How does Frankie Valli merit two nights at a major mid-sized venue like Hard Rock Live?
After all, upcoming tours featuring Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper, Steve Miller Band and Peter Frampton, and Blondie with Garbage, only get one night apiece.
Perhaps in times of turmoil people reach back for the familiar and comforting. But that would have to include Blondie, Stewart and Frampton, no?
Of course, Valli’s profile has been elevated. He has been portrayed by dozens of actors worldwide in the Tony-winning jukebox musical “Jersey Boys,” which tells the story of the 1960s pop group The Four Seasons.
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“Jersey Boys” opened on Broadway in 2005 with John Lloyd Young in the lead role as Valli, a part he would reprise in Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation in 2014. The Broadway run ended in January with “Dancing With the Stars” pro Mark Ballas as the final Frankie, but road versions continue, including one that made a recent stop at Miami’s Arsht Center, and seemingly will run in perpetuity.
Valli relished having his story told.
“Well, it’s nice. Whether it’s exactly right or not, the fact that someone is actually playing you and is interested enough to put a show together and it becomes successful and is about you, how can you question any part of it? There must be 20 companies, and each of the Frankies or the other personalities are just slightly a little different.”
But, Broadway aside, the question remains: How does Valli account for his continued popularity at age 83? He hasn’t had a Top 40 single as a soloist since he sang Barry Gibb’s theme from “Grease” in 1978. (Plus, the guys surrounding him on stage for this tour are not original members of the Four Seasons.)
So, Frankie, spill. Why you? Two nights?
“We just make ’em an offer they can’t refuse,” he quips during a recent phone interview from Houston while on tour with fellow Four Seasons that will find him at Hard Rock Live Friday and Saturday.
“Evidently, we have a lot of fun and love what we do, and I think that’s an important part that a lot of performers forget. Sometimes, with all the turmoil and everything else that is going on in the world, people like to get out and have a good time and forget about their problems for a moment.”
This interview was conducted in early May, before recent world events, including Monday’s terrorist bombing at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena, the same venue Valli performed at on April 27.
But Valli’s explanation applies. Enduring pop songs like “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “My Eyes Adored You,” “Who Loves You” and “Grease” give Valli an enviable catalog to draw upon. Former Four Seasons bandmate Bob Gaudio, who also produced a run of Neil Diamond albums, gave Valli his greatest hits.
Valli has one primary criterion in selecting material to record and perform: “I think it’s gotta be a good story, basically, even if it’s almost elementary,” he says. “There are enough people who have experienced the same things and will relate to those stories whether it’s a song that was popular when someone got married or an anniversary or the loss of someone dear to them. We all have these feelings. I like music that is short stories.”
Valli, who cut a dapper image on covers of such albums as “The 4 Seasons Present Frankie Valli Solo” 50 years ago and “Frankie Valli…Is the Word,” in 1978, brings to mind his greatest influence. “Nobody told those stories better than a guy named Frank Sinatra,” he says. “He was the greatest storyteller.”
Like Sinatra, Valli acted (in “The Sopranos,” “Miami Vice” and the current “Hawaii Five-0”) and his music straddles eras. On 1960s Four Seasons singles like “Sherry,” he was the youthful falsetto pledging undying devotion. Both artists sang the standards of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Sammy Cahn.
Curiously, Valli sang in falsetto with the Four Seasons but opted for an unadorned tenor during his solo career.
“One had to be different than the other,” he explained. “We had planned that from the beginning.”
But becoming a contemporary singer wasn’t Valli’s original intention.
“I never wanted to be a pop singer,” he says. “My early influences were jazz, and that’s what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t doing that well with jazz so I decided to try this, and it was a little tough at the beginning. But when I could see the reaction that it had on the public I thought, ‘This can’t be that bad. I’m doing something they understand.’ I realized it could be as much fun.”
Now, with a 25-song set list planned for the Hard Rock shows, and at least that many songs he could also be doing, Valli has survived changing times, personal highs and lows, including the death of his daughter, Francine, in 1980. He has sung through 11 presidential administrations since the release of his first single in 1954.
“I always dreamed we’d have that many hits. I started out hoping we’d have a hit record. And if I never had a hit record, I’d probably still be in some little saloon or bar singing songs with a trio or piano player,” says Valli. “I love what I do, and I’m lucky I have been able to find something I really love more than anything in the world and to be able to make a living doing it.”