Songwriter, singer, keyboard player, arranger, and producer Bob Gaudio
is most closely associated with the Four Seasons
, the group for which he was a performing member between 1962 and 1972, after which he largely retired from stage work while continuing to write and arrange their songs and to produce and perform on their records. Gaudio
also worked extensively as a songwriter and producer for other artists. He was born Robert Gaudio
on November 17, 1942, in the borough of the Bronx in New York City. His father worked in a paper factory, his mother at the book publishers Prentice Hall. Both parents encouraged the early musical talent he showed at the piano. A child prodigy, he studied with jazz pianist Sal Mosca
and gave a piano recital at Carnegie Hall at the age of seven. As he was entering high school, his family moved to Bergenfield, NJ, where he attended Bergenfield High School. There he formed a band, the Royal Teens
, in the spring of 1956. In 1957, they released the single "Short Shorts" (co-written by the group members Gaudio
, Tom Austin
, Bill Crandall
, and Billy Dalton
) on the local Power Records label. The recording was picked up by the much larger ABC-Paramount label and re-released in early 1958. It entered the Billboard Top 100 and peaked in the Top Five in February. ("Short Shorts" was later revived on a single and chart album by the Salsoul Orchestra
and was also recorded by Freddie & the Dreamers
.) Not yet 16 years old, Gaudio
quit high school to go on a national tour with the Royal Teens
in April 1958. The group released a second single, "Big Name Button," that flopped. Their third single, "Harvey's Got a Girl Friend" (written by Gaudio
, and Larry Qualiano
, who had replaced Crandall
in the group), peaked at number 78 in August 1958. Other unsuccessful singles followed until the Royal Teens
scored their final chart entry, "Believe Me" (written by Gaudio
, and Joseph Francavilla
(aka Joe Villa
), who had joined the group in late 1958), which peaked at number 26 in November 1959. ("Believe Me" was also recorded by the Diamonds
Seventeen-year-old Gaudio quit the Royal Teens in 1960 and took a job in a printing factory while looking for other opportunities in music. Having met singer Frankie Valli of the Four Lovers while touring with the Royal Teens, he was re-introduced to him by his friend Joe Pesci (later to achieve fame as an actor) and auditioned for a spot in the Four Lovers (who had been performing and recording under a variety of names since becoming one-hit wonders with "You're the Apple of My Eye" in 1956). The other members of the group were much older than Gaudio. Valli, born in 1934, turned 26 in 1960; guitarist Tommy DeVito, born in 1928, turned 32; and bass player Nick Massi, born in 1926, turned 34. (Later publicity claimed they were all much younger, of course.) Despite the age difference, they were impressed by Gaudio's writing and playing abilities, and he joined the group, which, in addition to playing dates mainly in New Jersey, was also recording demos and doing session work for songwriter/producer Bob Crewe. They adopted a new name, the Four Seasons (or, as they were usually billed on records during the '60s, the 4 Seasons), taken from a Union, NJ, bowling alley that had a lounge where they had auditioned.
The Four Seasons' debut single was a revival of the Bell Sisters hit "Bermuda" recorded in November 1961 and released before the end of the year by Gone Records. It flopped. Crewe, attending a Four Seasons show in New Jersey, was particularly impressed by Valli's multi-octave range, which included a powerful falsetto, and he suggested that Gaudio write a song taking advantage of that ability. The result was "Sherry," which the group recorded in the spring of 1962. Crewe sold the track to Vee Jay Records, which released it in July. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 on August 25 and hit number one for the first of five weeks on September 15, launching the Four Seasons' career. (In 1980, Robert John revived "Sherry" for a chart entry. It has also been recorded by Maurice Williams, among others.)
The Four Seasons' follow-up to "Sherry" was "Big Girls Don't Cry," written by Gaudio and Crewe, which was released in October. It hit number one on November 17. (It has since been recorded by the Weather Girls, among others.) The group's third regular single (following a holiday 45 and LP) was Gaudio and Crewe's "Walk Like a Man," released in January 1963, which gave them three number-one hits in a row on March 2. (Jan & Dean covered the song on a chart album, and it was revived for a chart entry by the Mary Jane Girls in 1986.) Gaudio and Crewe did not restrict their writing to the Four Seasons, but began to get recordings of their songs with other acts during this period. For example, Vee Jay labelmate Jerry Butler took their composition "Whatever You Want" into the pop charts in March. Next for the Four Seasons came "Ain't That a Shame!," a revival of the Fats Domino hit that broke the group's string of number ones; its B-side was the Gaudio/Crewe composition "Soon (I'll Be Home Again)," which gained enough radio support to earn a chart placing in the spring of 1963. Gaudio's "Marlena," on the B-side of the June 1963 single "Candy Girl" (written by Larry Santos), did even better, peaking in the Top 40 in August. As his writing partner, Crewe continued to involve Gaudio in writing for many other artists. Their song "Talk Is Cheap" was on the Shirelles' chart album Foolish Little Girl, released in June 1963.
