In our Chapter 7 of the Rise and Fall of The NEW Four Seasons, Casey Chameleon defended Bob Crewe’s ability re an article in Crawdaddy magazine back in the 70s in which Frankie Valli argued that the ‘genius’ of Bob Gaudio was the real talent of the Four Seasons success story. That claim and a recent article on the www prompted the question ‘Who was the best producer Bob Crewe or Bob Gaudio?’
Well for a fuller appreciation of Bob Crewe’s ability read Don Charles Goin' Places! the Bob Crewe Era (Part Two) to appreciate the sheer power and personality that enabled a ‘non-musician’ to succeed so spectacularly. It shines through in the Don Charles articles as it does in the photos of George Schowerer’s studio collection. It prompted me to revisit the recurring theme in our story of the ‘conflict’ between Crewe and Gaudio in the studio. In a 1972 interview, Bob Gaudio admits to the clashes in the studio that resulted in them not “working together in the studio” for periods in the late 60s and early 70s whilst still occasionally “writing together”. The clashes are understandable and people who worked with them have said that “it was like having two producers in the studio”….”
Don Charles describes Crewe’s production style very aptly.. . “His productions were always a patchwork affair; seldom did he ever cut songs "live" with all his musicians in the same room. The musical overdub was his favorite tool to use in the studio. He liked to spend a lot of time on details: A harp flourish here, a harmonica part there, a drum roll, a Flamenco guitar riff, a weird sound effect, a dramatic pause. Those details were often as important as the basic track, if not more, and they were essential to his production style.
(Bob Crewe photo courtesy of Aloma)
Arranger/producer Charlie Calello stresses that Crewe never began a recording session without first laying out his vision. "Before we would go into the studio, (Bob) would have other records as reference points and (he'd) explain how he wanted his song to sound. He would say that he liked the rhythm on one record, the strings on another . . . when he heard the concept in the studio, he would continue to make changes and adjust it until (he got) what he wanted. Crewe would move parts of a track to an earlier or later point on tape, or repeat it over and over again. His energy was always 'up', and he constantly came up with different ideas that would shape the record," Calello says. "If there was one thing I learned from Bob Crewe, it was (that) 'the impossible takes just a bit longer!'." Anyone who observed Crewe at work couldn't help but come away impressed by his creative ability, especially once they came to terms with the fact that he could neither read nor play music.”
In the early 60s Crewe's ambition and spontaneity clearly overshadowed Gaudio's. At the time, the feeling in the studio based on anecdotal information from those that worked with him was that Crewe really had a good handle on what he thought the market needed...and he had hits to prove it.
Gaudio cut his production ‘teeth’ (apart from some experimental projects with The 4-Evers, Jessica James and the Outlaws et al) from 1966 with the spectacular ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ but would follow that with ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ with Bob Crewe before he took control of most of the Four Seasons output . What followed were the failures of ‘The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette’ and ‘Chameleon’ albums before he scored with the ‘Who Loves You’ album before the flop ‘Helicon’. Then came his series of excellent successes with Neil Diamond. But Bob Gaudio has maintained he never set out in many of his song-writing/producing situations to write a ‘hit song’.
