It's been a long time since I was able to write anything for this blog regarding research into the history of the Four Seasons and their rise to fame and to review what remains to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of their history.
Since the arrival of our internet presence(circa 1997)and 2012 we collected and collated a huge amount of data that can be found on our web site that documents the musical recording history of Frankie Valli/The Four Lovers and The Four Seasons from 1953 to today. Back in the 1970s we were novices and knew only 60% of the story. Now we know so much more. And continuing touring by Frankie Valli and the success of Jersey Boys has kept the music and our data research alive.
But as 2016 started and I received the very last Newsletter from George Ingram who officially retired last year I thought about changes necessary to our web based sites given that the prospect of adding factual data re the groups work seems remote. But is it time to wind things down or should we strive to fill the gaps we know remain.? And with the loss of great researchers like Rex Woodard, Frank Rovello and Stefan Wriedt do we have the resources and support to do any more?.
So at the start of 2016 what is left to find out.?
Big gaps in the groups music and history still remain unless we can collectively dig out unreleased music, articles and peoples memories: facts or stories they haven't disclosed or can even remember. On the face of it this does not seem realistically possible. There has always been a reluctance to talk about or publish stories re the history of the Four Seasons outside a bland storyline, firstly because back in the 60s/70s the Partnership worried about negative connections damaging Frankie's reputation as a celebrity.
Off course all that changed with the development of Jersey Boys in 2007 and these mafia connections were used to add grit to the story helping to make it the hit it became. Now the focus is on maintaining that as their story and continuing it's commercial longevity and financial success.
As fans since the 60s we've always sought to uncover the true stories and in our research over the last 40 years we've found out lots of personal stuff that we’ve not published as it is not relevant to the music's creation. But it has made us sensitiveto the effect on relationships between past members of the group and Valli and Gaudio and the often difficult circumstances in which the music was created.
Looking broadly at what has appeared in our newsletters we have a mixture of what PR the Partnership wanted to portray in the 60s and 70s and in our E-book The Rise and Fall of The New Four Seasons we feature quotes by group members which often reveals frictions and issues typically encountered by groups in the history of 60 and 70s pop music. I guess I never did forgive Frankie and Bob for sacking the Four Seasons in 1978 despite a subsequent short lived 're-union'. But life and the brand of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons has gone on. In recent times we've had the benefit of the emergence of 3 former members from then in The Hit Men. It has been good to celebrate their sound with them in recent years. The conflicts happened and that is part of their life story. A background to the most important thing.....the music.
In Jersey Boys the writers selected the elements of the group history to create a musical drama........but who where the real writers? This years Jersey Boys Court case may lead to us understanding this more....but more re that later.
So what are the areas where we still would like to know more and what could we write about. Well firstly it would be speculating what happened between 1959 and 1961 before 'Sherry.' Rex Woodard in his Billboard articles said The Four Lovers had done some backing work for Bob Crewe (possibly with Freddie Cannon) before he signed them to a 3 year contract in 1960. But verifying this has been difficult as has identifying the recordings they did backing work on from 1959 to 1961. Our Master Tracks Section 2 on the web site contains the result of several years music detective work (thanks to all who contributed)which recently revealed a Bob Crewe 45 on ABC Paramount from 1961 “Come To Me/Another Day” with the Four Lovers on backing (thanks to Mike Miller). But memories and data are now very hard to uncover and those involved who might have contributed have passed away or can't remember clearly. Record Company records are very limited. The dates when Crewe released the Topix 45s remains a bone of contention as to whether they started in 1960 or 61, but some would say, 'Does it really matter?'....we know what came out.
So maybe what we have from this period with its little bit of guessing and speculation is the limit of what can be found. ?
The Philips period is pretty comprehensively documented (see Master Tracks Section 4) with data surfacing re late 60s unreleased recordings with Artie Schroeck found in recent years. But we haven't heard some of these recordings and there is no published record of the remaining recordings(like the previously discovered 'One Man' from the last Philips sessions) and a rumoured number of perhaps unfinished recordings from this period.
Now as we have known for sometime Bob and Frankie do not appear to take any interest in the large volume of research (in our blog and web site ) contributors have made over the years. And then there is little or no chance of us hearing the unreleased material given Bob/Frankie's attitude since Jersey Boys. Strangely this is reputed to be an aversion to 'look back' when Jersey Boys is just that. The aim now is clearly to protect the JB brand and perpetuate it. The unreleased tracks are judged not to do that.
I never did get Chapters 2-4 done of my E-book The Rise and Fall of the NEW Four Seasons. The period from 1967 to 1970 is hard to document as the story behind the music is hard to get in enough depth. I got a lot of notes re 1967 from sound engineer George Schowerer and interviews with Charlie Calello, Artie Schroeck and Larry Brown and our research has also uncovered some personal facts about drug and marital problems during this time which makes documenting the period hard to balance. And then 1969 and the Philips relationship is a bit strange. Philips appeared to totally dump the group after GILG and the master tracks list shows experimental/rogue recordings for other labels and unreleased material which eventually resulted in Half and Half coming out. Then there was the Northern Soul scene pushing 'You're Ready Now' to UK re-release and then the two UK tours and the move to Motown. I needed help to document and verify facts for this period as few articles disclose what was going on....and in this period the debt problem portrayed in Jersey Boys surfaced but exactly when?. Presumably this was before Tommy DeVito left the group before the UK tour of 1970.......hence the subsequent need to go where the opportunities for money arose. So I still see lots to be fully established and although I'd have liked to finish it. The work remains a 'might have been/could have been' wish.
