TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Frankie Valli used to be the only name people knew from the group The Four Seasons, but the Broadway musical and film "Jersey Boys" changed that. Now more people are aware of the key role my guest Bob Gaudio played in the group. In addition to singing and playing keyboards, he wrote or co-wrote most of The Four Seasons' hits - including "Sherry," "Walk Like A Man," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Bye-Bye Baby" and "Ragdoll," as well as the Frankie Valli solo hit "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You."
A new double CD called "Audio With A G: Sounds Of A Jersey Boy" collect some of his songs as recorded by The Four Seasons as well as Jerry Butler, Chuck Jackson, Nina Simone, Diana Ross and Frank Sinatra. Gaudio co-wrote and produced an entire album of songs for Sinatra and produced six Neil Diamond albums. The new anthology also includes the 1958 hit "Short Shorts," which Gaudio co-wrote when he was 15 and recorded with his group The Royal Teens. Let's start with the first song Bob Gaudio wrote for The Four Seasons which became their first hit and made it to number one in 1962.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHERRY")
THE FOUR SEASONS: (Singing) Sherry, Sherry, baby. Sherry, Sherry, baby. Sherry, baby. Sherry, can you come out tonight? Come, come, come out tonight. Sherry, baby. Sherry, can you come out tonight? Why don't you come on to my twist party? Come out where bright moon shines. Come out we'll dance the night away. I'm gonna make you mine. Sherry, Sherry, baby.
GROSS: Bob Gaudio, welcome to FRESH AIR. So the song we just heard, "Sherry," The Four Seasons' first hit was, according to "Jersey Boys," written in 15 minutes before a rehearsal. So I assume that's probably true. What was the germ of the idea? Like, how did that song come to you, and why did you use the name Sherry?
BOB GAUDIO: Wow.
GROSS: All the girls' names in the world.
GAUDIO: There was no specific female in particular. It just came. The name worked with the melody. I did it on the way just before going to rehearsal at Frankie's. I sat at the piano; it just jumped out and actually put the lyrics as simple as they were because I didn't have a tape recorder. And it was the only way I thought I could remember the melody. So if I had the lyrics, I'd sing it on the way down and retain it, and I did.
GROSS: So you didn't think of your lyrist, but you needed the lyrics to be able to remember the melody?
GAUDIO: Correct, so it was an act of desperation.
GROSS: Now writing it the "Sherry" right before Frankie Valli sings, like, can you come out tonight, Sherry, it goes about as high as he could go on the opening of the word Sherry. And by the time he's done with the word Sherry, it's about as low as he can go. Did you do that intentionally to get his full range on that one word?
GAUDIO: You know, I rarely do anything intentionally.
GAUDIO: It's a situation where I had - I mean, his voice is amazing. I don't think there's a singer in the business that would deny that. He has an incredible range. It's an incredible range that's equally potent in any octave. So I had, you know, a huge canvas. So I took advantage of it. I don't know if I did it knowingly, but certainly if somebody has a three-octave range, you're not going to write a one-octave song.
GROSS: Did you hear the harmonies in your head when you wrote this?
GAUDIO: Yeah, actually I did. Nicky was brilliant, and we put this together at Frankie's kitchen table and worked...
GROSS: And he's the bass singer and also did a lot of the harmony arrangements?
GAUDIO: Yeah. He was kind of a savant, I would say. He would pull notes out of the sky, and we'd sing them on corners. And the harmony though - it never struck me that "Sherry" would be a solo venture. When I heard the first note, when it hit me and it started moving in falsetto, I envisioned - it needed support. You know, it needed a block harmony to surround it and support it. So yeah, an answer to your question in a very long-winded way, I did hear the harmony.
GROSS: And, Nick, who you mentioned, he sings that low, bass line - why don't you come out tonight?
GAUDIO: Right. Why don't you come on?
