Valli performing live in 2012
|Birth name||Francesco Stephen Castelluccio|
|Also known as||Frankie Valley|
May 3, 1934 |
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
I always believed a singer should be able to sing any kind of song. If I wanted to sing a Cole Porter song, I should be able to do that. Or 'Sherry,' I should be able to do that. Or a Dylan song.
The '60s was a magical time in the music business. So much creativity and talent. I think a lot of it came from the fact that we had grown up before rock n' roll. We listened to all the great songwriters and big bands, songs with great lyrics and melodies. I think that really influenced everybody.
Where I grew up, in New Jersey, there was a lot of organised crime activity. It was a part of life.
With 'Sherry,' we were looking for a sound. We wanted to make the kind of mark that, if the radio was playing one of our songs, you knew who it was immediately. But I didn't want to sing like that my whole life.
I thought everybody had falsetto. And since I wasn't a schooled singer who studied with anybody, I just thought anybody who had a voice could do anything they wanted with their voice.
People don't get married to get divorced. Maybe people weren't meant to be together forever.
There were a lot of R&B groups that were my heroes, but the funny thing about my career and the way it went and where it went, at first I didn't really want to do pop music. I was a little bit more into jazz and R&B.
When somebody is making a movie about your life, that's different. A show is a live performance. Things are going to go wrong. You are going to get away with things. A movie is indelible. A movie is through a microscope.
I don't play golf or tennis, I don't ski, I don't snowboard. If you love what you do, you never get enough of it.
I'm not doing contemporary songs unless something comes along that really knocks my socks off.
If I close my eyes, I can remember the first apartment where I lived with my family in Newark, N.J., in the late 1930s. The rooms were lined up like train cars – you had to go through one to get to another – and there wasn't any heat or hot water.
The very first time I ever heard anything of mine on the radio, I was in New Jersey, and I was in my teens. I did my first record, which was an old standard called 'My Mother's Eyes.' It was the old Georgie Jessel theme. I heard it on local radio out of Newark. And it was very exciting!
One day, when I was still living at home, a friend told 'Texas' Jean Valli about me. She was originally from Syracuse, N.Y., and lived in New Jersey but sang country. One night, she had me come up on stage where she was performing. I sang 'My Mother's Eyes,' and she was knocked out.
I cherish the memory of being a friend of Frank Sinatra on a friendship level to the point where we really hung out. We worked in Vegas, we'd talk on the phone, and if I wasn't doing anything, I'd fly out, and I spent time in Palm Springs at his house – on a level the way friends would be, not with a whole crowd of people.
I learned by listening to other people sing and doing impressions of them. And there are things no one can ever teach you, like phrasing. By listening to Sinatra, for instance – you felt that everything he sang had happened in his life.
I do belong to Jersey. There's no doubt about that in my mind. They have been so loyal and so good to me; how could I possibly belong any place else?
I grew up beyond proud – we didn't have much, but we had a lot of love.
When I was a kid, I used to listen to my Emerson radio late at night under the covers. I started by listening to jazz in the late 1940s and then vocal harmony groups like the Four Freshmen, the Modernaires and the Hi-Lo's. I loved Stan Kenton's big band – with those dark chords and musicians who could swing cool with individual sounds.
It's always very special for me to work Chicago. Both of the record companies I was with, early on, were based in Chicago. The music was always huge there.
I have to believe that most people know that 'Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You' is my song. But the reaction we get from the audience at 'Jersey Boys' is that they didn't remember how many hits we had. A lot of 'Oh yeah, I forgot they did that song.' We had 20 Top 10 hits in the U.S… people forget.
Starting in my teens, I was always standing on the corner near our apartment singing harmony with friends. We'd also go to the park and sing under the bridge near the lake for the echo. When it was cold out, we'd stand in the little heated lobby in the project's administration building, where my mom paid the rent each month.
Becoming successful is a relentless pursuit. It's good that it's that way: When it does come, you learn to know how to appreciate it, and know how lucky you are to be doing something that you love so much.
You can take the guy out of the neighorhood but you can't take the neighborhood out of the guy.
In 1967, I found out I was losing my hearing. I went 10 years without any help. I had otosclerosis – hardening of the bone in the middle of the ear.
It was very important to establish a sound, so that people heard a record on the radio and knew immediately that it was you.
'Jersey Boys' has been the most amazing experience ever and has exposed an entire new audience to the music. It's great to see people of all ages coming to the show.
At school, I'd sing in groups in the locker room or in the bathroom, which was like an echo chamber. The problem is I didn't know how to get started singing professionally. The pool hall was my Facebook. I'd hang out there to keep up with what was going on and to let people know where I could be reached if singing jobs came up.
I went to school to learn to be a hairdresser. I worked at a wholesale florist, where I delivered to florists all over New Jersey. I'd come home and go out to work down at the Shore. The early jobs, I remember, were $5, $6 a night. And I lived in the projects right until the time I became successful.
When we were trying to get 'Jersey Boys' off the ground, I'd get, 'The Four Seasons? Who's going to care? There's the Beatles, there's the Rolling Stones.' But people know those stories. Here was a story no one knew.
Establishing a style is important, it really is, but a lot of singers get so involved with their instrument, and more so than they do in what they're singing. I think you really have to think about what you're singing. You have to make the public believe what you're singing. And in order to do that, you have to believe it.
I'd seen so many people become stagnant in New Jersey – I had this fear I'd just stay there. They'd come out of high school, get a job, get married, have kids and die in Jersey. I wanted more.
I spent many a summer early morning with the radio very low, half sleeping and half listening.
I think Lady Gaga is talented. Madonna is talented, and the flair that Michael Jackson had. He was talented! Whatever it is that they do, they must be doing something right. They do have an audience out there, so I respect that.