As we see in the stage show ‘Jersey Boys’ The Four Seasons were signed up as ‘backing artists’ by producer Bob Crewe under what has been described as ‘a personal services contract’.
In 1960 the then Four Lovers, four New Jersey guys - 2 of whom had a shady background - were going no-where and it looked like it would stay that way. Their backing work with Crewe has largely gone un-noticed and unknown and although much of it is pretty poor pop music by 1960s high chart standard (and their subsequent ‘Four Seasons’ catalogue), it is still never the less historically interesting. Through our research over the years we have been able to compile a sessionograpy that logs in time their efforts in this respect along with some of the other side projects they undertook.
We have all read lists of songs that (perhaps) ‘featured’ the group on backing vocals as shown in Jersey Boys (on ‘Trance’ and ‘I Still Care’) but this is the first time a fully comprehensive collation of these efforts has been attempted and published.
After the RCA contract of the Four Lovers in 1956 and 57 they did attempt to find a new identity as ‘Frankie Tyler’ and ‘Frankie Vally(e) and The Romans with 45s that didn’t find success. Changing line-ups which included Charlie Calello (who contributed the excellent ‘Comme Si Bella’) continued until they embarked on their contract with Bob Crewe in 1960. This initially saw them work as The Village Voices, Turner Di Sentri (Bob Gaudio on piano) and Billy Dixon and The Topics (incorrectly portrayed in Jersey Boys as a singer other than Frankie Valli) on 45s that they always tried to forget during their hey-dey. Understandable perhaps when you hear them but by this time Bob Gaudio was developing his song-writing skills and this would be the big platform for the group’s eventual success. The group line-up had settled to Valli-Gaudio-DeVito-Massi and their name was changing by the session.
Backing efforts for other artists continued throughout 1960 and 1961 including what appears to be an effort with Freddie Cannon, with Hal Miller and The Rays and Danny and The Juniors. Many 45s show clear vocals that obviously include Frankie Valli’s falsetto to ‘sweeten’ the mix but some necessarily sound like them on backing. However we have included all tracks ‘alleged’ as having their involvement. Many have appeared on CD re-mastered for the first time from vinyl in our ‘Seasons’ Connections series and a quick search on You Tube for the titles listed will enable readers to sample the sound of much of the listing.
1962 saw them appear as the Four Seasons for the first time (Dec 1961 – ‘Bermuda/Spanish Lace’) before they appeared again as the Topics in May.
With the success of ‘Sherry’ in August 1962 we might have expected the group’s work as backing vocalists to end but Crewe had them under contract and many backing tracks had been laid down before their first #1 hit and kept in the can by Crewe. Their appearance on the mid 1963 45s by Hedy Sontag (‘Anymore’) and Cholie Maye(‘Cry For Me’ – the first appearance of the ‘Jersey Boys’ Bob Gaudio ‘sign-up’ song) are illustrative of their work but the actual recording dates remains questionable.
Crewe’s ‘services’ contract ran out in 1963 but it remains unclear how much backing work they actually recorded after their success as the Four Seasons in August 1962. However there is no doubting that Valli and Gaudio embarked upon side projects to develop their own production skills and Wade Flemons 1963 outing on ‘Watch Over Her’(penned by Valli and Gaudio) is a clear example of these side projects.
Even as 1963 closes and they had left Vee-Jay we find them recording as Larry and The Legends(‘Don’t Pick On My Baby’) the day before they recorded ‘Dawn’ at Atlantic Studios.(19th and 20th November)
Data from the Atlantic Larry Santos sessions allows us to hear them appearing on ‘Someday’ and ‘True’ whilst the archive shows several recordings unreleased and (we presume) lost in an Atlantic archive fire.
But even more surprising is their involvement as late as 1964 on the Four-Evers local NYC/Philly hit ‘Be My Girl’ and as Scott Oberle (‘Cupid’s Poison Dart/You’re My Dream Girl’)
It is not until 1965 that we finally run out of sessions with them appearing as producers or backing vocalists and by then Nicky was about to leave the group. Joe Long has commented that they never did any side projects after he joined the group and that was when Bob Gaudio appears to have taken over the production of the group with Bob Crewe accepting a less dominant involvement. However Frankie Valli’s solo sessions studio shots show Crewe still dictatorial in the studio as late as 1967.
Above: Crewe takes Valli through the harmony on the session for ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ – Photo courtesy of George Schowerer
There are as many questions, as illuminating possibilities, presented by this sessionography but memories are dim and these 45s so old that little more can be accurately established. Our thanks go out to Tom Cramlington for his original research, to Mike Miller for collecting and sharing so many of these 45s and to Russ McClelland for researching the 45 issue dates that enables us to log and appreciate the timeline.
New additions and corrections have rolled in since our first publication including Bernadette Carroll confirming that The Four Seasons DIDN’T back her on ‘Nicky’ (a long believed rumour) but was in fact The Four Winds.
But check out this Freddie Cannon 45 as we can clearly hear Frankie’s falsetto in harmony with the rest of the PRE-FOUR SEASONS.
We will continue to research and edit the information which remains an important window on the background work of an historic group and their ‘lost’ recordings.
Next time we’ll have the Philips catalogue fully documented