Born Francis Castelluccio, May 3, 1937, in Newark, NJ; son of a barber (later an employee of Lionel train company); third wife, Randy; children: two. Singer and drummer with quartet the Variatones (including bassist Hank Majewski and vocalist-guitarists Tommy and Nick DeVito; Majewski replaced by vocalist-arranger Nick Massi, 1960; Nick DeVito replaced by vocalist-keyboardist-songwriter Bob Gaudio), New Jersey, 1950s; recorded solo single "My Mother's Eyes," 1953; Variatones renamed the Four Lovers, signed with RCA Records, 1956, and released "You're the Apple of My Eye"; group renamed the Four Seasons, scored first hit with "Sherry," Vee Jay Records, 1962; with group, signed with Philips Records, 1964; while still with group, launched solo career, 1974; Four Seasons disbanded, 1977; teamed with new Four Seasons lineup, 1980. Actor. Addresses: Home-- Englewood, NJ; Los Angeles, CA. Record company-- Curb Records, 3907 West Alameda Ave., Burbank, CA 91505.
Propelled by his trademark falsetto, Frankie Valli and his group, the Four Seasons, hit the American music scene in the late 1950s and never looked back. Their "doo-wop" harmonies--initially part of the rhythm and blues tradition--were enhanced by Valli's singular three-octave range, which carried the Four Seasons over the top both literally and figuratively. Despite competition from such monster artists as Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, and even the Beatles, Valli and the Four Seasons quickly became kings of "rock and soul." The group enjoyed its greatest success during the 1960s, with chart-topping hits like "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," and "Rag Doll." Yet Valli's long career has spanned more than three decades, including solo hits in the 1970s like "My Eyes Adored You" and "Grease." Since the 1980s he has soldiered on with a reconstituted Four Seasons, playing clubs, private parties, and occasionally performing in concert. Indeed, Valli's ability to change with the times while remaining true to his original sound has ensured his place as an American music icon.
Born Francis Castelluccio in 1937, Valli was one of three brothers who grew up in a tough, working-class neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. His father worked as a barber and later for the Lionel train company. His Italian-born mother encouraged Valli's early interest in music. The two would make weekly treks to hear major big bands of the era perform at the Adams Theater, in Newark, or the Paramount Theater, in New York City. Valli was more influenced by jazz, however, and particularly enjoyed listening to the Four Freshmen, the Hi-Los, and the Modernaires. He also admired classic R&B bands including the Clovers and the Drifters. As a child, Valli had no formal vocal training but instead taught himself to sing by doing impressions of other artists. Since he had a naturally high voice, he focused on singers Rose Murphy and Dinah Washington.
At the age of seven, Valli's future course was set when he saw a young Frank Sinatra perform at the Paramount. As Valli related to Two River Times contributor Steve North, "I looked up, and I saw him coming out on stage, and the way he was lit up, it was like he had an aura around him, and as a kid, I said, 'Wow! Look at that! Someday I'm gonna do this.'" As a teenager in the 1950s, Valli sang with several Jersey groups at school events and in local clubs. His first solo recording, in 1953, was "My Mother's Eyes," followed three years later by "You're the Apple of My Eye," performed with Valli's first formal group, the Four Lovers (originally the Variatones.)
Valli's parents supported his interest in music, though at times they were concerned about his slowly blooming career. "My dad didn't like me being in this business," he told North. "Very early on, I was working in clubs and coming home at 3 and 4 in the morning, and he'd say, 'What kind of work is this?' But he supported me secretly. He would buy his own ticket to our performances, and people would tell me they had seen him there. And he would always buy our records, even though I gave them to him. 'You can't keep giving them away,' he would say. 'No one will buy them if you give them away.'"
What made Valli uncommon as a singer, especially while trying to carve a niche in those early days, was his stratospheric falsetto. "Falsetto was nothing new; rhythm and blues music was doing it for years," Valli explained to North. "I just developed my falsetto to make it fuller than anyone else's, and doing it on top, making it the lead, was what was different." Critics called Valli's vocals everything from shrill to shrieking, but the falsetto remained his signature sound. His remarkable range allowed him to create expert harmonies, and the singer was amply able to hit high notes without his voice breaking.
Following the group's initial wave of success in 1956, the quartet performed three times on the Ed Sullivan Show and found themselves rubbing elbows with another rising star, Elvis Presley. Still, not everyone was enamored of Valli's Four Lovers. He renamed the group "The Four Seasons" after a bowling alley in Union, New Jersey, where they were turned down for a cocktail-lounge gig.