Crewe would argue his ability brought Valli’s solo career back from the dead with ‘My Eye’s Adored You’ and ‘Swearin’ To God’ . Don Charles talks up Crewe’s achievements as he maps out Crewe’s fundamental grasp of the hit sounds people wanted.” It's not surprising that Bob Crewe scored several big Disco hits in the '70s; it was all but inevitable that he would. Clearly, productions for The Four Seasons like "Workin' My Way Back To You", "Opus 17" and "Beggin'" anticipated Disco music; they're the missing link that falls between Cameo-Parkway's dance novelties and Motown's big beat concertos. All three styles form part of a direct line which connects the mambo and the cha-cha-chá to the Bump and the Hustle. Crewe's tickets to dance music immortality were the glam Rock trio LaBelle, who rode his Creole hooker fantasy "Lady Marmalade" to the top of the charts in 1974; Frankie Valli, for whom he wrote and produced the 1975 club classic "Swearin' To God"; The Eleventh Hour, with whom he waxed the cult favorite "Hollywood Hot" (1975), a revamped Bob Crewe Generation, who came back strong with "Street Talk"(1976); and the infamous Disco Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes, for whom he crafted the high camp anthem of 1974, "Get Dancin'". His Disco Tex LP is revered by dance music aficionados; a concept album revolving around the androgynous stage persona of former Las Vegas headliner Sir Monti Rock III, it features guest vocals by Sugarloaf's Jerry Corbetta, Crewe's new songwriting partners Kenny Nolan and Cindy Bullens, old friend Freddy Cannon, and '60s beach movie soundtrack singer Lu Ann Simms. Without a doubt, this was the wildest party Crewe ever staged on wax.
As important as the aforementioned records are to Disco music, Bob Crewe made his most significant contribution to the genre not as a producer, but as an organizer. After moving to Hollywood in the mid-70s, he co-founded the Los Angeles Deejay Pool. In his book Turn The Beat Around, Disco historian Peter Shapiro explains the significance of these organizations: "The idea was that the record companies could save money by sending promotional material to one centralized office (and) the deejays would get all the new records without . . . being rejected because their club wasn't (considered) important enough." By ensuring that the best dance records would be heard in a large number of discothèques, deejay pools facilitated Disco's transition from an underground phenomenon to the cultural explosion that it became. As always, Bob Crewe was primarily interested in promoting his own product, but with LADP, he helped foment a musical revolution in the process.”
So was Valli correct in attributing the success of the Seasons sound of the 60s to ‘Gaudio’s musical genius’ in that 1970s article.?
Crewe, a non musician, surrounded himself with talented people encouraging them to achieve their best and succeeded time and time again and he gave others credit and inspired them. Gaudio never did apart from a nod to Crewe’s contribution of lyrics in a 1972 interview and his crediting his first wife Brit who did contribute full lyrics to two songs via her poems. Doubts however have been expressed re Judy Parker’s lyric writing contribution to the 1970s songs Bob Gaudio penned.
Jersey Boys gives no inkling of the ‘reality’ of Bob Crewe’s contribution to the Four Seasons success which was clearly a team effort led by Crewe.
As Charles Calello says….”the key thing is that the Jersey Boys show is centered on the Four Seasons and the original members….and so Crewe’s involvement is somewhat incidental to the shows main direction”
One photo from George Schowerer’s studio set paints a picture in their body language that doesn’t lie. Two big ego’s - they struggled to get on in the studio.
Charlie is quite clear that Crewe was the best producer…..”Well you’ve got look at what a producer actually does…a producer is someone that not only makes the records, but he also starts it from scratch. And if you look at Crewe’s history of success…Crewe was responsible for Freddie Cannon, Billy and Lilly The Rays …all before he met the Four Seasons….and then the success with the Four Seasons, Diane Renay, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, The Bob Crewe Generation, Disco-Tex and The Sexolettes, Lady Marmalade and Frankie Valli’s career…so that is 9 artists he was responsible for developing in his career(as a producer) since he made the Four Seasons a success”
In Gaudio’s case he would offer up his success with Neil Diamond as a producer in the late 70s, but his production work with Diamond was when he was already a superstar.
“Gaudio doesn’t come close to Crewe as a producer’ says Charlie, “as a producer you have to get the song, find the artist, rehearse and record it and get it promoted by the record company. It is really hard work….. But one of the things I’ve noticed about Gaudio, to his credit, is that over the years, he didn’t score often, but when he scored he scored BIG….’Sherry’ launched the Four Seasons…and he wrote their first 3 hits…and some smaller hits(although ‘Rag Doll’ was a major hit I don’t credit him with that as it stemmed from an idea by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell) before the next blockbuster that he wrote…which was ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ and that was brilliant and he didn’t score again until ‘Who Loves You’ and ‘December 63’ and although he did further records, that was that as far as blockbuster hits was concerned”
A top arranger and producer himself Charlie describes the collaborative but visionary skills of Bob Crewe in this comment….
