Songwriter Interviews

Bob Gaudio of The Four Seasons

by Dan MacIntosh

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Frankie Valli may be the most famous New Jersey-ite in Jersey Boys, but Bob Gaudio, the original keyboard player and tenor voice in The Four Seasons, wrote most of those hit songs and played a big role in helping create these Broadway – and now big screen – legends.

Gaudio's Four Seasons writing credits include "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "Sherry" and – for Valli, the solo artist – "Can't Take My Eyes Off You."

While best known for his Four Seasons writing and producing credits, Gaudio has a number of other significant creative ventures on his resume. For instance, he wrote and produced Frank Sinatra's 1969 album Watertown and produced the duet ballad "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," which paired Neil Diamond with Barbra Streisand. His production credits include some of the biggest names in music history, including Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Barry Manilow.

This particular Jersey boy, who began his career by co-writing the Royal Teens hit "Short Shorts," has attained success in nearly every venue where music is found.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): I wanted to start by talking about Jersey Boys. I know that you had something to do with making it into a musical and ultimately now it's a movie. And I'm curious, what about the story of the Four Seasons made it seem like such a compelling idea for a musical and ultimately a movie?

Bob Gaudio: Well, the original inspiration came from seeing a movie called The Deer Hunter. There's a moment in The Deer Hunter in the pool hall where they're all around the table. It's the early years, and Chris Walken and De Niro are singing "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." A major inspiration for me was seeing that and realizing that the music attached with video is extremely powerful.

It stayed with me. So that was the spark way, way, way back then that made me think something could happen visually. And the first thing that crossed my mind was a Broadway show, only because I'm an East Coast guy who grew up on Broadway.

So years and years later the opportunity started to develop, and instead of doing what we had many offers to do - Frankie called me once a week with another Movie of the Week offer - we talked about it and said, Why don't we take a big shot. It took a while, took about six, seven years developing and finding the right people to get on board. And finally it happened.

Songfacts: As a songwriter, did you have dreams of having your songs on Broadway long before Jersey Boys came to fruition?

Gaudio: No. Listen, everybody from the East Coast loves Broadway. You just grow up in that environment, so every kid gets to see a Broadway show at some point. Parents save up and off they go for the holidays or something. But I wasn't a Broadway baby, so to speak. I didn't grow up thinking, Oh, boy, if I ever wrote a Broadway show...

I came from a classical jazz background when I was a kid and crossed over with something as simple as "Who Wears Short Shorts." And once that ball started to roll, I never looked back. So I didn't think much about Broadway and doing anything in the theatre. But I saw Deer Hunter, and then after that the first crack was Smokey Joe's Cafe, and I thought, Hmm, Lieber and Stoller, I know them. They write great songs. And we have a few. So one thing led to another and it started to grow.

Songfacts: Are there challenges when it comes to writing songs for the Four Seasons, especially when you have a unique vocalist like Frankie Valli?

Gaudio: Challenges, good challenges. Knowing that Frankie had... I don't want to say unlimited vocal range, but unlimited capacity to sing pretty much anything and sing it effectively and sing it from the heart. So having that kind of a door - a huge door to go through - was challenging in the respect of, How far do I go? How far can I take this one?

"Can't Take My Eyes Off You" was challenging. It dared to do something that was legit as a third rock, a third pop, a third MOR [Middle Of the Road]. It was a challenge: Does this work and how does this all come together and gel?

But it's good challenge, because you have a talent like Frankie. Unique. One of the most unusual voices in the record business.

Songfacts: Let's talk about some specific songs, if we may. Whenever I hear the song "Who Loves You," I always think about Telly Savalas. Is there any relationship between his catchphrase and that song?

Gaudio: No. Listen, I would never tell a lie. Everything that goes in my brain, in my ear, gets processed. Did I hear that phrase? Sure. There's all kinds of inspiration. Did I specifically sit down and say, I'm going to write a song, "Who Loves You," because of Telly Savalas? No.