GROSS: So before you were in The Four Seasons, you were in The Royal Teens and had the hit when I think you were 15 years old of "Short Shorts," a novelty hit. And this is included on the new collection "Audio With A G: Sounds Of A Jersey Boy," and it's a collection of songs that you wrote - including Four Seasons recordings and recordings by others - so here's your first hit, The Royal Teens, "Short Shorts."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHORT SHORTS")
THE ROYAL TEENS: (Singing) Oh, man, dig that crazy chick. Who wears short shorts? We wear short shorts. They're such short shorts. We like short shorts. Who wears short shorts? We wear short shorts.
GROSS: That's The Royal Teens recorded in 1958 with my guest Bob Gaudio doing what in the band? Are you singing and playing piano?
GAUDIO: Singing and playing piano, if you could call it singing.
GROSS: So how did you come up with the idea of this song? It's an era of novelty songs, though, I mean, this is 1958. Also hits that year - David Seville's "Witch Doctor," Sheb Wooley's "Purple People Eater," The Coasters "Yakety Yak." So, you know, novelty songs are significant on the charts.
GAUDIO: Oh, gee, I thought that was going to go down in the annals of serious music.
GAUDIO: How did we miss that? Truthfully it was original - an original instrumental that we played in churches and parking lots and Italian weddings and bar mitzvahs around town in northern New Jersey. And I believe we were playing at a church basement somewhere, and a group called The Three Friends had a hit at the time called "Blanche" - and we were backing them up as instrumentalists.
A manager, to make a long story short, said, hey, you guys sound pretty good. Why don't you come see me? We went and made a little demo - it was an instrumental - and he said, you know, they're not selling too much anymore. We should look at doing something, I don't know, a chant. Anyway, Tom Austin and I were driving up the drag strip, as we called them, on Saturday night in Bergenfield...
GROSS: In New Jersey, yeah.
GAUDIO: Yeah, New Jersey. On the corner a couple of lovely ladies standing there with short shorts, and there you go. It was pretty simple.
GROSS: So when you had the hit of "Short Shorts," you were about 15. Were you exploited as a kid? Did people try to take advantage of you in the music industry?
GAUDIO: Well, I learned a very big lesson very early on. We found out when we changed - I think actually we acquired a big-time attorney after about six months in having some success in realizing we really didn't know what we were doing. And he did a search - which is standard for copyright search - and found out that the song "Short Shorts" was copyrighted under someone else's name, which turned out to be our managers.
GAUDIO: That was the first awakening. You know, if we didn't get an attorney or have someone sharp, who knows where it would've gone because I don't know how long it is before you contest something, but I suspect we might have been screwed.
GROSS: So you contested it?
GAUDIO: Oh, yeah. We got it back very quickly because he was a pretty high-powered attorney, so nothing much went wrong after that. But it was a big awakening for me, you know, 15, 16 at the time and still just left high school actually, yeah. I learned pretty quick on the road.
GROSS: So tell us the story of how you were introduced to Frankie Valli and the other two members of what was then The Four Lovers, what became The Four Seasons.
GAUDIO: I played in a jazz quartet. Part of my background was playing jazz. I studied seriously when I was younger. I left the group The Royal Teens, went to work in a printing factory, saw the manager - came out and had lunch with me - very much like what's in the show. He had a couple of fingers missing. I asked him, what happened? He said, well, you know, sometimes working the lathes here at the printing factory, things happen. And I said - and that's what happened to your fingers? He said, yes, and I dropped my lunch and left.
So, you know, then I went back looking for work, and it turned out I was in the New York area. I ran into Mike Petrillo, Joe Pesci, Louie Apolito (ph) and, you know, would-be jazz musicians at the time. So we started a group and we played in some clubs, a quartet - jazz quartet. Joe is a great guitar player, great singer. And I played sax and so on and so forth, and we starved for about a year. Pesci said, you know, this kid here, you maybe should meet up with. He's a great, great singer, you're a songwriter - one thing led to another - they were looking for a keyboard player, and I auditioned for them, and off we went.
GROSS: So you had no idea Joe Pesci was good to go on to become a famous actor as opposed to a musician?
GAUDIO: Oh, of course I did.
GAUDIO: No actually Joe, you know, he would probably tell you this - I think he would've preferred to be a singer, a musician. He still plays, still sings. I think that's his great love, but he hasn't done badly acting I'd say.