As the Four Seasons became embroiled in a royalty dispute with Vee Jay, Gaudio may have been reluctant to have his songs recorded, and, in any case, the group did not cut any more tracks for the label after the summer of 1963. When they reconvened in the studio on November 20, 1963, to record their first single for their new label, Philips Records (distributed by Mercury), it was "Dawn (Go Away)," written by Gaudio and Sandy Linzer. The disc was released in January 1964 and restored the Four Seasons' commercial clout, lodging at number three, just behind the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You," in February. As if to confirm that he had been holding back his songs, Gaudio, who had not figured much on Four Seasons LPs as a writer up to this point (the discs tended to contain one or two hits, plus covers of old doo wop songs, as titles like Sherry & 11 Others attest), wrote or co-wrote two-thirds of the tracks on the group's February 1964 release Born to Wander. Among those songs was "Silence Is Golden" (co-written with Crewe), which was recorded by the Tremeloes for a Top 20 hit in 1967, after topping the charts in their native U.K. Gaudio and Crewe also co-wrote the next Four Seasons single, "Ronnie," released in March 1964, which peaked in the Top Ten in May, as well as "Rag Doll," released in June, which hit number one in July. (Kevin Rowland, Del Shannon, Steeleye Span, and the Tremeloes are among the artists who have covered the song.) Gaudio also continued to moonlight during this period, writing "Be My Girl" (aka "Please Be Mine") for another vocal group, the Four-Evers, released on Mercury subsidiary Smash Records in May 1964, which became a minor chart entry.
Gaudio wrote or co-wrote all 12 songs on the Rag Doll LP, released in July 1964, which rose into the Top Ten in August, including the next single, the Top Ten hit "Save It for Me" (co-written by Crewe). Gaudio alone wrote "Big Man in Town," released as a single in October; it peaked in the Top 20 in December. He collaborated again with Crewe on "Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby, Goodbye)," out in December, which peaked in the Top 20 in February 1965. (The Bay City Rollers revived the song for a number one U.K. hit in 1975.) The 4 Seasons Entertain You, released in March, combined standards with originals, including among the latter three new Gaudio songs, four if you counted "Toy Soldier," the concurrently released single, which subsequently was added to the LP. "Toy Soldier" (written with Crewe) was a disappointing seller, Gaudio's first A-side single for the Four Seasons to miss the Top 40 (perhaps the theme of wartime separation didn't help as the Vietnam War was heating up), but he and Crewe bounced back with the next single, "Girl Come Running," released in May, which got to number 30 in July. And the band recovered entirely with "Let's Hang On!," released in September, which reached the Top Five in December, although Gaudio was not involved in writing it. He did have writing credits, along with Crewe, on another single out of the Four Seasons camp in October. Frankie Valli's solo career was launched with the Gaudio/Crewe song "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)," and even though it missed the charts (perhaps because of a glut of product; the pseudonymous Four Seasons single "Don't Think Twice" by the Wonder Who? came out at the same time), the song proved to be a valuable copyright. The Walker Brothers recorded a version with the same arrangement that topped the British charts in March 1966, then reached the U.S. Top 20. It was revived for a chart entry by Nielsen/Pearson in 1981, and over the years it became a standard recorded numerous times by, among others, Long John Baldry, Cher, Clarence Clemons & the Red Bank Rockers, Neil Diamond, David Essex, Jay & the Americans, the Lettermen, and Jules Shear. Gaudio perhaps shouldn't be blamed for the failure of the next Four Seasons single, "Little Boy (In Grown Up Clothes)," even though he wrote it with Crewe, since it was a track fobbed off on Vee Jay Records as part of a legal settlement, and the soon-to-be-bankrupt label didn't have the resources to promote it upon its release in December 1965. Nevertheless, it managed six weeks in the charts.
