Friday, April 5, 2002 | 2:55 a.m.
No one will ever confuse the singing voices of Frankie Valli and Barry White.
But after Valli finished a show at The Orleans in Las Vegas about 18 months ago, some fans were less than satisfied with his performance, claiming he couldn't hit the high notes that made songs such as "Sherry" and "Let's Hang On" so distinctive.
After the show, Valli went on hiatus to re-examine his interest in show business, where he is among the elite who have had hugely successful careers spanning decades.
As a teenager Valli, a native of Newark, N.J., sang with The Varietones, who later changed their name to The Four Lovers. In 1956 singer Bob Gaudio joined the group, which became The Four Seasons. Rounding out The Seasons were singers Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi (who died in December 2000).
By 1975 The Four Seasons included only Valli and Guadio of the original group.
Valli is returning to The Orleans April 25-28 with a revamped show that he said, during a recent telephone interview from his home near Los Angeles, will decide his future.
Las Vegas Sun: Why did you feel the need to alter your show?
Frankie Valli: What happened was, we did a mixed show -- a mixed bag of a lot of our hits, and a lot of material that we didn't record. I took a year and a half off to re-evaluate as to whether I wanted to do this anymore.
If you want to hear that material, go see that artist. I can understand an artist with three or four hits having to fill his show with others' material. But when you went to see Elvis, he did his hits. That's all he did. Of all the shows out there, he probably was more successful than anybody.
Sun: What created this doubt about whether you wanted to continue performing?
FV: Because the traveling started to become a drag -- one-nighters, living out of a suitcase, having little kids at home and all that. But after about eight or nine months into this period of time that I wasn't doing anything, I started to get antsy. I thought, "Well, if I do go out, what should I do? How can I make it an interesting show?" You go out and do an hour and 20 (minutes) or an hour and a half and for the audience, that should seem like it was 20 minutes.
So, I decided to put a show togther that was nothing but hits by The Four Seasons.
Sun: Your list of hits is incredible.
FV: We've been very fortunate, actually. If we did just hits, or songs that were chart records, we could probably do close to three hours. I tried to pick some of the most important ones.
There's only one song I'm doing in the show that was not a hit. I took it from the "Who Loves You" album. It's a song called "Harmony." I use a piece of film with it. The film is based on various types of harmony -- astronauts from different countries touching hands in space, a barbershop quartet, marching majorettes. It's kind of a call out to the world that this is what we need. We need more harmony, more understanding of each other.
But for that, the show is built around nothing but hits. It is an evening of solid gold.
Sun: How many hits have you had?
FV: We had an accumulation, including everything that made the charts, of about 62 to 65 chart records. We sold over 100 million records in a period of time when albums didn't sell that much. And we own all our masters (recordings). I'm sure every artist would like to own their masters.
Sun: Is your upcoming performance at The Orleans the debut of your revamped show?
FV: I tried it out New Year's at the Riviera at a private party. And I recently did a private party in Denver. The show seems like it's only on 30 or 40 minutes. I have a whole bunch of new people. I hired four dancer- singers.
And there's a lot less chatter. Putting on a show is not just about having a rapport with the audience. Talking a lot can take up time. We just felt that the show should be straight ahead, just a lot of performing. If you go to Vegas to see a revue, you see there isn't a whole lot of chatter. It's all about seeing the show. And so far, I'm liking it. I'm liking it a lot.
Sun: What are your plans for the show?
FV: To do a summer tour. But if I do this, I don't want to do it on the ripping schedule that I've worked most of my life -- one-nighters where you're traveling on buses all night to get to a show the next day, or get up early in the morning after a show because you have to travel 2,000 miles. Even if it's by plane, I don't want to work that way.
Sun: How did you manage to keep from burning out sooner than you did a year and a half ago?
FV: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin did it much longer than I did. There's just something really wonderful about performing. I guess to some degree there's some sort of Gypsy in my soul. I do like being in different places, I just don't like getting on a plane and getting there, carrying bags across the county.
Sun: How has show business changed since you started?
FV: Today, if you get two hits you can make $50,000 a night. Everything is totally out of proportion. I like working in a more intimate setting. Stadiums are good now and again, but I like the intimacy of the nightclub. But the nightclub has almost totally disappeared. Even Vegas leaves so much to be desired. As large as some of those hotels are, (most) don't have an intimate 700-seat room to do radio acts of various forms, featuring recording artists.
Sun: Where is you summer tour going to take you?
FV: We're still negotiating.
Sun: What will the touring show be like?
FV: We will probably have four acts on the tour. I would like to start working that way again. It's something I really miss. What has happened, all these artists want to go out and grab all the money. I think it's about time people really got their money's worth.
Sun: Is this tour going to be a test of your degree of burnout? If you don't have a good feeling when it's over, are you going to retire?
FV: If I really like it, I'll plan on doing it again next summer. But I'm also doing some work for the Public Broadcast System. I co-hosted a show recently and I will do another after I finish the performance in Vegas. The PBS show is about recording artists from the '50s, '60s and '70s. These shows have been making more money for PBS than any other programming. So, I will be co-hosting a show with Frankie Avalon, Jerry Butler and Connie Francis.
Sun: But are you going to retire from touring if this new show doesn't work?
FV: If it gets to be too hectic and I'm not enjoying it ... I don't know, I may just pull the plug. I am playing around with other things. I'm recording a lot of standards, I have a studio here in my house. I'm doing a lot of music that I always wanted to do.
Also, we sold the rights to The Four Season's story (to a producer) for a Broadway show. That's in the works.
Sun: Why not make a film?
FV: I weighed this very carefully. I've been offered a movie-of-the-week deal, or a miniseries. But I looked at it carefully. The films are kind of one-shot things. If we can have a successful play that can run for six or seven years, we can send production companies out on the road. There's more longevity. In the end, that would probably be a wiser move. And we could always, later on, do a film based on the story.
Sun: Are you involved with any of the original members of The Four Seasons?
FV: Gaudio and I are still partners, after all these years. He mainly is writing and producing. He has a couple of plays in the works. He's writing music for a play based on the movie "Peggy Sue Got Married."
Sun: Which of your songs do you like the best?
FV: That's a hard question to answer. There's nothing that I've recorded that I would say I wish I didn't record. Songs like "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and "Silence is Golden" are among my favorites.
Sun: To what do you attribute your success?
FV: The fact that, with the biggest successes, we weren't trying to make music like anybody else. We were trying to make a sound that, when people turned the radio on, they would know that it was us. We were fortunate. It takes a lot of things. We had great, talented writers. We loved singing harmony.
Sun: Can you still hit the high notes, as you did in "Sherry?"
FV: I hit it pretty good. I may be a note or two off from where I was, but I don't seem to be having a whole lot of trouble. If you go to Vegas to see a revue, you see there isn't a whole lot of chatter. It's all about seeing the show. And so far, I'm liking it. I'm liking it a lot."