GROSS: So what did The Four Lovers sound like? What was the repertoire like?
GAUDIO: The repertoire that I remember early on was one of the songs that is in the show - "Moody's Mood For Love" - which was a big revelation for me about Frankie's range and what he could do and so on and so forth. So that was an inspirational moment for me, but they did some rockabilly songs. They've done some, you know - Frankie knows a lot of country stuff.
He can sing 20 country songs in 10 minutes. You know, it's amazing. He's got an amazing memory when it comes to lyrics and stuff. So they could jump from doo-wop to rock 'n roll stuff to the rockabilly stuff. Country music was pretty prominent in the New Jersey area back then, so a little bit of everything.
GROSS: So what made you realize that what you should do is capitalize on Frankie Valli's falsetto? Because he wasn't always singing in falsetto. I mean, he wasn't constantly singing in falsetto.
GAUDIO: No, he wasn't. He just stunned me with his ability - the type of falsetto. It wasn't just that he could sing in falsetto because there were innumerable groups from the '50s that did soft R&B falsetto, you know, Smokey Robinson style. Many of the early doo-wop groups did that style of singing, and Frankie could do that. But he could do that with an edge and no break between his full voice and his falsetto. And if you really didn't pay attention, you wouldn't know the difference. You know, of course when you get up there, you get up there, but he can cross over without too much notice. So that was interesting for me. He could jump back and forth, and I had no boundaries to write.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bob Gaudio. And he wrote most of the hits that The Four Seasons had and was the keyboard player for most of the time that they were together. He sang as well, and now there's a new collection of some of his songs called "Audio With A G: Sounds Of A Jersey Boy" because of course he's also one of the people behind "Jersey Boy," the musical and the film. And it includes Four Seasons recordings as well as recordings by other people of his songs - including Diana Ross, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Butler. Let’s take a short break then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Bob Gaudio. He wrote The Four Seasons' hit songs. He sang and played keyboard with The Four Seasons. He is one of the people behind the "Jersey Boys" musical on Broadway, as well as the film. And now there's a new anthology of his songs, some of them performed by The Four Seasons, others performed by other people, ranging from Diana Ross to Frank Sinatra, Cher, The Walker Brothers and so on.
So on a lot of The Four Seasons' albums, there'd be, like, a song or two that ended up being a hit. And then there'd be a lot of other songs that either never went anywhere, or they were, like, you know, songs by other people, standards that weren't really necessarily up the group's alley stylistically.
GROSS: I thought I'd play you an example (laughter) of what I'm talking about.
GAUDIO: Uh-oh, here it comes (laughter).
GROSS: And so this is from a live album from, I think, 1965. So this is the Jule Styne song "Just In Time," but it is not a Four Seasons sound. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST IN TIME")
FOUR SEASONS: (Singing) Just in time, I found you just in time. Before you came, my time was running low. I was lost; the losing dice were tossed. My bridges all were crossed, nowhere to go. Now you're here.
GROSS: OK, Bob Gaudio, what do you think? Were you...
GAUDIO: You're not going to finish that?
GAUDIO: OK, you know what?
GROSS: It kind of goes on like that.
GAUDIO: I've got to tell you. Yeah, see, what most people don't know and they're going to find out now, we sang as much four-part harmony on those street corners as we did doo-wop because Nicky was really good at pulling four-part out of the air, as I said before. And we could do Hi-Lows, we can do Four Freshman.
GROSS: That's what it sounds like...
GAUDIO: We did.
GROSS: Yeah, that's what it sounds like.
GAUDIO: We would sing "It's A Blue World" all day long. I mean, that was so much fun for us. So - and I think Brian Wilson has said this before, he was a big fan of the Four Freshmen and the Hi-Lows, and we both were. So if you listen to any of our records, you'll hear glimmers of four-part, and he went there a lot and so did we. So that, what you just played me, if I'm right, is from our Copacabana live show.
GROSS: Oh, OK.
GAUDIO: And we were whipped into a studio, not allowed to leave, and had to do, you know, tuxedo stuff. So that was the first time that we dropped our instruments. We did a little routine, we did all the, you know, choreographed Copacabana, what people expected a group playing the Copa should do. The Supremes did it, too.