Gaudio did not write the first Four Seasons single of 1966, the Top Ten hit "Working My Way Back to You." He did, however, have three new songs on the simultaneously released album of the same name. On two of them, he and Crewe indicated that they had been paying attention to the trend toward greater seriousness and social consciousness in pop song lyrics (in case that hadn't been apparent from their decision to cover an LP side's worth of Bob Dylan songs the previous fall). "Everybody Knows My Name," set to a folk-rock arrangement, disparaged fame and promoted family, while "Beggars Parade" was sort of an anti-protest protest song that dismissed those marching in the streets as "Bowery bums, bankers' sons," and asked them, "What's so special about you?" More characteristic of Gaudio and Crewe was the next Valli solo single, "You're Ready Now," released in April 1966. It was not a success initially, but it went on to become one of those obscure gems beloved of British music fans of the style they called Northern soul (that's the north of England, of course), such that it was re-released in the U.K. in 1970 and became a Top 20 hit. There were covers by the Bystanders and Slaughter & the Dogs.
Increasingly, it seemed, Gaudio and Crewe were using others to come up with songs for Four Seasons singles, while they focused on writing Valli's solo material. Their next song for him, "The Proud One," appeared in October 1966 and made the charts, although it was not a big success. Again, it was a song that gained greater recognition later, when it was revived by the Osmonds in 1975 for a Top 40 hit. Gaudio returned to writing for the Four Seasons with "Beggin'" (co-written with Piergiorgio Farina), which was released in February 1967 and peaked in the Top 20 in April. The single did not chart in the U.K., but in July 1968 Timebox revived it for a Top 40 hit there. Gaudio and Crewe finally hit the jackpot in their attempts to score a hit with Valli and establish him as a solo act when they released their next song for him, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." A mid-tempo romantic ballad with a jazzy brass finish, the single, released in April 1967, peaked at number two in July. (In Cash Box, it hit number one.) That was only the start, however, for a song that became a pop standard and must be Gaudio's most valuable copyright. Before the end of the year, it had been covered on chart albums by Vikki Carr, Percy Faith, Al Martino, Andy Williams, and the Lettermen. The Lettermen's version appeared on their album The Lettermen!!!...And Live! in a medley with the Little Anthony & the Imperials hit "Goin' Out of My Head." The medley was released as a single that peaked in the Top Ten in February 1968; that year, the song was covered on chart albums by Ed Ames, Eddy Arnold, Lana Cantrell, Ray Conniff, John Davidson, Lenny Dee, Brenda Lee and Pete Fountain, Engelbert Humperdinck,Midnight String Quartet, Mystic Moods, Jerry Vale, and Lawrence Welk. In 1969, chart albums by the Golddiggers, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, Bert Kaempfert, O.C. Smith, the Supremes and the Temptations, and Nancy Wilson contained their versions of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You"; Wilson's rendition became a chart single. The song was featured on chart albums by Brook Benton in 1970, Maureen McGovern in 1979, Pet Shop Boys (in a medley with U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name") in 1991, and a-ha's Morten Harket (on the Coneheads soundtrack) in 1993. Lauryn Hill's version was a hit in 1998. Others who recorded the song include Paul Anka, Shirley Bassey, Floyd Cramer, Vic Damone, Bobby Darin, Kiki Dee, Sheena Easton, the Easybeats, Frida (in Swedish), Gloria Gaynor, Isaac Hayes, Barry Manilow, Patti Page, and Keely Smith. (The Stylistics covered the Lettermen medley version.)
