Speaking Frankie Valli's language

The Four Seasons in their heyday. Photo / Supplied
The Four Seasons in their heyday. Photo / Supplied

Frankie Valli and band are still on the road and coming to Auckland the week before Jersey Boys opens. On the phone from Los Angeles - the 77-year-old splits his time between homes in California and New York when he's not touring - he's quick to point out that the success of the musical didn't bring him out of retirement.

The hit records might be distant memories now but he's never stopped touring - or taking up other opportunities, like a recurring role as a mobster in seasons five and six of the Sopranos, his songs having already featured prominently on the show's soundtrack.

And apparently he has no qualms about the musical's warts-and-all depiction of his life, including the 1980 death of his daughter, Francine. His personal upheavals continue to this day - after TimeOut spoke to Valli came news that his third ex-wife is seeking more of her former husband's royalties from Jersey Boys in their divorce settlement. Well, he does have his name on one of pop music's most enduring jukeboxes.

Jersey Boys tries its best to get as many of his hits into its show. That's a problem too for his own concerts ...

Can you get all those hits into one set or do you have to medley a few of them?
We can never get it all. You can try but you can never get it all in. It's nice to have enough hits so that you can shuffle it around and what you've taken out for a year or two you can replace with other songs that were hits. So if somebody came to see you a second time it would be different to the first time.

Are there any of those old songs you don't care for much anymore?
Well, that would be like asking a guy who had 12 kids "are there any of these kids you don't care for?" I mean they have all been part of the success. We had a very unique situation. Most of the things we recorded were tailor-made for us. And we really tried to stay away from the obvious. Someone would write a song and say "hey I heard your last song and this one is kind of like it". But we just recorded songs that we liked. We were making records and doing what we wanted to do in the way we wanted to do them. It wasn't like we were following the bouncing ball.

Many of those early songs are from a teenage point of view. Has that been harder to deliver as the years wore on?
Basically it was four guys singing from a point of view that a poorer part of the population would really relate to, the working man. But it's like when you got to see Tom Jones or Elton John or Billy Joel; there are certain songs. You became successful by doing these songs, why would you get tired of doing them? If you are bringing pleasure to the people who come to see you, you are covering a period of time in their lives that was important and that song may have been important to them in their weddings or first dance. Who could get tired of that?

What it is, is good music. It's timeless whether it came from Motown or the Beach Boys or the Four Seasons or the Beatles or the Stones. Good things are timeless. We change our furniture in our houses every month.

Are there any covers of your songs that you especially rate?
We've had songs like Silence is Golden and The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine and there have been cover records like Lauryn Hill did Can't Take My Eyes Off You. It is nice to see that there are people who like your music and think there is some value in re-recording it.

The original period of success for the Four Seasons - were you the right band at the right time?
I don't know what it was. We were out there and struggled out there for a very long time, before the Four Seasons. There were the Four Lovers and we had some success with that on a national level. We were just just something very fresh at that time; Sherry was just something very fresh at that time to everything else that being played on the radio.

You would have met the performers in Jersey Boys over the years. That must be intimidating for them.
I'm not too sure it's that intimidating - if you think about the fact that in order to play in a musical you have to be a triple threat. You have to be able to sing well, dance well and act well. Some of these kids they really border on being geniuses, the fact they can do all this. We sometimes lose sight of the fact how difficult this really is and for guys to go out there and be in a play and perform this night after night.

Boy, it takes a lot to go out there and act like you are doing it for the very first time. I take my hat off to these people. And I am sure some of the players have been very impressed at meeting Bob or Tom or myself but it's more than that. These kids are all artists in their own right.

So if Jersey Boys been around in 1960, could you have played yourself on stage?
You know? You never know. For me I grew up in a relatively poor working class environment and I've grown to appreciate all the good things that have come because I know how much work it took. Success only lasts because you work at it. You need to know why you are successful and you need to be on the cutting edge and be there all the time doing all the things to make the success continue on. It's not about your last hit record or your last hit movie. Some of the greatest performers of all time, if they had to depend on what their last record was, what a terrible business it would be.

And what was your reaction when the musical became such a success?
I wasn't too sure I wasn't dreaming. To have a success as large as this turned out to be, it took a few years to digest the fact that we had made some sort of permanent mark.

And you are still performing the songs which did - but for how much longer do you think?
Who really knows? I certainly am going to do this until the point it really becomes work. I am really enjoying what I do. What else would I do? I am not ready to sit on the porch and swing.

Lowdown

What: Frankie Valli
Where: Vector Arena
When: April 5

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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