But I've got to tell you, part of it was fun and I was able to snap my fingers again. It was tough. It was tough standing there without a keyboard, without a guitar. We were all so damned uncomfortable. We couldn't wait to stop that.
GROSS: Yeah, the sound that we just heard, it sounded as if OK, guys, you're at a nightclub now, so it's for an adult audience. You have to, like...
GROSS: ...Change the material and change your style. These aren't teenagers. And if you want a career, you have to learn to play for the adults because the idea was, like, rock 'n' roll is going to die. Your audience is going to grow up, and they're going to want to hear Perry Como (laughter).
GAUDIO: Yeah, well, that's essentially true. And The Supremes did the same thing; early on Motown did the same thing. If you look at some of the early Motown shows, you'll see they all followed the same pattern. They dressed up like adults, not rock 'n' rollers.
GROSS: Like adults of another generation.
GAUDIO: Yeah, adults of another generation. And who knew? I mean, nobody knew rock 'n roll was going to be what it became.
GROSS: So when you met The Four Seasons before they were The Four Seasons, you were the one from a middle-class background; you were the one who'd actually studied music. They were from a tough, working-class neighborhood. As Frankie Valli put it on our show, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi had learned about music on the streets and in prison, so...
GROSS: Did you get each other? Did they get who you were? Did you get who they were?
GAUDIO: Well, I certainly got who they were. I don't know how much they knew about what I was all about other than, you know, the introduction. I had a hit record. Now, how much that meant and how much more they thought I could offer them, I don't know. I don't remember lots of stormy rehearsals, but that's I think due to, you know, four guys in a room and everything swimming about.
So I had a very strong opinion about what to do musically. Nicky had a strong opinion about harmonies. Tommy - Tommy wasn't all that involved. And that's not to take anything away. I think part of what made us what we are, and different than, say, the Beach Boys, our closest harmony rivals at the time, was the individuality of the voices. We were four individuals. I don't think anybody would've thrown us in and paid us money to record something because we didn't harmonize like the normal blending vocal group. So we were four distinctly different voices, unlike the Beach Boys, who had this brotherly - like the Everly Brothers - you know. I mean, you just sometimes couldn't tell them apart.
So we had characters in the group that had the same issues vocally as we did trying to make music. I mean, we had different personalities and we clashed. And I think - I'd like to think history says it's true that that's part of what made the records what they were. They were edgy. They had some anger in them. They had some passion in them, and it made us different than anything else on the radio.
GROSS: We’ll hear more of my interview with Bob Gaudio in the second half of the show. He sang with The Four Seasons and wrote or co-wrote many of their hits. The movie “Jersey Boys” is now on DVD, and Gaudio has a recent album called "Audio With A G: Sounds Of A Jersey Boy. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “BEGGIN")
FOUR SEASONS: (Singing) Put your loving hand out baby. I'm beggin'. Beggin, put your loving hand out, baby. Beggin' you put your loving hand out darling.
GROSS: Coming up, we talk more with Bob Gaudio about The Four Seasons and the mob, his handshake agreement with Frankie Valli that’s lasted decades without any help from lawyers and why he left The Four Seasons. And of course we’ll play more music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “WALK LIKE A MAN”)
FOUR SEASONS: (Singing) Walk like a man. Oh, how you tried to cut me down to size by telling dirty lies to my friends. But my own father said give her up – don’t bother. The world isn’t coming to an end. Walk like a man. Talk like a man. Walk like a man my son. No woman’s worth crawling on the Earth. So walk like a man my son. Fine eyed baby, I do not mean maybe. We’re going to get along somehow. Soon you’ll be crying on account of all your lying.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Bob Gaudio. He played keyboards and sang harmony with The Four Seasons and wrote or co-wrote most of their hits, including "Sherry," "Walk Like A Man," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Bye-Bye Baby" and "Rag Doll" as well as the Frankie Valli solo hit "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You." He's also with the people behind the Broadway musical and film "Jersey Boys." A new double CD called "Audio With A G: Sounds Of A Jersey Boy" collects recordings of his songs sung by The Four Seasons as well as the Walker Brothers, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Butler, Nancy Wilson, The Temptations, Diana Ross and others.
