The seasoned performers in the Hit Men play their collective résumés.
So said musician and Jersey boy Lee Shapiro, the former Four Seasons keyboardist who invited another former member of the group, drummer and singer Gerry Polci, as well as three of their New Jersey-New York City peers to be the Hit Men.
Shapiro and Polci belonged to the 1970s-era Four Seasons, joining the group’s falsetto-singing front man, Frankie Valli, in 1973. The Four Seasons, having been one of the 1960s’ most successful vocal groups, had experienced a precipitous drop in popularity late in the ’60s.
“When I joined Frankie, there were no records,” Shapiro said during a telephone interview. “The Four Seasons was seen as a has-been band. But then when we went and played at Arie Crown Theater in Chicago, there were 3,000 people there.
“We were an oldies group with new young guys. We sold the place out. The place went bananas. So I knew then that these songs were the new standards. Just like Frank Sinatra and the big band songs, the Four Seasons’ catalog and the Beach Boys’ and the Rascals’ catalogs, those are my generation’s standards.”
In addition to Shapiro and Polci, Valli’s new Four Seasons featured bassist-singer Don Ciccone and guitarist John Paiva. The group as well as Valli as a solo act were on the verge of a big comeback.
The Four Seasons released two major hits in 1975, “Who Loves You” and a song featuring Polci as principal vocalist, “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night).” The solo Valli released hits as well, including “My Eyes Adored You” and “Our Day Will Come.”
Of course, the Hit Men feature “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” the only song in the Four Seasons catalog that doesn’t feature Valli as lead vocalist, in their show.
“And it sounds just like the record because it is the record,” Shapiro said.
Valli also taught his new Four Seasons how to sing the group’s classic ’60s hits.
“Frankie showed us all the parts and we sang them as authentically as we could,” Shapiro said. “We toured the world doing those songs, too.”
Along with the music of the Four Seasons, Hit Men shows feature songs by the various other acts with whom the band’s members worked. Jimmy Ryan’s credits include Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, Elton John and Paul McCartney. Larry Gates co-wrote songs with Desmond Child and recorded with Janis Ian and Rick Derringer. Russ Velazquez’s résumé contains Sting, Carole King, the Ramones, Luther Vandross and Sesame Street.
Generally, Hit Men members who helped create a particular song or worked with the artist associated with that song take the lead for it when the group performs it in concert.
Two years ago, Shapiro, noting the popularity of Broadway’s Jersey Boys, a musical based on the story of the Four Seasons, got the idea for the Hit Men.
“Since Jersey Boys opened, people had been asking, ‘Why don’t you guys get back together?’ ” he said. “We were involved in other musical endeavors, but finally I called Polci and said, ‘If we’re ever gonna do this, now is the time.’ ”
Shapiro suggested they do a rehearsal as a trial run.
“We did ‘Oh, What a Night,’ which Gerry originally sang lead on and we played instruments for and I arranged,” he said. “Then we just looked at each other in silence. It sounded really good.”
Shapiro and Polci called Valli, their former boss, to get his blessing.
“Frankie said, ‘Go do it. Go enjoy yourself.’ ”
Still living in New Jersey, Shapiro has yet to see Jersey Boys, the musical.
“I haven’t seen the Jersey Boys show because I’m in the Jersey boys show. And here we are doing it again. When I look across the stage and see Polci, the guy who I shared my biggest success in my life with 35 and 40 years ago, that makes it special.”
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