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'We'll all have a great time'

Frankie Valli performing Saturday at The Maryland Theatre

Frankie Valli performing Saturday at The Maryland Theatre

April 24, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Frankie Valli never wanted to be a pop singer.

He grew up at the tail end of the big band era. He loved the music of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart. Jazz always has been his first love, he says, and he continues to tweak a jazz project he's been working on for about a year and a half.

"You take a little from this and a little from that," Valli says.

But a pop singer he became. Valli, 65, has sold more than 100 million records and landed 19 hits among Billboard's top 10 as a solo artist and with The Four Seasons. His career spans decades - hits in the '60s and as recently as 1994, when his 1976 "December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)" charted again as part of the "Forrest Gump" soundtrack.

Valli says his 8 p.m. Saturday, April 26, show at The Maryland Theatre will be "what people want to hear."

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"I'm not embarrassed about any of my hits," he says.

"This is about fun."

The fun is enjoyed not just by people who grew up with Valli's music. "It's really terrific," Valli says. "We span so many different generations."

Valli started out singing doo wop on Newark, N.J., street corners.

Life was different. It was all about neighborhoods and family, Valli says. People didn't have air conditioning, so everybody sat outside. To cool off, you'd walk around the block, and by the end of the summer you knew everybody, he says.

"My dad wasn't big on it," Valli says of the beginnings of his singing career. Fred Castellucio, a barber by trade, worked doing displays for the Lionel toy factory. Valli describes his father as very creative, but someone who could never understand how people could go out to a club and spend three or four hours drinking and listening to music.

"Get a real job," he'd tell his son.

"I went to school to be a hairdresser," Valli says, adding he loved school but hated work in the shop. He couldn't stand people bringing in photos of movie stars, expecting him to create their fantasies.

The young Castellucio continued to sing, although he never took singing lessons. "Most of it came naturally - a God-given ability," he says. Considered a baritone, Valli says he developed his trademark falsetto by doing vocal impersonations - Dinah Washington among them.

In the early days, Valli made $4 or $5 a night. He did some backup singing on records for music publishing companies.

"Opportunity is there for those who seek it out," Valli says of his career in music. "I wanted it bad."

In the early 1950s, Valli joined Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito, performing as the Variety Trio. They hooked up with Bob Gaudio, who wrote 1962's "Sherry," which was released that summer and sold 200,000 copies the day after The Four Seasons sang it on "American Bandstand."

In a phone interview from Los Angeles. Valli says he's been "bicoastal" for almost 30 years but decided to live on the West Coast a while ago.

"I decided I just couldn't handle winter anymore," he says, although he admits he misses the "heck out of" the East Coast.

He's down to touring for about 38 or 39 shows per year - down from the 100 to 125 he used to perform across the country and in Europe.

"I couldn't handle the travel," he says. It's even worse lately with tightened security, although he says he's thrilled they care enough to take the extra precautions.

But Valli loves to perform, and says he's still learning. "It's never ending."

But, with all his success, he knows how to entertain, and expects Saturday will be no exception.

"We'll all have a great time," he says.

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