According to the movie "Jersey Boys," there was somebody from the mob - Angelo Gyp DeCarlo, played by Christopher Walken in the movie - who was connected to the other three members of The Four Seasons, particularly Tommy, but was also very close to Frankie Valli and was very helpful to the band, I suppose, financially. But were you comfortable with that, with knowing that somebody who was mob-connected was also connected to The Four Seasons?
GAUDIO: You know, I was so immersed in what we were doing musically that that was always first and foremost. I don't think I knew the extent of what Gyp's history was. I heard more and more about it as things went on, but as success came there was less association, at least on my part. So I didn't feel the reality of that world so much except when something happened or someone would put a little pressure on us from areas that no one expected, you know, friends of friends of friends, but other than that I didn't really have that reality check daily.
GROSS: Could you be more specific about how he helped you with something?
GAUDIO: Well, pretty much what's in the Broadway show - which is the sit down. We were being leaned on by a mob faction from Brooklyn claiming they owned us for no real good reason except that they had a connection with a manager we had very early on, and we had no idea he was connected. But when we decided we were going to leave the manager, that's when things started to get interesting. So that's when Gyp came into the picture to try and settle the disagreement, and, you know, one thing I found out early on about the mob and those guys - and in some cases I say this fondly because there were many times we could have avoided a long life.
GROSS: (Laughter) I like how you put that.
GAUDIO: They have a code, but the thing I found out is if you're earning a living for a crew, bringing income into a crew - and in this case say the Brooklyn mob - and we were a source of income. If the source of income is threatening to leave, there could be big trouble, and that was the problem - the source of our problem - and why Gyp DeCarlo stepped in and said, wait a minute. They're not connected to me, and why should they be connected to you if they didn't know so-and-so was connected to you? So that was the beef and that eventually worked itself out, and Gyp was certainly instrumental in pulling that off.
GROSS: I see the picture because if the mob's pulling in one direction, you need somebody who is their equal to pull you out of that.
GAUDIO: Yeah, sort of a Henry Kissinger with, you know, weapons.
GROSS: (Laughter) That's funny. Let's hear another Four Seasons song and this was a really big hit. This was "Ragdoll." The story behind - you've told the story a lot behind how you wrote the song. That's also in "Jersey Boys." So not all of our audiences heard it so give us, like, the short version of how you wrote the song.
GAUDIO: Short version, OK. I think it's 10th or 11th Avenue, it may still be the case in New York City, there's the longest light in the entire world. It lasts, I don't know, two and half, three minutes. So if you're unfortunate enough to just miss it, you'll be sitting there for two and a half or three minutes. In that area back then, and it may still be, people who were homeless would try and earn a few pennies or quarters or dollars and come up and clean your window while the cars were parked. And this one time I was going to the studio, and a very small hand reached up to try and clean the window. And I realized it was a very small female, and she was young, couldn't have been more than 9. And I looked at her face, and she looked like the song. She looked like a ragdoll. She barely got the window done, and I reached in my pocket for some change and I didn't have anything but a $20 bill. So I couldn't not give her something, so I gave her a $20 bill. But her face standing in the middle of the street because she didn't move she was petrified and as I pulled off I could see her face in the rearview mirror so that stayed with me for the rest of the day and when I saw Crewe I said hey, you know, here's the deal. And it took a couple of weeks. That one was a little tough, but we finished it and recorded it on a weekend as I remember because we couldn't get into a regular recording studio. We had to go into a demo studio in 1650 Broadway I believed or - yeah 1650 - not the real building - 1650 Broadway. In the basement, I think it was Allegro Studios, we were ready to leave town and we had one day to record. We had one of the maintenance engineers record it because we couldn't get a - we had all the odds against us to make a long story short, but we finished it on a Sunday or Monday. It came out on a Wednesday, Thursday and a week later it was number one in New York.
GROSS: OK. So this is "Rag Doll" with a lyric by Bob Crewe?
