THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
Sunday March 23, 2008
The musical Jersey Boys has made Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons the toast of the West End, winning them rave reviews and standing ovations.
Yet the pop stars whose appeal in the Fifties and Sixties was their clean-cut image had links to the Mob, who helped them in their early career - an unsavoury connection that they strove to keep secret from adoring fans.
Growing up on the streets of Newark, New Jersey, Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi had frequent brushes with the law themselves, as well as close links with the Mafia.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Gaudio, 65, the co-writer of many of the group's hits, has revealed that at the height of their fame in the Sixties, it would have been impossible for The Four Seasons to come clean about their lives.
"Back then, things were a little clean-cut, don't forget, so the idea of our story getting out was horrifying to us," he said.
Their stories included the struggling band robbing convenience stores in between gigs, breaking chairs over people's heads if they were not paid promptly and spending a weekend in jail after fleeing a hotel without paying the bill.
Massi and DeVito spent time in prison for breaking and entering and a series of petty crimes.
"We certainly rubbed shoulders with a lot of unsavoury characters, but you know, the clubs were essentially owned by the Mob so it was very difficult not to be involved or around them," Gaudio said.
"I saw some pretty heavy things back then, and we almost bit the dust a few times. But it was always interesting."
But Gaudio says the world where they started out gave their music an edge that set them apart from their contemporaries and helped them achieve worldwide record sales of 175 million, securing their place as one of the few bands who survived the British invasion led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
"We moved in a tough world, so our music was certainly not Beach Boys fun-in-the-sun in bikinis," Gaudio said. "It was more like backstreet in '57 Chevvys."
It was impossible to become a star in New Jersey in the Fifties and Sixties without the approval of the Mafia, who ran the clubs as well as the food and drink companies which supplied them.
Mobster Angelo '"Gyp" DeCarlo, who ran the DeCavalcante family's loan-sharking and gambling interests in New Jersey, helped the band early on. They returned the favour when he was jailed in 1972, flying down to Atlanta and performing for him and his fellow prisoners.
But the relationship was not always so smooth: during the band's early days DeVito was threatened by the Mob over unpaid gambling debts.
When Jersey Boys was first rehearsed, its writers, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, were contacted by associates of DeCarlo who wanted to ensure his portrayal was given due respect.
The writers conducted interviews with Valli, Gaudio and Tommy DeVito - bassist Nick Massi died in 2000 - to tell the band's story.
Jersey Boys opened on Broadway in 2005 to rave reviews, winning four Tony Awards in 2006, including best musical.
The show, which includes 27 classic hits such as Big Girls Don't Cry, Can't Take My Eyes Off You and Walk Like a Man, depicts the band in their early days breaking into a club and stealing the safe.
Gaudio has been instrumental in taking the production to Broadway, and now the West End. He has also been in talks with both Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese about a possible film version.
He says he was inspired by the 1978 film The Deer Hunter, which used one of the group's songs, Can't Take My Eyes Off You. "It's very poignant, very powerful," he said. "I thought, wow, if this works in film, boy, it could sure well work on a stage some day."
Since he stopped performing, Gaudio has written and produced music for Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond. He dismissed today's pop stars who find chart success on the back of television shows such as American Idol, Pop Idol, and The X Factor.
"The manufactured stuff is disconcerting for me as I just don't believe in it," he said.
"In our case, we had a real 'f--- you' attitude: this is what we do and if you don't like it, don't put it out," he added. "It is probably impossible for bands to have that attitude now."
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