I think John Lennon once said good songwriters don't borrow, they steal. And if he didn't say it, I said it. I'll take it.

We're all inspired, and anytime you wake up in the morning and go outside you find an inspiration. So you just have to steal it.

Songfacts: Do you remember when you wrote that song? Is that a vivid memory for you?

Gaudio: Yeah. It was just after we left Motown. I was signed to Motown for two, three years. It didn't work out and Berry Gordy graciously said, Okay, I get it, it's time to part ways. And the first thing that I worked on with Judy Parker, who became my wife, was the Who Loves You album for Mike Curb and Warner/Curb. So I remember it well, because we were with Motown and not getting things done. And as soon as we left, "Who Loves You" came along, and off we go.

Songfacts: "Walk Like A Man," is there a story behind where the title to that one came from?

Gaudio: You know, I don't remember anything vividly specific. I do remember both Bob Crewe and I, after doing some woodshedding about what's next after "Big Girls Don't Cry" and all this other stuff, we made a conscious effort to toughen the sound of the record a little.

If you listen to "Big Girls" and "Walk Like A Man," there's a lot of the same ingredients - falsetto and stuff like that. But I think you might notice that Frankie's the lead vocal. The full-voice stuff was a little tougher, a little edgier. It came from a different side of the street. So that's what came out: "Walk Like A Man."

Songfacts: That's interesting. So some of the songs that you wrote were ones that changed Frankie's image a little bit.

Quinn VanAntwerp (third from left) plays Bob in the Broadway Jersey Boys.
Gaudio: Well, yes. It wasn't purposely done. It was the same difference for me in my mind. When we thought about doing Jersey Boys, Mama Mia! was a raging success. So was Smokey Joe's. We thought, What are we going to do with our catalogue that is different than what preceded us? And that's where the bio came in.

So it was, What can we do differently? And "Walk Like A Man" was an attempt at doing something a little tougher and a little different than what preceded it - "Big Girls Don't Cry," in particular. I guess if you were a musicologist and analyzed it, you'd say, How dare they do this falsetto thing and lyric like "Walk Like A Man"? What's this all about? [Laughs]

I have seen some comments over the years about stuff like that. Tommy [DeVito] says that in the show: "'Walk Like A Man' with this voice?"

So, yeah, there were some things that we had to think twice about. But when the smoke cleared, it was just a good record. And the good records, they're hard to bury. So it worked out fine.

Songfacts: I want to talk about a song that wasn't such a big hit in the US, but was a favorite in the northern soul circuit.

Gaudio: I bet I know which one.

Songfacts: "The Night."

Gaudio: Oh, "The Night." Okay.

Songfacts: I was talking to Martyn Ware of Heaven 17, and he talked about how much he loved that song because it has this upbeat Motown beat and yet the lyrics are not happy.

Gaudio: Pretty dark.

Songfacts: Were you consciously writing a song that had two emotions going at the same time that were kind of contradictory?

Gaudio: Well, that was kind of standard. The rhythm tracks were very strong and the lyrics were, "Sherry Baby," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Dawn, Go Away" - happy music with dark lyrics. It wasn't "Gloomy Sunday," but down lyrics. That's kind of where I come from, and I can't explain why. I've done it time and time again. You could look at "Who Loves You" and say the same thing. "Who Loves You" is a dark lyric with a positive outcome: There's someone here for you, I'll take care of you.

"The Night," maybe a little darker, but sort of the same place.

Songfacts: So what song were you thinking of when I was starting to phrase this question? did you have another song in mind?

Gaudio: Oh, yeah. "You're Ready Now" is what I was thinking. That was a North Country success. That's way back, early '60s. In fact, on that record, I don't know if you've ever heard it, but The Angels, who did "My Boyfriend's Back," sang background. It was pretty much a Frankie Valli solo.

But we've had some North Country hits, including "The Night" and "You're Ready Now." We tapped into something that is a tougher world of music and lyrics. A darker side. They don't necessarily make their way to the top of the heap, but they've had a very strong following in certain parts of the UK.