>>GROSS. OK. Here's The Four Seasons.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAG DOLL")
FOUR SEASONS: (Singing). Rag doll, ohhh. Hand-me-down. When she was just a kid, her clothes were hand-me-downs. Hand-me-down. They always laughed at her when she came into town called rag doll. Little rag doll, such a pretty face should be dressed in lace. Ohhh.
GROSS: That's The Four Seasons, and the song was written by my guest Bob Gaudio who we also heard on that track singing. So since Bob Crewe wrote the lyrics to that, let's talk a little bit about your relationship with him. He was the producer when you and Frankie Valli were knocking on doors trying to get somebody to record The Four Seasons. He was the guy who showed some interest. Why him? How did you find him?
GAUDIO: Frankie knew him from before. I don't exactly know what capacity - he might've done some demos, he might've recorded for him. So Bob Crewe - we ran into in 1650 Broadway again in an elevator and pretty much like it is in the show this, you know, the story is very close. A couple of twist here and there and juxtapositioning, but that is all true and he essentially offered us a recording contract, but essentially paid us X amount of dollars per week. I think it was 100 bucks a week to do all this recording. So we made all these demos and any records that turned into Masters and so on and we did some stuff with Danny And The Juniors at the time.
GROSS: Like backup singing?
GAUDIO: Pardon me?
GROSS: Backup singing or song?
GAUDIO: Backup playing and singing, yeah.
GROSS: So it sounds, you know, from the movie it sounds like you did a lot of backup work before Bob Crewe let you record or actually release something that you'd made. Was that helpful singing backup for other groups - just getting to see how they recorded and what they did and what worked?
GAUDIO: If my ego wasn't so big I would say yes, but I thought it was a colossal waste of time. Personally, because, you know, hey, we had a bunch of experience within us. Frankie was out there. I was out there. I had a hit record. So, you know, when you're a cocky kid and you're 17 years old with a hit record there's not too much anybody can tell you for better or for worse - so, no. I learned a lot from Crewe in that respect. You know, I watched what he did in the studio. So I felt very confident about making our own record and, you know, I'm just one of those control freaks. So, I got more from traveling on the road when I was 15 going past the Mason-Dixon line learning about life. Seeing the white rest stop which for white guys getting out of an essentially black bus and saying now what do we do? We're not going to make this whole bus wait 45 minutes so we came back with 30 hamburgers and passed them out because it was embarrassing to us, you know, to go down south like that and that shock. So I learned a lot. That was a wake-up call, too, for me. Yeah, it was not just musically, but, you know, we ate and slept with everyone and they were the epitome of music - Jackie Wilson, Clyde McPhatter and Sam Cooke - my God. I mean, how could they be treated like that?
GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is Bob Gaudio and he wrote the hits for The Four Seasons. He was also singing in the band and was the keyboard player in the band. Now there's a new anthology of his songs sung by The Four Seasons as well as by other people and it's called "Audio With A G: Sounds Of A Jersey Boy." Let's take a short break them we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Bob Gaudio. And he wrote the songs that became the hits for The Four Seasons. He was in the group as a singer and the keyboard player. He's also - he was instrumental in the creation of "Jersey Boys," both the Broadway musical and the movie. And now there's a new collection of his songs, some of the tracks feature The Four Seasons, other tracks feature other performers, ranging from Nina Simone to Frank Sinatra, The Walker Brothers, Jack Jackson, Jerry Butler - so "Jersey Boys" explains the deal you had with Frankie Valli, which was a handshake deal that I think still holds, where...
GROSS: ...You would split your songwriting royalties with him and he'd split his performance fees with you.
GROSS: And so you still have that deal, right?
GAUDIO: Yes we do.
GROSS: Did lawyers ever enter into it, or is it still just a handshake?
GAUDIO: Well, they tried to muck it up a few times. We did. And that's the truth. We did say...
GROSS: You did what?