The biggest musical gap though remains the Motown period from 1971 to 1974 because we now know as a result of an anonymous donor with access to Motown Universal data that only 21 tracks where released and up to 50 tracks remain in the Motown Tape Vault. We know the detail of what was recorded(Master Track section 5) and were able to verify and document this in 2012 but since then there has been no interest or expression that any record company would attempt to negotiate with the Four Seasons Partnership lawyer (still Peter Bennett as far as we know). Those we have corresponded with have not wished to take on what they regard as too difficult a process. Peter in the past has indicated that these recordings are 'not owned by the Partnership' and as a result are a matter of financial dispute. They are he alleged to be 'unfinished' or 'may not exist' on tape anymore and he asked how these could enhance the reputation of Frankie and Bob?. Having heard the demos of 'Hymn To Her' and 'Lovers' now on You Tube and given the quality of what was found for the Motown Anthology CD release by Hip-O-Select in 2009 we have evidence that some completed lost gems remain. How many has still to be established but certainly enough for an album/CD. But it has seemed impossible that these will see release within Frankie or Bob’s lifetime unless they had a change of heart.
And then there is the confirmation from Lee Shapiro that at least another album of material was recorded for the 'Helicon' sessions with several tracks remaining in the Warner-Curb vault and again there appears no interest or prospect of release. There are later tracks from the 80s that we know remain unreleased and there is likely to be other material only Bob and Frankie know about. So musically there is much Four Seasons fans can feel aggrieved that they have never got to hear. Unfortunately the Four Seasons catalogue does not have the sort of research and ownership or interest that the `Beach Boys' master tapes has allowed and how lucky are their fans as a result.? A good example of long-term market management.
And finally the long running saga of the Jersey Boys court case is still to reach a conclusion. Tommy De Vito's copyright submission has been overturned and Rex Woodard's co-authorship of the bio used by the JB writers has been confirmed but the decision of whether Rex's copyright was breached by the use of the book in the script has still to be decided.
The case is still scheduled for a May 2, 2016 trial. A decision in the meantime about what is protectable in Rex's book and what is not is awaited next month
The May trial, which will take 4 weeks, will be strictly about whether the Defendants are liable for copyright infringement and/or an accounting to Donna(Rex's widow). Depending on the result there could be a second trial a few months later that will focus strictly on damages (i.e., how much Donna is owed). Of course, these trials may not end the case entirely, because the losing party is likely to appeal, unless a settlement is reached. So there should still be some news about the case, at least through the summer, and possibly thereafter. Whether Rex's co-written story with Tommy De Vito ever appears in print remains simple speculation but if it did it would be a major event for fans.
So this is a summary of the most significant areas of research and interest we've focused on with our music detectives but my plans are to focus everyone once again on the Lost Period at Motown. What we have musically from 1970 to 1974 is not enough. There is a huge set of unheard and unreleased music by Valli and the group from this period and that will be our focus as we freeze the UK web site, and close the blog during this year. We plan to move our efforts to a new platform. Facebook
The web site and blog involve costs that we have carried for many years and given the prospect of 'no goodies in the cupboard' for the fans it seems time to 'draw a line' and 'park the bus' as far as the web site and blog are concerned. Personally I can't see any prospect of us receiving any more useful data or of writing of anything positive for fans based on the current status of things. But what we have published will remain on the www for some time and be accessible through search engines and our 'parked' web site. And we have a mass of data re what happened at Motown that we plan to share.
We're working on a final web site update to make the final Newsletters (Nrs 63 to 68)available for download. These feature the last of the 1970s articles in George Ingram's archive and the latest edits to Discographies featuring the primary releases on vinyl and CD over the years.
We'll be back in due course during this proposed final year of research and but as webmaster I felt it was fair to provide all fans and collectors a full status report of what we have achieved(and still hope to achieve).I'll not retire till the Motown Unreleased is in our hands. Join our campaign on Facebook discussing just what happened and might have happened at Motown and beyond 1971 to 1976
Plans are for Lynn Boleyn MBE to continue to maintain her role as news contact and secretary. She has become the public face of this group once again with the recent years get-togethers and concert tours and we could not have had anyone better. Over the last few years thanks to her contact with Dean Egnater. Frankie Valli’s Road Manager she has managed to get priority booking for the true fans at the UK concerts and indeed to actually meet Frankie and the "Seasons". Hopefully she can do the same and arrange to meet up with Frankie and the band again if the promised 2017 tour to the UK happens.
On-going fans of the Current line-up will still be able to push Valli to never retire!!
For now my best wishes to you all. Ken Charmer