Songfacts: The song "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." I don't want to get you in trouble with your relationships, but did that come from any particular woman that you were looking at?

Gaudio: No. It's kind of an amalgam of people and circumstances. Some women, but not one specific, and certain situations that people I've known have found themselves in. You know, I'm pretty observant. I absorb a lot of stuff, and it comes out at some point. Sometimes six minutes later, sometimes six years later.

"Can't Take My Eyes Off You," that's Bob Crewe's title. He threw that at me and off we went. That was the way we worked: He'd have a list of 20 song titles and if it turned me on, I'd move forward with it, and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" is one of them.

Songfacts: So if somebody throws a song title at you, you can create a song out of that simply with the inspiration of the title?

Gaudio: Well, yeah. And actually I prefer to work that way. Yeah, sure. I would think that if I were a lyricist per se, and that's all I did, and somebody gave me a chorus, a melody... boy, I'd be all over that.

I do both, but primarily I'm a composer. So conversely, give me a great lyric and let me write.

Songfacts: I've been listening to this album of various artists covering your songs.

Gaudio: Audio with a G.

Songfacts: Yes. And I have to be careful here. I mean, Cher is not the ultimate vocalist in my book of great singers, but her version of "Sun Ain't Gonna Shine" is wonderful.

Gaudio: It's very powerful. When I heard that I was pretty uplifted. That's a downer song, too.

Yeah, she did a fabulous job. She's a great singer. We can define great singers all day long, but there's something about Cher that reaches the heart. She reaches the pit of your stomach. So when she did "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine," I was thrilled.

Songfacts: Do you recall writing that song and what were the circumstances behind creating it?

Gaudio: Wow. I remember it was a rainy day and Bob Crewe and I were in his office, which was in the Atlantic Records building in the Lincoln Center area of New York, and it started to come together. It was a gloomy day and we were both a little depressed. And out it came.

Frankie did the first version of it. He did the original version of "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine."

Songfacts: But a lot of people have covered that. The Walker Brothers, they had a hit with that.

Gaudio: They had the big hit. The Walker Brothers version was #1 in the UK for months. So I'd say they had the consummate version of "Sun Ain't Gonna Shine," yeah.

In America, Frankie Valli's original version of "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)" bubbled under at #128 in 1965. The following year, The Walker Brothers (a trio from Los Angeles who each assumed the same last name, years before the Ramones did it) took it to #13. Two other covers charted: a psychedelic rock version by Fuzzy Bunnies (#115, 1968) and a rendition by Nielsen/Pearson that is going for a Righteous Brothers sound (#56, 1981).
Songfacts: What's the most unusual cover of one of your songs that you've heard?

Gaudio: It's funny you just went there, because you mentioned the song that I would cite. Well, there's two more. Probably the most unusual I would say would be Lene Lovich, you know who she is?

Songfacts: Yeah. She's on that album.

Gaudio: Well, she did "The Night." And if you can find it, you will understand why I said that. I really like it, but she took dark to another place.

And the other one would be Lauryn Hill with "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." I love the record, it's one of my favorite versions. But when I first heard it I thought she had the audacity to do this song without the horns. How dare she? [Laughing]

Songfacts: That's such a big part of the song, right?

Gaudio: I thought it was when I first wrote it. That was my big assignment: take the verse, which was soft and sweet and melodic, and then kick into the drums of the chorus. How do I bridge that gap? And the horns was the filler. I thought building with the horns to get to the chorus was the setup. And she comes along and doesn't use the horns. But it still worked. So it was quite an interesting lesson for me.

Songfacts: Have you ever had a chance to talk to her about her version of the song?

Gaudio: Uh uh. No.

Songfacts: As far as the song "Dawn (Go Away)," is there a real Dawn?

Gaudio: I wrote that with Sandy Linzer in one of my ventures. By the way, there's always a Dawn. Every day there's a dawn.

It wasn't a specific girl, it goes back to the same story. It just worked, it felt good. Sandy came up with a great lyric, and off I went again.