GAUDIO: I mean, we thought hey, we should get something on paper. Every time you change management or agencies, there's always someone in there saying you know, this is not working or going to work. And we talk about it and talked to people about it, but we wound up back where we always - where we started, which was on a handshake. Now I will say this, if there's anybody out there in legal-land yes, if something happened to either one of us, it's pretty clear who gets what and when. So there are documents to verify the verbal deal. But that's it.
GROSS: And which ended up making more money - the performance fees or the songwriting royalties? I don't mean to pry.
GAUDIO: You know something...
GAUDIO: Let's say, right now, if I were to give the performance end an edge, what would you give the edge in 5 or 10 years from now?
GROSS: Oh, I see your point.
GROSS: I see where you're going (laughter).
GAUDIO: So I don't need to answer the question, I guess.
GROSS: (Laughter) Well, it seems like the songwriting royalties would be pretty darn good considering how many different versions around the world have been recorded of your songs. You don't have to go anywhere to get that stuff. You can just, like...
GAUDIO: No. And keep in mind, you know, if you're the songwriter, you have the publishing automatically unless you sell it or give it away. So we didn't sell or give anything away. So every song that I wrote, we own the publishing.
GROSS: So "Jersey Boys" tells the story of how Tommy DeVito, who's the guitarist and one of the singers in the group, the one with the biggest prison record, had ended up taking money that he made with The Four Seasons and somehow spending so much of it, that he ended up deep in debt with a loan shark and needed to be bailed out. And Frankie Valli - correct me if any of this is wrong - Frankie Valli paid the money to the loan shark to free Tommy DeVito from the deal under the agreement that then Tommy DeVito leaves the band. You and Frankie Valli bought out his share.
GROSS: That's all true?
GAUDIO: Yeah. We as a partnership did exactly what you just said, yes, assumed his debt. And in return, exactly, he had to leave the group and we pretty much retained the rights to everything that he was part of early on. But not, you know, there was less to it than that because at some point, we became - Frankie and I became partners anyway, which had nothing to do with their end of it because it didn't take anything from them. It just formed an alliance with us. But essentially, that's correct.
GROSS: And just one more thing about - this is from the movie - that Frankie Valli basically had to perform on the road constantly to make up for the money that he spent paying off Tommy's debt. And he's playing like dives and all kinds...
GAUDIO: Well that's...
GROSS: ...Of places unworthy of him. Did he really have to do that to pay off the debt?
GAUDIO: Yeah. Yeah, because, you know, listen, if you owe $1 million - and keep in mind, back then when it was at 60 something or 70 something, early '70s, late '60s, you know, $1 million is a lot of money. Now, if you realize that it's not just a $1 million, you have to pay your taxes on it before you pay back the $1 million. So by the time you get through, it's close to $2 million. So that's a lot of work. And then if you look at it from Frankie's standpoint, what's your profit on the road? Let's say by the time you get through - I'm doing a quick mathematical thing here - let's say you make a $1 thousand a night and half of it’s profit. Well, start adding up how long it takes to accumulate $2 million. It's a lot of work and a lot of sweat and Frankie broke his you- -know-what's out there. And in some respects, you could look at it and say well, yeah. When things were at their worst, you left. That's true, I did. So I somewhat regret that, but it was the beginning of my career that is also part of the partnership, which was going to Motown and doing what I did there. And then Neil Diamond and "Jazz Singer" and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and a whole other career that I could not have done if I stayed in the group.
GROSS: You left the group. Was it for financial reasons or because you didn't want to perform anymore?
GAUDIO: No, I didn't want to perform anymore. I didn't feel I was contributing to our partnership because Frankie wasn't going to sell any more tickets with me in the group. So - what point? Maybe I had moral support, maybe I had some musical input that was important but, you know, from a partnership standpoint, just putting on a business hat, it didn't make sense. So I think the right decision was made, but it was tough on him. It was tough because he was out there on his own and it wasn't the best of times. So - yeah, it was a difficult situation and it was the price we paid. I don't think either one of us regret it because we bought back our masters, our name, everything that we had other partners in, we pretty much took back. So it was a good decision in the long run.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bob Gaudio and he wrote most of the hits that The Four Seasons had. And now there's a new collection of some of his songs called "Audio With A G: Sounds Of A Jersey Boy." Let's take a short break, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR and if you're just joining us, my guest is Bob Gaudio. He wrote The Four Seasons hit songs. He sang and played keyboard with The Four Seasons. He is one of the people behind the "Jersey Boys" musical on Broadway, as well as the film, and now there's a new anthology of his songs - some of them performed by The Four Seasons, others performed by other people ranging from Diana Ross to Frank Sinatra, Cher, The Walker Brothers and so on.
