This one is for the Big D, Donald V………
Four guys from Belleville New Jersey.
100 Million Records Sold.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
I am talking of course of The Four Seasons, one of only two American bands (the other was the Beach Boys) to actually be in the top of the charts during the British Invasion. They are now the stuff of legend, having had their story become a smash Broadway Musical, Jersey Boys. A movie followed, directed by Clint Eastwood (and honestly not very good).
When I heard there would be a musical about them, I was elated but slightly taken aback. I honestly didn’t think that too many other people knew about them. Talk about naïve. But they were after all “our” group, not the worlds. Don and I listened to them on WABC and WMCA, bought the 45s, watched their performances on television, even tried to sing like them (I was always Nick Massi –Don was always Frankie Valli) and throughout that whole time, we just considered them “ours”. The Mid-West had Motown, the West had Surf, the South had Blues, but we, only us kids from the New York/New Jersey area – only we had “The Seasons”.
Having toiled in relative obscurity under a score of different names, they finally settled on the Four Seasons (the name of a local Bowling Alley). And with the name change, came a turning point in their story. It is when Bob Guadio, a former member of The Royal Teens (who had a co-writing credit on the popular Who Wears Short Shorts), came up with a simple rhythm, and some equally simple, quickly composed lines. Before the release of this song, our heroes were just one of any number of harmonizing bands from Jersey. But with this one song released in 1962, they set themselves apart…….you know how it goes……”Sherry, Sherry Baby….Sherry, Can you come out tonight?”
Les and I went to see Jersey Boys on Broadway the first month it opened. When it came to that point in the story, the debut of Sherry, the four of them with their backs to us, performing it for an imaginary crowd out front; when those first few chords chimed, I choked up. Les squeezed my hand knowingly and I let the tears flow. At least it was dark in the theater. Those were our boys out there making it big.
There were plenty of hits that followed: Big Girls Don’t Cry, Dawn, Walk Like a Man, Candy Girl…the list goes on straight through the 1970’s and beyond. Frankie Valli went on to perform by himself as well as with the Seasons (who last time I saw them on a PBS special had a whole lot more than 4 people in the band). He had major hits like Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, and My Eyes Adored You. But those early ones, well those are special. They were on the VeeJay label, and our record collection grew with each release. The uniqueness of their sound, of course, was the lead singers voice. Born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio, he possessed a voice not easily categorized, and not heard before, a high falsetto that hit unreachable notes effortlessly.
It confused some.
I remember, once when visiting our Uncle Santino, a diehard Dean Martin fan, he asked if there was a record we would like him to put on the Victrola. Don handed over Sherry, and dear old Uncle San put it on the turntable. It started playing as it always did, and there came over our dear Uncle’s face, an expression that can only be described as embarrassed. You see he thought he had made a mistake and put the record on the wrong speed. He thought he was playing our record too fast; how else to explain the sound of that voice?? When Don explained that it was the way it was supposed to sound, his expression changed from one of embarrassment to one of distaste. What kind of music was this? Was that a man singing at all?? Dad sitting nearby, looked over at him and nodded. Being a veteran of many hours of listening to the records we spun at home, he knew. Uncle Santino rolled his eyes, but to his great credit allowed the album to play.
As you must know by now, we both loved radio (what else was there at the time??), and especially the shows that would spin the discs of our favorite bands – and yes there were others besides the Seasons. We would sit on the living room floor of the apartment on Twelfth Street with the “record player” close by and make up our own programs, providing the blather that most Disc Jockeys did at the time, and introduce the next record. Of course, our collection was rather limited, so we probably would never have made it in the real world, but who cared about the real world. Our world was that living room, that little record spinner, the 45s we loved so much, and a whole heaping of good old imagination. We even had our own monikers:
Don was The Big D – Donald V (his middle name is Vincent) coming to you live from New York City!
I was Ranky Tanky Little Robbie bringing you the only music that matters – every Saturday Night!
I wish we had somehow recorded some of those “shows”. They would go on for hours and hours. Mom was amazed we could keep coming up with things to say about the records, but hey that’s what DJs did right?
And yes most of the records we played were by you know who.
It is hard to explain the power of a piece of music, even light pop music. Sometimes it is so apart of your young life, that to hear it again (even after say 56 years) is to step back into a time machine of the mind. And you are back in that living room spinning 45’s, making out like you are on the radio, playing the music you love. It is uncanny but so very real.
The power of that, the memory, the music, just like the Season themselves, will always be…… ours. It was private. I recall reading a review of Sinatra, another Jersey native, and the reviewer said he had the power to make every individual woman in the audience (and maybe a few men too) feel he was singing directly to them. They forgot about the rest of the audience around them, Frank was singing to each of them privately. Same idea. The 4 Seasons were ours, and I mean mine and Don’s. I guess we were ok sharing them with the world, but every time we saw or heard them, we were thinking….hey that’s our guys, our buddies who made it to the big time, and boy were we proud.
No one else may understand it.
No one else has to.
So for The Big D- Donald V, it’s yours truly, Ranky Tanky Little Robbie signing off until next time we do it again…and play the only music that matters….every Saturday Night!