"December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" was a transatlantic #1 in 1976. In 1993 it was remixed by the Dutch producer Ben Liebrand, who put a dance beat to it. When this remix caught on in 1994, young folks found themselves dancing to the same song their parents got groovy to in the disco era. Remarkably, the remix was a hit not just in the clubs, but also on the radio - it made #14 on the Hot 100.
Songfacts: There's a remix of "December 1963," which really updates that song, at least sonically. Be honest with me, what did you think of that when you first heard it?

Gaudio: Well, I had to authorize that version. It was a Dutch DJ, I think that was called the Holland remix. Anyone that did something to the original master would have to get authorization, because we own our own masters. So I remember hearing that, and I loved it. I loved it right out of the box.

I remember calling my attorney. I said, "Let it go." And fortunately it worked. It was a pretty big international record. I think it may have gotten pretty big here, Top 20 or something. It was on Curb Records here, too. Ran for quite a while and actually turned it into being one of the longest-running singles of all time, over a year between the two different versions on the Billboard chart. So I was really happy with it.

It was pretty much the original, but the remix updated it, refreshed it, polished it up. It sounded great in the clubs.

Songfacts: Have there been instances where you said no to these requests?

Gaudio: Yes. There have been a number of times where somebody will want to take the piano lick to "Oh, What A Night" and write another song over it. So I've got a lot of no's. I've spent a good part of my life saying no.

Songfacts: I went to the BET Experience, which is this big festival they put on at Staples Center, and they had what were called Genius Talks. One of the people they had was Bill Withers, who's one of my favorite songwriters. He explained that he won't let anyone use his songs if they're going to include profanity.

Gaudio: Well, fortunately, the creators still have a certain amount of control over that. Not all the time, and there's lots of issues where we have to catch up with what's already been done, but for the most part I think we've all been pretty successful in keeping things pretty straight. And that's a good thing, because things could get really nuts.

I'm always turning down usage in films if it's something pornographic or if the language is extraordinary and so on and so forth. I'm pretty liberal in that respect, but we try and keep a tight rein on it as best as possible.

Songfacts: I want to talk about your role as producer. You produced the Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand version of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," is that right?

Gaudio: Yes, I did.

Songfacts: I would love to be a fly on the wall for that. Do you have any stories that you recall from that session?

Gaudio: As one might expect, putting two superstars together in a room like that and hoping you walk out with something was a lot of apprehension. I prepared as best as I possibly could, had a full orchestra sitting in a lobby with an arrangement - just in case. And fortunately they sang the song in the same key. So that went smoothly.

At some point, it was, "Hey, let's just do this simple. Let's just do two great singers, a great piano player [Tom Hensley]. We know the song, let's let the machine run and I'll fix and edit whatever I need to do later, but just go. Do it for a couple of hours." And that's what we did.

After I put together the performances, I put strings and horns in the orchestra and Alan Lindgren and Neil conducted, did a wonderful job, and we mixed it. We got it out as fast as we could. It certainly goes down in my all-time moments.

Songfacts: How did your production approach differ when you were producing the Four Seasons?

Gaudio: If I had written "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" I might have approached it a little differently, but when you're wearing a producer's hat, you have to respect the songwriter and the artist, so it's a little different. And Neil being the songwriter with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, I took a little bit more of a distant approach, more of an overview: I'm not here to write a song, I'm here to make a record and add production value.

For me it oddly enough was less pressure, because when you write the song and you're singing or your partner's singing the song and it's all in your lap, it's a little more pressure. Although being in a studio with Neil and Barbra has its own pressures.

It's not a whole lot different in the final outcome, but a slightly different approach. I think I over-prepared for the moment - having an orchestra sitting in the lobby was a bit over the top. But you never know.

Songfacts: How comfortable did you get producing the Four Seasons? Did it get to the point where you reached a comfort zone that helped you to get your best efforts?

Gaudio: Well, there's always a comfort zone. Bob Crewe produced the early records, and then I started producing a lot of the stuff midway - the Who Loves You album and "Oh, What A Night" and all that stuff.

Your comfort zone is: It's your money. So if you mess up, it's your money from your record company. You don't have quite as much of a responsibility in that respect. So I didn't find myself watching the clock. I'm sure Bob Crewe didn't. So it's a little bit different in that respect. It's your thing. And when you're producing someone else and it's their budget and their money, you have a little more respect for the process, because you're minding somebody else's store.

Songfacts: We talked about some of the big hits, but when you think about the songs that you wrote for the Four Seasons, are there songs that maybe didn't become hits that you're particularly proud of and in a perfect world would have been hits?

Gaudio: Well, I'm one of those guys that believes if it was a hit, it would have been a hit. So I don't cry over spilled milk. Do I have some projects I've been involved with that I like or I love and didn't really care if they were hits or not hits? I mean, when they're hits, it's just icing on the cake. But you don't go into a project with the assumption that you're making hit records. You go in, you make great records as best you can.

The one album that I would say falls a little bit in this category of disappointment was the Gazette album, The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. I didn't go into that thinking there's lots of hits in this. I just thought we made a good album and it was different for us.

The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette was a 1968 Four Seasons album that took them in a different direction. Gaudio wrote the songs with Jake Holmes and gave them a contemporary sound in line with what The Beatles and The Beach Boys were doing. Listeners seemed to expect a certain (radio-friendly) sound from the Four Seasons, however, and the album wasn't well-received. Gazette has since found a following; if you're mining for a hidden gem, check it out.
Getting accepted commercially with something you do gives you the chance to do it again, so when your heart's in it and you feel like you've really done something great for yourself and whomever you're working with, that's a disappointment, because you know you're not going to get a chance to do this again, not unless you want to finance it totally. And that's okay - sometimes you do that.

Songfacts: We started towards the beginning talking about Broadway musicals. Have you written or had ideas for any new Broadway musicals?

Gaudio: New music? Well, I did one that preceded Jersey Boys with Des McAnuff, who later came to produce and direct Jersey Boys. Peggy Sue Got Married, I did original music for the Broadway show based on the motion picture, and that played in London. So I put my feet in there and I started to fall in love with the theater. So all of that helped - knowing what the process was for theater was very helpful when Jersey Boys came into the light.

So it was a good education for me and it was very, very helpful to know how to deal with theatre and theatre people, the whole process once we got rolling with Jersey Boys.

Songfacts: Is it something that you intend on doing more of in the future?

Gaudio: Yeah. Very possibly. I've just been so involved with Jersey Boys, I hate to use this term, but the franchise, which is what it's become. It's been difficult for me to jump from business to creating. You can be a creative businessman, but to sit down and lock yourself in a room and write a song is yet another story.

When Aerosmith was writing songs for their 1987 Permanent Vacation album, Steven Tyler had one called "Rag Time," which was about New Orleans ragtime music. Their record man John Kalodner thought the title and lyrics were archaic, so he called in the songwriter Holly Knight to help them come up with something different. Knight suggested "Rag Doll," the same title as the 1964 Four Seasons hit, and that's what stuck.
Songfacts: This might seem like an off-the-wall question, but the group Aerosmith also had a song called "Rag Doll." Have you heard that?

Gaudio: I didn't know that.

Songfacts: I was going to ask you what you thought about that.

Gaudio: I should know that, right? Was that before us or after us?

Songfacts: After you. But it's a totally different song. It's not the story song.

Gaudio: No, I haven't heard it. But I do know this much: unless rules have changed, you can't copyright a title. If somebody wants to write a song called "I've Got You Under My Skin," which is an all-time classic, or "Stardust," or what have you, it's going to happen. And I don't think anybody can do much about it unless they steal or borrow too many words.

For instance, I do remember in the deep, dark past a lawsuit that we got involved with I think with Grand Funk Railroad, who did a song called "Walk Like A Man," which didn't bother anybody for the reasons I just stated, but what they wound up doing wasn't just "Walk like a man," it was "Walk like a man, talk like a man." Well, then that becomes the Four Seasons version as opposed to just the title.

So we won that lawsuit. I had nothing to do with it. It was the co-publishers that brought the suit. But it's a touchy thing. I don't think anybody really knows what's going to come out when you go into a lawsuit about copyright infringement. It just depends on what the weather is.

Songfacts: I want to wind things up by talking about another Frank, and that's Frank Sinatra.

Gaudio: Man. [Laughing] I did a whole album with Frank called Watertown.

Songfacts: Did you write all those?

Gaudio: Those were all new songs I wrote with Jake Holmes and I produced the album. But having said that, I don't think Frank ever recorded one of my songs apart from that album. [Laugh] I don't think he did "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." I know he didn't do "Sherry." So I don't know. I suppose he might have done "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" in a live show somewhere. But I don't know that it was ever on an album.

Songfacts: I'm going to have to search that on the Internet.

Gaudio: If you find it, get me one.

Songfacts: Tell me about the experience of working with Frank. What do you remember most from that experience?

Gaudio: Well, I was 26 at the time, maybe 27. I hung out with him a lot in Vegas at Caesar's Palace. But what I remember most about it is the conversation. Frankie Valli put that together, because he and Frank were pals. Two Franks - they both had the Jersey thing and they hung out.

Anyway, I became involved, and he said, "Write me some stuff. Let's do something." I said, "Okay." So I took it super-serious and wrote a whole album. Jake and I were pretty excited about it. It was a one-man show, so to speak, supposed to be a television special.

Cutting to the quick, I remember getting a call from Sarge Weiss, who was Frank's music publisher at the time, pretty much handled all his music affairs. I had sent a demo out - we did a demo on the songs and everything. It was a concept album. Weiss said, "Well, guess what? Frank wants to do every one of them." I said, "Oh? Well, why wouldn't he do every one of them?" Because in my mind we wrote a concept album. It wasn't pick a song, it was, This is a concept album. You may not like it, but that's what it is.

But I think back on that now and about the audacity of thinking that way, and how if he'd picked one song I would have been thrilled to death. But he did the whole album. It's certainly in the "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" place: two magical times in my life and my career.

Songfacts: With all the success you've had you don't need validation for your talents. However, I would think that having Frank Sinatra sing your songs has got to rank up there with the ultimate validation. He wouldn't sing a song unless he believed in it.

Gaudio: Oh, yeah. That's something that helps me go to sleep at night. [Laughing] Yes, validation is the primary word there. It does do something to a creative person that I suppose few creative people can say. It doesn't matter about the successes. But when certain artists that you have high, high regard for do you the honor of singing one of your songs, it just doesn't get any better.

Songfacts: My impression of Frank Sinatra, and maybe it's just some of the comedic skits I've seen, he's in charge and everybody answers to him. How true is that at least with your experience of working with him?

Gaudio: Very true. What you hear is pretty much what he was. He was the man. With the possible exception from my view of one person, and that was Dean Martin. Dean Martin and the Rat Pack, Dean was his own man, also. Maybe because of the New Jersey thing, I don't know. But he was one of those guys that if Frank called, he would be there 70 percent of the time. Everyone else, they'd be there 100 percent of the time. Sinatra, you just don't say no. He wants you to be at a birthday party and he's sending a plane, you get in a car and you go get on the plane. He just had that kind of charisma. He just owned the world.

January 20, 2015. Also see our Frankie Valli interview.
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Comments: 2

  • Shirley from HomeI was very impressed with this, I didn't realize there was the kind of talent that there actually was with Frankie & four seasons, but I have become obsessed and I've poured over everything that has anything to do with it.. this was more "icing" for me!
  • Howard Levin from Levittown PaAmazing! "The Deer Hunter" was the first film to come to mind in regard to "Jersey Boys." And what do those films have in common? Christopher Walken.
see more comments

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