When Frankie Valli was solo you wrote a song for him that became a huge hit for you - "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You." Can you tell us the story behind the song?
GAUDIO: I think he and I had talked about solo for ages. One reason - A. He would love to do a solo - B. He deserved to do a solo because of all the lead singers that I know in this business he's one of the people that had the potential to rise above a career that he had that was pretty huge. "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" was the first major shot - not the first time he recorded as a solo artist - but the first major try at bringing Frankie to the forefront and even at that it sat in the can for over a year. When I mean the can we made the record and it went into the archives because the record company as it says in the show didn't think it had the potential to be top 40 radio. And at the time, top 40 radio was in a transition period. It didn't know if it was pop, if it was Andy Williams if it was, you know, the Rolling Stones and, you know, the Beatles. It didn't know what was. So it was a void and "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" it sounds soft music now, but at the time when those drums came in and that chorus came in, it was not an easy sell for soft stations and it was a hard sell for hard stations because it wasn't hard enough. So, it was a chore getting that record played, but it also made Frankie's dream come true. And if you notice, I can't think of a record that was a Frankie Valli solo that he sang falsetto on. And that was on purpose because we wanted to have a clear delineation between the two - sound wise and song wise.
GROSS: Oh, I know that never occurred to me.
GAUDIO: Well, there you go.
GROSS: There you go, yeah, OK. So this is "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You," Frankie Valli, 1967, written by my guest Bob Gaudio.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN'T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU")
FRANKIE VALLI: (Singing) You're just too good to be true, can't take my eyes off of you. You'd be like heaven to touch. I want to hold you so much. At long last love has arrived and I thank God I'm alive. You're just too good to be true. Can't take my eyes off of you. Pardon the way that I stare. There's nothing else to compare. The sight of you leaves me weak. There are no words left to speak, but if you feel like I feel please let me know that it's real. You're just too good to be ture. Can't take my eyes off of you. I love you, baby, and if it's quite alright I need you, baby, to warm a lonely night. I love you, baby, trust in me when I say. Oh, pretty baby, don't bring me down, I pray. Oh, pretty baby, now that If found you, stay. And let me love you, baby, let me love you. You're just too good to be true.
GROSS: That's "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" from 1967. That's Frankie Valli, written by my guest Bob Gaudio who was the keyboard player and songwriter for The Four Seasons, but this was a big solo hit for Frankie Valli and it's one of the songs included on a new Bob Gaudio anthology. A collection of his songs sung by Frankie Valli, The Four Seasons, as well as other performers - it's called "Audio With A G: Sounds Of A Jersey Boy."
So I'd like to close with another Four Seasons song and I'm wondering if there's one that's a favorite of yours?
GAUDIO: Yeah, there is, but it's a Frankie Valli early record that didn't become the premier Frankie Valli record. However, if you were to ask me what's your favorite song that you've written - I'd have to say "The Sun Ain't Going To Shine No More."
GROSS: So do you want to hear it by The Walker brothers who actually had the hit? Or do you want to hear the Frankie Valli version?
GAUDIO: Wow. You're just full of surprises. You know what - let's give Frankie a chance because we all know The Walker Brothers.
GROSS: OK. Thank you so much. It's been a real pleasure to talk with you.
GAUDIO: My pleasure. It's been fun.
GROSS: Bob Gaudio, recorded last September after the release of his anthology "Audio With A G: Sounds Of A Jersey Boy." The film “Jersey Boys” is now out on DVD. If you want to catch up on interviews you missed or just listen to our show on your own schedule, try our podcast. It’s available on iTunes. It’s easy to download, and it’s free. You can also just stream or download our interviews on our website freshair.npr.org.
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