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Q&A: Frankie Valli

Frankie Valli has been the muscular voice and the talent behind hit music for six decades and shows no sign of slowing down.

Donna Leahey
October 28, 2018

Roughly 84 years ago, Francesco Stephen Castelluccio was born to a blue-collar family in Newark, N.J.. A lot of miles, years, ups and downs, and hard work have transformed that baby into cultural icon, Frankie Valli. His unparalleled falsetto and emotionally powerful chest voice created a unique sound that led the Four Seasons to a string of hits, starting with the No. 1 hit “Sherry,” which displays Valli’s falsetto to full advantage.

His first solo single, 1967’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” hit No. 2 and is still popular in media today. In recent years, Valli has been seen on small screens and large, most notably as mobster Rusty Millio on the HBO series The Sopranos.

The biographical musical Jersey Boys opened in 2005, telling the story of the Four Seasons and shedding light on some of Valli’s highs and lows. The success of Jersey Boys has reignited interest in Valli and the Four Seasons, making hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Rag Doll” hip again.

Q. What keeps you heading back out on tour after so many decades?
A. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I wasn’t touring. I’ve tried a few times where I’ve said that I’m going to cut back on my schedule. And then after a month or so, I go crazy. You get so into it, I just don’t know what to do with myself if I’m not touring.

Q. Who were some of your musical influences?
A. I really started out loving jazz. Groups like the Four Freshmen and Stan Kenton. I liked Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. My father listened to classical music, but I was a big Frank Sinatra fan. Then I began to like a lot of very early R&B before it was rock ‘n’ roll: The Flamingos, The Clovers, The Harptones, The Ravens. I loved Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott, and there was Jack MacDuff. I did a lot of singing around the house when nobody was around, and as soon as somebody would catch me singing, I would stop because my parents were not into that. My father never went into bars and neither did my mother, so they didn’t appreciate the music I was into.

Q. You saw Sinatra perform when you were young. What did that mean to you?
A. A little kid for the first time seeing any performer, let alone someone that big, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. But I had no idea how to get there. I learned by listening to other people sing and trying to sing like them. There are things no one can ever teach you, like phrasing. Sinatra made you feel that everything he sang had happened in his life.

Q. You’ve done some acting, probably most notably on The Sopranos. How does acting satisfy your artistic impulses, and would you like to do it more often?
A. David Chase wrote that part for me. I’d auditioned for The Sopranos, and he said he didn’t think the part was right for me. Then four years later, he calls me and says, “I wrote a part for you. I want you to play this captain in this family.” And I thought it would be easy, because I’ve known all these captains. I did an episode of Hawaii Five-O, and I’d like to do more cameos and TV and movies.

Q. Jersey Boys has been a great success but does show some of the lowest points of your life. How does that affect you?
A. The play doesn’t even cover all the darkness. I didn’t just lose one kid, I lost two, and got a divorce, all in six months. I started drinking, doing a lot of things I shouldn’t. I got through it; I met somebody else. We got married and I straightened my life out. I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking. I threw all the substances away and I said, “I never want my kid to see me do anything like this.” It’s hard for me; you’re not supposed to lose your children. You’re supposed to go first. I’ve had a wonderful life, with all the ups and downs, all the disappointments, all the accolades that come with success. I wouldn’t change anything, except to have my children back.

Q. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is such a great song. What can you tell us about it?
A. It’s probably the song that’s made the biggest impact for me and my career. It was designed for me. It was written for me by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe. It’s a favorite, but they’re all favorites in different ways. I like doing every kind of music, as long as it’s done well.

Q. Your falsetto on “Sherry” and some of your earlier songs is so identifiably you.
A. I didn’t want to sing like that my whole life, but we were looking for a sound, and “Sherry” was that sound. Once we established the sound, the plan was that I would do some things I really wanted to do, like solo records. Some of my favorites like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Swearing to God” and “My Eyes Adored You,” have none of that falsetto. But to start with, we wanted a sound where if the radio station was playing our song, you’d know who it was.

Q. Why do you think your music remains so impactful decades later?
A. I think it was the way our songs were written. We say things the way that blue-collar guy, the trucker, the cab driver, the construction guy, the way he might want to say it. Girls liked us; guys liked us. We related, but we never tried to be anybody else but who we were.

Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons
Paradise Cove | River Spirit Casino Resort
8330 Riverside Parkway | Tulsa
Nov. 10: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend