by Otis Stokes
Most successful artists are more than satisfied having a productive career of 10 years, because with the changing of musical tastes and styles, that’s considered a long run. But to have a career spanning over 50 years and still rolling, that is phenomenal. That distinction is held by only a few, and it’s rare air indeed to fly in. Francesco Stephen Castelluccio, better known as Frankie Valli, is one of those special artists. With a powerful and distinctive falsetto voice, Frankie Valli can never be confused with any other singer. And to be sure, without his one-of-a-kind voice, the only four seasons we would know about are winter, spring, summer and fall.
But as the lead singer of the “Four Seasons” singing group beginning in 1960, Valli scored 29 Top 40 hits with them, one Top 40 hit under The Four Seasons’ alias “The Wonder Who?,” and nine Top 40 hits as a solo artist. As a member of The Four Seasons, Valli’s #1 hits included “Sherry” (1962), “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (1962), “Walk Like A Man” (1963), “Rag Doll” (1964) and “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” (1975). Valli’s recording of the song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” reached #2 in 1967.
Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, Valli became a barber like his father Anthony Castelluccio. Frankie was inspired to take up a singing career at the age of 7 after his mother took him to see a young Frank Sinatra at the Paramount Theater in New York City. His early mentor was singer Texas Jean Valli, from whom he obtained his last name, although it took him some time to settle on the spelling “Valli.” Until he could support himself with music, he worked as a barber.
Valli began his professional singing career in 1951 with the “Variety Trio” (Nickie DeVito, Tommy DeVito and Nick Macioci). In late 1952, the Variety Trio disbanded and Valli, along with Tommy DeVito, became part of the house band at The Strand in New Brunswick, New Jersey. For his part, Valli played bass and sang. He cut his first single, “My Mother’s Eyes,” in 1953 as “Frankie Valley,” a variation on the name he adopted from Jean Valli. Renamed “The Four Lovers,” the group recorded several singles and one album’s worth of tracks. They had a minor hit with “You’re The Apple Of My Eye” in 1956. Nickie DeVito and Hank Majewski left in 1958 to be replaced by Nick Macioci (now Nick Massi) and Hugh Garrity. Massi was in and out of the group, and occasionally Charles Calello joined on accordion.
The group continued to perform until 1959 when Bob Gaudio became a member. After a few more changes, the group was renamed “The 4 Seasons” after a cocktail lounge the group was at after auditioning in a big suburban bowling alley in 1960. During the 1960s, Gaudio and his then-songwriting partner, producer Bob Crewe, worked with Valli to craft solo recordings with varying degrees of success.
This concept of a major recording artist performing solo in opposition to his or her own group performances was rare in the rock/pop world (Buddy Holly and The Crickets were an exception).
The potential to dominate the charts with group and solo recordings was great, and Valli, Gaudio and Crewe occasionally rose to the occasion with both great performances and commercial hits. Valli was the original artist to record the Gaudio-Crewe composition “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore),” a performance that was copied nearly note for note when recorded by The Walker Brothers, an American group based in England. The Walker Brothers version was a huge success.
Valli continued to record solo performances and finally reached major success with the release of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” which reached #2 on the charts and was widely recorded by many other artists. Valli’s debut solo album was a gathering together of various single releases and a few new recordings. Before the release of his second solo album, a single was released in July 1967 with the A-side “I Make A Fool Of Myself,” a record that reached #18.
“Timeless,” Valli’s second solo album release, was more coherent and Valli took more time in recording it. The album contained one Top 40 hit, “To Give (The Reason I Live).” “You’re Ready Now,” a Valli solo recording from 1966, became a surprise hit in the United Kingdom as part of the Northern soul scene and hit #11 on the UK pop charts in December 1970.
In 1975, his single “My Eyes Adored You” hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. In the same year, he also had a #6 Billboard hit with the disco-laden “Swearin’ To God,” while another UK Chart success came with “Fallen Angel,” written by Guy Fletcher and Doug Flett, and produced by Bob Gaudio. Valli was on the UK charts with this at the same time as The Four Seasons enjoyed a UK hit with “Silver Star” on which Valli did not appear as lead.
In 1978, he sang the theme song for the film version of the stage play “Grease,” a song written by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, which became a #1 hit. He had two more chart successes the following year, “Save Me, Save Me” in November 1978, which entered the Billboard Easy Listening chart, and “Fancy Dancer” in January 1979, which entered the pop charts.
Valli suffered from otosclerosis in the 1970s, forcing him to “sing from memory” in the latter part of the decade. Surgery restored most of his hearing by 1980. Eventually, a proper respect was paid to his life and accomplishments when the wildly popular and award-winning Broadway musical “Jersey Boys” opened on Broadway in 2005. The title refers to the fact that the members of The Four Seasons are from New Jersey. Besides performances of many of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons hit recordings, the musical features a biographical narrative, told as four separate points of view by each of the members of The Four Seasons (Tommy DeVito, Frankie Valli, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio). The musical dramatizes several real-life incidents from Valli’s life, including his estrangement from his daughter Francine, who died in 1980. The show has been widely acclaimed, financially successful, and won six Tony Awards.
The cast starred John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli, Christian Hoff as Tommy DeVito, Daniel Reichard as Bob Gaudio, and J. Robert Spencer as Nick Massi. The musical is directed by Des McAnuff, with choreography by Sergio Trujillo. The Broadway production had 38 previews and is still running, reaching its 3,487th performance on April 9, 2014, making it the 13th longest-running show on Broadway. The musical has touring companies around the world, as well as a version that ran at the Palazzo in Las Vegas in the custom-built Jersey Boys Theatre from May 3, 2009, to January 1, 2012, when it temporarily closed to reopen on March 6, 2012 at Paris Las Vegas.
And as the “gift that keeps on giving,” the musical has been adapted into a 2014 film of the same name directed by Clint Eastwood, starring the four main cast members from the Broadway show. Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio, the original members of The Four Seasons, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. The now 80 year old Valli, took the #1 spot on “People With Money’s” top 10 highest-paid singers for 2014 with an estimated $82 million in combined earnings. The singer has an estimated net worth of $245 million.
Besides the longevity and success of his superlative singing voice, Valli also attributes his fortune to smart stock investments, substantial property holdings, and lucrative endorsement deals with CoverGirl cosmetics. He also owns several restaurants with the “Fat Valli Burger” chain in Washington, a Football Team the “Newark Angels,” has launched his own brand of Vodka called “Pure Wondervalli – US” and is tackling the juniors market with a top-selling perfume “With Love From Frankie,” and a fashion line called “Frankie Valli Seduction.” Not bad for a barber from Joisey.