At the beginning of their career, the Four Seasons viewed the Beach Boys as their only American rivals. In 1962, however, when the group signed a recording contract with Vee Jay Records--becoming the label's first white act--their star rose so high that they became virtually untouchable by the competition. A year later, the Beatles were signed to the same label, but the Four Seasons would manage to survive the British Invasion.
In 1962, the group recorded its first megahit, "Sherry," written by Four Season keyboardist and tenor Bob Gaudio. The song was reportedly a peace offering from producer Bob Crew, who had infuriated Valli by allowing Elvis Presley to record what would become the smash single "Don't Be Cruel." "Sherry" received limited airplay until an appearance on Dick Clark's television show American Bandstand catapulted the song to the top of the pop charts, earning the group its first gold record. Indeed, "Sherry" was one of the fastest-rising songs ever released.
The song was quickly followed by a second hit, "Big Girls Don't Cry," also written by Gaudio. Both tunes were certified platinum after remaining Number One hits for five weeks each. The Four Seasons had found their sound and continued to score in 1963 with "Walk Like a Man," "Ain't That a Shame," "Candy Girl," and "Marlena." According to Rock of Ages editor Ed Ward, with the Four Seasons' initial successes, they had found "the perfect middle ground between old-style harmonies and pretty-boy pop," and their "radical harmonies and astonishing range made them immediately identifiable on the radio." Ward nonetheless labeled the group's work "the most obvious schlock by today's standards" but conceded that their songs were "well within, if a decadent example of, the 1950s vocal-group tradition."
In 1964, following contractual disputes with Vee Jay, the Four Seasons signed with Philips Records and enjoyed a golden year, placing six songs in the Top Twenty: "Stay," "Dawn (Go Away)," "Ronnie," "Rag Doll"--a Number One hit--"Save It for Me," and "Big Man in Town." "The voicings were very important," Valli told Two River Times writer North of the group's string of chart-busters. "We did a lot of what I consider to be church-type harmony. It sounds fuller than it is. We established a sound that was uniquely ours with 'Rag Doll,' 'Save It for Me,' 'Let's Hang On,' and 'Working My Way Back to You.' I love those songs."
Valli and the Four Seasons continued on a roll, releasing numerous songs each year through 1968. Their 1966 arrangement of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" was also an early hit for Frank Sinatra, who became a friend of Valli's. In fact, the Four Seasons performed at the Paramount Theater for a crowd of screaming female fans 20 years after Valli had so admired Sinatra's performance there. One memorable Four Seasons tune, "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," made it to the Number Two slot in 1967. And though the Four Seasons sold nearly 80 million records during their peak years, Valli continued to drive an old car and live in a housing project until the mid-1960s, when success finally seemed real.
Life in the fast lane came to an abrupt halt for the Four Seasons in 1968 with the release of Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. Having strayed from their heretofore surefire formula to produce what has been called the group's attempt at a "relevant" or progressive album, the Four Seasons were faced with their first monumental failure. It was around this time that Bob Crew ended his association with Valli and company, Gaudio assuming the role of producer. Further difficulties loomed when the strain of constant touring, compounded by litigation with Philips Records, pitted the Seasons against one another. In 1970, Philips released Half and Half, featuring the single "Patch of Blue," which rose only as high as Number 94.
For several years the group languished without a label, until they joined Mo-West, Motown's subsidiary on the West Coast. And with the exception of the 1972 Mo-West album Chameleon, the Four Seasons did not record together again until 1975. Valli, however, made a solo comeback in 1974 with the mellow number "My Eyes Adored You," a Number One hit that was eventually certified double platinum. Two more singles, 1975's "Swearin' to God" and "Our Day Will Come," solidified his return to the limelight.
In 1975 the Four Seasons united to record the Warner Bros. release "Who Loves You," co-written by Gaudio, which pushed them back into the Top Ten. The following year, they went all the way to Number One--for the first time in over a decade--with the infectious coming-of-age ditty "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)," also co-penned by Gaudio.
Valli continued to record with the Four Seasons until their breakup in 1977. He also concentrated on his solo act but did not score another significant success until 1978. With the release of Grease, the soundtrack of the phenomenally popular movie for which Valli sang the title track, some of his lost audience was reclaimed and a whole new crowd of swooning teenagers won over. The film, which was set in the 1950s and starred Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, also provided Valli with a bit of acting experience--in a cameo role playing himself. Many of the album's songs were written by Bee Gee Barry Gibb, which undoubtedly helped the disc soar to its Number One position during the height of the disco era, created in part by the Bee Gee's record-selling soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. Valli was at the zenith of his career with a triple-platinum hit.
