put a record out by the group and then we put one out by me as a soloist. The group was so hot that it seemed as it was never going to happen until 1967. The success as a group started in ’62. From ’62-’67; I waited that long to do “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”.

What a great song. Did you guys have a lot of say in the songs that were presented to you? There were such great songwriters that were providing material for you.

That was Bob Gaudio. Occasionally when they ran dry it would be Cole Porter – “I Got You Under My Skin”. There was Larry Brown, Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell – a house full of writers.

You mention Bob Crewe. I’m not familiar with Bob Crewe other than his producing. He had The Bob Crewe Generation, Music To Watch Girls By, but what a producer. The producer is so important. Your music was recorded in New York?




You can’t have a hit unless you have a hit song. It breaks it all down to the writer. Then there are some songs that should be hits but fall through the cracks and never really get a chance. Somebody has to play it. Someone has to like it. If it’s never heard, how would you know whether it would be a hit? I think some of the best stuff that we recorded on the albums are as good as some of the hits we recorded.

I always wondered, a songwriter writes a song and it’s for the Four Seasons and such a major hit if someone else had recorded it would it have been a hit for them like it was the Four Seasons?

I think the treatment of what you’re doing to it – the arrangement is so important and what you’re doing to the vocal of the artist that is doing it. There are a lot that fell through the cracks. I can remember, I was on Private Stock Records and I brought a song that I wanted to record called, “Here You Come Again”. You’ve heard that song?

Yes.

I think Dolly Parton had a hit with that. Larry Uttal said he didn’t like that song. Another song, I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love”; Rita Coolidge had a hit with that. You have to feel the marriage between the artist and the songwriter. It’s as important as anything.

I would think that you’re telling a story with that song in words, you have to embrace it.

I think that before you sing a song you should know what the song is saying. It’s not just the melody, it’s the content of what is in that lyric and you have to try your very best to make it as though it was your concept.

And you have done that. You mentioned Private Stock. You had “My Eyes Adored You”. What a great song. What can we expect from you tonight?

You’ll have to come by and see. We’re going to be happy to be there and do our best to make everybody happy.

It’s been a really big thrill to have you in the studio here. I played your songs for a long time.

It’s really a thrill for me to be here in the studios here and I’m looking at the equipment and it’s bringing by all kinds of great memories.

Without the Four Seasons and radio, where would any of us been?

If you think about it for a minute, it went from recording direct to disc – which is how this all started. It was one tack, then it was two tracks, then it went four tracks and then it went eight tracks. Today it is digital and you have as many tracks as you want so you can overdub for the rest of your life on one track.

Again, thank you, thank you very much.

Thank you for having me, and thank you for playing my records.

– Gene Lovin

Gene Lovin is a recent inductee into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame. Gene can be heard weekdays from 2-7pm on WFLI AM 1070 and 97.7 FM.