“Back in the days when I was doing the Crewe records, Bob always had a lot to say about direction and what he wanted the records to sound like. He was one of my teachers that helped me learn how to make "pop" records. I would write the arrangements and Crewe would finish them himself. Although he wasn't a musician and would sometimes have the singers sing the wrong notes, the parts always seemed to work. Crewe is singing and doing the background voices on "My Eyes Adored You." There are sections the singers sing the wrong notes, which always seems to bother me - - but - - it worked. Crewe was more then capable and was a brilliant producer. Not to minimize my involvement, I just made his ideas work! Later on, with experience under my belt, I was able to do more and more and eventually became "Charlie Calello - Producer" In the beginning we needed Bob Crewe because he knew how to make "Hits." He taught us well and the records tell the story. Also, the songs were much simpler to record and there were usually a few people around that would help Crewe is he ran into trouble.”
And as Don Charles says Crewe has been mis-read. As a bi-sexual producer working with straight and gay artists throughout his career his contribution, as many believe, has been understated and his portrayal in Jersey Boys may have “ led some people to think of Bob Crewe as a King of Kitsch, Rock 'n' Roll's equivalent of an Andy Warhol or a John Waters. That's hardly an accurate assessment. They've mistaken embellishment for exaggeration! Crewe approached music making every bit as seriously as his contemporaries did; he just had a highly theatrical style. That style involved injecting a generous dose of humor into his songs when appropriate. It also involved giving records a larger-than-life quality, which all of his best productions have. His body of work reflects great conceptual vision, and would make any musician proud. What makes it all the more remarkable is the fact that Bob Crewe isn't a musician! He's a gifted audio-visual artist who possesses the power to dazzle you, regardless of which medium he chooses to work in.”
”What an amazing résumé he has! Singer, songwriter, producer, publisher, painter, sculptor, celebrity host, fashion model, consultant, entrepreneur and now, author . . . it's almost like he's lived several lifetimes at once.”
As producers they both have their fans and we all love Bob Gaudio’s melodies and creative ability. But thank God he did get to write and produce with Crewe, without whom, ‘Sherry’ and the rest of the Four Seasons story wouldn’t have happened. Bob Crewe added a dimension to the Four Seasons that they would not have otherwise achieved during the early 60s and he deserves to be saluted as a ‘pop genius’…and he would be the first to admit the contribution of Gaudio/Calello/Schroek/Hutch and others in the writing and producing of the fine music which is his legacy.
But who was the best producer is not really the key fact. They did their greatest work together and even during the 70s at Motown they found a way, together and apart to produce great material for Frankie and The Group some of which we have never heard. We’ll continue to push for the release of their separate and combined productions from 1973 and 74. More evidence of its existence has emerged and we will report on this later in the summer.
But for an example of classic writing and production by them both from the very early days is this gem …a Crewe-Gaudio lost classic written and recorded before ‘Sherry’ and beautifully delivered by Jerry Jackson on this 1962 Bob Crewe Production
And always being prepared to make the most of a good arrangement Bob Crewe re-used the Hal Miller and The Rays instrumental backing track for ‘An Angel Cried’ with a completely new Crewe-Gaudio lyric for Chuck Jackson on ‘King Of The Mountain’ in 1963. It just shows the imagination and innovation of this pop genius.
The real story of the Four Seasons music is NOT Jersey Boys but the collaborative skill of Crewe – Gaudio – Calello – Linzer – Randell and the incredible vocal performances of Frankie Valli.
(Photos courtesy of George Schowerer)