Stop for a minute and think about the contrast between illusion and reality.
By ROBERT TRUSSELL
The Kansas City Star
Where does one stop and the other begin?
Thats what Frankie Valli found himself considering the first time he watched a run-through of Jersey Boys, the mega-hit Broadway musical that depicts Vallis rise to fame in the 1960s with the band that would become famous as the Four Seasons.
How would the word strange sound to you? Valli said the other day. Its like a reflection of yourself. You look in the mirror and all of a sudden the reflection you see in the mirror is doing you. And youre just standing there watching.
In May, theatergoers in Kansas City got their first chance to see Jersey Boys when the national tour made its way to the Music Hall for a 19-day run. Now audiences have a chance to see the real thing when Valli performs Tuesday at the Kauffman Center.
To call Valli an iconic figure in pop music might be an understatement. He and the Four Seasons scored 40 Top 40 hits, including eight singles that went to No. 1. Most of the songs were written by the groups co-founder Bob Gaudio. Today many of them Walk Like a Man, Sherry, Big Girls Dont Cry remain instantly recognizable. What makes them so, aside from Gaudios expert craftsmanship, are Vallis utterly unique falsetto vocals.
But Valli said he didnt realize he was doing anything special.
The magic that may seem to be there was something that was normal and natural, he said from a tour stop in Denver. I never studied singing with anybody. And I never thought that what I was doing was so incredibly unique. I thought anybody singing could do it. It took me awhile to understand that. I had this wonderful gift, and I loved using it.
I learned to sing by doing impressions, singing songs that I liked that the radio was playing. You liked the song and you wanted to sound like the person doing it. If you could imitate four or five people, if you really worked on it you could probably do 15 or 20. But as I said, I never gave it a second thought. I thought all singers could do that.
Jersey Boys, with which Valli and Gaudio were directly involved, is an international hit, and Valli said there are plans to adapt it as a film, which could begin shooting as early as January. In terms of the story, which depicts the groups early struggles, the conflicts among bandmates, brushes with organized crime and eventual success as recording artists, Valli said the show is 95 percent accurate.
For this concert tour, Valli is bringing a band that includes two guitars, a bass, drums, keyboards, a sax player, four singers and a small horn section. The audience, he said, will hear plenty of hits.
And we try to keep the talking down so we can get a lot of music in, he said. I think thats really the key to live performing. Im sure there will be people who come to the show and say, Oh, he didnt do that song I was waiting for. But its like a guy with 100 suits. You cant wear them all at the same time. Its just how it is.
But Valli loves singing the hits because thats what people come to hear.
Im thrilled to have an audience, he said. Without an audience, I could be doing this in my living room, and I wouldnt make 20 cents doing it.
Valli came up at a time when the music business was very different. In the 1960s its foundation was virtually a 19th-century industrial model: You made recordings, which were pressed as albums and singles at a factory and then trucked out to record stores. Top 40 radio programming included a wide variety of music pop groups like the Four Seasons alongside R&B artists, soul singers and British rock bands and making personal connections with DJs was crucial.
Now were in the age of digital downloads, automated radio and consumer-programmed digital stations, but Valli admitted there are things about the old music business he misses.
I think technology does change things, he said. I dont know if its better. I miss the record stores and the radio stations. I can remember a period of time just in New York City when there had to be eight or 10 radio stations playing pop music. Thats all gone.
And the relationship recording artists had with radio was incredible. You could go out and promote a record and go to a city like Detroit, another great record town, and youd have to be there a couple of days to cover all the radio stations and introduce yourself to all the DJs.
On the other hand, Valli said, he is heartened that stations with oldies formats today are usually No. 1 or 2 in their markets.
There was something to that music, he said. It was like the music of great songwriters, like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin and the Gershwins. I mean, some things are forever.
Valli, an Italian-American kid from Jersey, has done a bit of film acting through the years, but never so memorably as when playing mob capo Rusty Millio in the fifth and sixth seasons of The Sopranos, which focused on a New Jersey mafia family.
Casting Valli was a nice postmodern touch, because Valli and his music were often cited by characters on the show. Valli said David Chase, the series creator, crafted the part specifically for him. And at the first rehearsal Chase gave him some advice.
He said, I want you to play it like you, Valli recalled. I want you to do it like its actually you; you dont have to change your voice; do it as though you were that person. So thats what I did, and I had a lot of fun doing it. I loved every minute of it.
As depicted in Jersey Boys, singers couldnt work their way up in the music business without encountering the mob. Valli said Rusty wasnt really modeled on anyone he had ever known, but he was a type he knew well, the kind of guy who was part of the social fabric.
There isnt a city in America where at certain points in time there wasnt an organized crime situation going on, he said. Every city in America had something, whether it was Philadelphia or Kansas City or Los Angeles. I grew up in the middle of it. I grew up in a very Italian neighborhood that was mixed. But I knew a lot of those kinds of people. Those were the guys who owned the clubs we worked in. Thats just the way it was.
To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to email@example.com.