The following decade saw Valli reuniting with Gaudio to record and occasionally tour with a new Four Seasons, this time comprised of six members. Many of the original group's best-known songs became standard fare for club and concert performances. "The problem is we've had a lot of hits," Valli told Winnie Bonelli of the Passaic, New Jersey, Herald-News. "If I went to see someone I had admired all my life, I'd feel disappointed if I didn't hear certain songs. That's where the catch comes in, trying to sing everyone's favorites."
Though Valli's name has sold over a hundred million records during his long career, the former Jersey street kid remains modest and tries to keep in step with current artists. "Social statements are fine," he was quoted as saying in the Herald-News. "[Like] Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the U.S.A.,' Neil Diamond's 'Coming to America.' What I don't appreciate are some of the rap groups' lyrics about violence and sex. I love Hammer because his messages are positive and in America we really are a melting pot. We need to learn how to live with each other."
1992 found Valli working on a new solo album as well as promoting the Four Seasons disc Hope and Glory. He had also developed a serious interest in acting. "I'd love to make inroads into film and television work in California," Valli ventured in the Herald-News. "I have no aspirations about being a leading man. Instead, I'm talking about character work like Joe Pesci or Danny Aiello, who are both friends."
The big screen notwithstanding, Valli had no plans to discontinue touring, despite its often grueling pace. "It's fortunate that after 30 years on the road, I still love to perform," he told Herald-News contributor Bonelli. "Travel is horrendous. There's so many problems. Sometimes I have to travel 6-12 hours to get to a destination, and then you're never quite sure of what kind of equipment you'll be working with. A few performers, like Wayne Newton, are fortunate enough to work 40 weeks in the same place. So there's no major difference from one night to the next." Far from complaining, though, Valli acknowledged his debt to this demanding lifestyle in People, hazarding, "If I wasn't a singer, I could walk down the street and there wouldn't be nobody looking at me." Valli's young son, with third wife, Randy, is surely another reason he began to long for his suburban New Jersey home.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were recognized in 1990 for their impact on popular music with induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside other classic acts such as The Who and the Four Tops. Considering his still-driving energy, it seemed likely that Valli's famous falsetto would delight listeners for another 30 years.
Frankie Valli's Career
Frankie Valli's Awards
(With the Four Seasons) Platinum records for singles "Sherry" and "Big Girls," both 1962, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1990; double-platinum record for single "My Eyes Adored You," 1974, and triple-platinum record for single "Grease," 1978.
- Selective Works
- With the Four Seasons; on Vee Jay Records Sherry 1962.
- Four Seasons Greetings 1962.
- Big Girls Don't Cry 1963.
- Ain't That a Shame 1963.
- Stay and Other Great Hits 1964.
- Girls, Girls, Girls, We Love Girls 1964.
- On Philips Records Born to Wander 1964.
- Dawn (Go Away) 1964.
- Rag Doll 1964.
- The Four Seasons Entertain You 1965.
- The Four Seasons Sing Big Hits By Burt Bacharach ... Hal David ...
- Working My Way Back to You 1966.
- Lookin' Back 1966.
- New Gold Hits 1967.
- The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette 1968.
- Half and Half 1970.
- On other labels Chameleon Mo-West, 1972.
- Who Loves You Warner Bros., 1975.
- Helicon Warner Bros., 1975.
- The Four Seasons Story Private Stock, 1975.
- Reunited Live Warner/Curb, 1981.
- Hope and Glory Curb/CEMA, 1992.
- Solo releases Solo Philips, 1967.
- Timeless Philips, 1968.
- Inside You Motown, 1975.
- Closeup Private Stock, 1975.
- Our Day Will Come Private Stock, 1975.
- Valli Private Stock, 1977.
- Frankie Valli ... Is the Word Warner Bros., 1978.
- (Contributor) Grease (soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1978.
- The Very Best of Frankie Valli MCA, 1979.
- Heaven Above Me MCA, 1980.
- Also recorded, with the Four Lovers, Joyride RCA, 1956.
September 24, 2004: Valli filed for divorce from his wife of 20 years, Randy. They have three sons. Source: People, October 11, 2004, p. 110.
- Schirmer, Lorrie Mack, editor Encyclopedia of Rock,Books/Macmillan, 1987.
- Helander, Brock, The Rock Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary and Critical Discography Including Rhythm-and-Blues, Soul, Rockabilly, Folk, Country, Easy Listening, Punk, and New Wave, Schirmer Books/Macmillan, 1982.
- Ward, Ed, Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker, editors Rock of Ages, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1986.
- Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul, St. Martin's, 1974.
- Herald-News (Passaic, NJ), July 10, 1992.
- People, July 27, 1992.
- Premiere, October 1989.
- Time, May 11, 1987.
- Two River Times (NJ), September 2, 1992.
- Variety, September 3, 1986.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Curb Records publicity materials, 1992.