Gaudio had a few new songs on the Four Seasons album of May 1967, New Gold Hits (which, despite its title, was not a compilation), but his primary focus seems to have been on the next Valli solo single, which appeared in August. It was "I Make a Fool of Myself" (co-written with Crewe), and it peaked in the Top 20 in October. (It later enjoyed a cover by another Crewe client, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels.) Gaudio had a production credit on Nancy Sinatra's album Movin' with Nancy, released in December 1967. His and Crewe's next effort for Valli was "To Give (The Reason I Live)," released in December, which peaked in the Top 40 in February 1968. (It earned covers by Jim Nabors, Shirley Bassey, and Petula Clark.) Meanwhile, however, although the Four Seasons continued to hit the Top 40 with a combination of outside efforts like "Watch the Flowers Grow" and covers like their version of the Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," they were arguably being neglected by the creative team that made them stars. As competitors like the Beatles and the Beach Boys moved on to artistically ambitious album-length epics, the Four Seasons were content to go from single to single while Gaudio and Crewe tried to replicate the middle-of-the-road success of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" with Valli. To his credit, Gaudio seems to have recognized the problem during 1968, and he formed a songwriting partnership with singer/songwriter Jake Holmes in an attempt to deal with it. The first product of their efforts was "Saturday's Father," a Four Seasons single released in June 1968. The self-consciously arty arrangement and production constituted Gaudio and Crewe's response to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and "Good Vibrations." The lyrics were personal and treated a serious subject, though not one likely to engage either the group's established fan base or fans of psychedelic music: "Saturday's Father" was about a divorced dad's once-a-week visitation rights with his children. It no doubt struck a chord with the other members of the Four Seasons, two of whom were well over 30 (Nick Massi was over 40, but he'd been replaced in 1965 by Joe Long, who was 26). But it was hardly hit single material, and it missed the Billboard chart entirely, though, interestingly, it got halfway up the Cash Box Top 100.
Gaudio had two new songs on Valli's solo album Timeless, which was released in July 1968 and sold modestly, but he was spending most of his time collaborating with Holmes on the songs for the next Four Seasons album, intended to be their LP breakthrough. He also assumed the reins as producer ("Bob Crewe Presents a Bob Gaudio Production," the credit would read). The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette appeared in January 1969, including songs with titles like "American Crucifixion Resurrection," marking it as a departure for the Four Seasons, but it was one to which their fans did not respond. The album only reached the lower rungs of the Top 100, as did the single "Idaho"/"Something's on Her Mind" drawn from it. (Branching out from the group, Gaudio signed a deal with Columbia Records for his own custom label, Gazette Records, the first release of which was Lock, Stock & Barrel’s “Happy People.” But the association did not produce any hits and proved to be short lived.)
Gaudio's promotion to at least co-producer status turned out to be permanent; he shared the credit with Crewe on the next Valli solo single, the chart entry "The Girl I'll Never Know (Angels Never Fly This Low)," released in May, as well as the next Four Seasons single, "And That Reminds Me (My Heart Reminds Me)," another chart entry released in August. Meanwhile, he and Holmes had impressed at least one important listener even if the populace at large did not respond to The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. Frank Sinatra asked the two to write him an entire album, which Gaudio then produced, with sessions held during the summer and fall of 1969. The result was Watertown, released in March 1970. The original intention had been for Watertown to be a television special telling the story of the breakup of a marriage, but that aspect fell through. Still, the collection was another concept album for Gaudio and Holmes. Sinatra was not at the peak of his career, however, and the album only got halfway up the charts with a single, "I Would Be in Love (Anyway)," charting briefly. The track "For a While" was taken up by Nina Simone, who covered it. "Lady Day," left off the album, turned up on the 1971 LP Sinatra & Company.
Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, as the group began to be billed as of their April 1970 single "Patch of Blue," which just grazed the charts, were in a career trough as the '70s began, and the same was true for Valli as a solo act. By the end of the year, they had left Philips Records, and after a one-single sojourn with the U.K. branch of Warner Bros., landed on Motown Records' MoWest subsidiary in early 1972. By then, original member Tommy DeVito had left the band and been bought out, such that only Valli and Gaudio retained ownership of the group name. Gaudio decided at this point to retire from the live act, although he continued to serve as primary songwriter and producer. The Motown sojourn lasted two years and produced an album, Chameleon (May 1972), and half a dozen singles by the group and Valli solo, but little that sold or turned out to be memorable. The exception was "The Night," co-written by Gaudio and the band's new on-stage keyboard player Al Ruzicka, which appeared on Chameleon and was released as a single in the U.K. It was not successful initially, but upon re-release in Great Britain three years later during a Four Seasons comeback, it rose into the Top Ten and earned covers by Marv Johnson, Lene Lovich, and Soft Cell. While at Motown, Gaudio also served as an in-house producer on such albums as the original Broadway cast recording of Pippin, the Diana Ross album Last Time I Saw Him, and the Ross/Marvin Gaye duet album Diana & Marvin.
With the expiration of the Motown contract, Valli and Gaudio bought back one unreleased track from the label for future use, a Valli solo ballad called "My Eyes Adored You," written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan, and produced by Crewe. They sold it to the newly formed Private Stock Records, and it set off a major comeback for Valli and, soon after, the Four Seasons, rising to number one in March. Gaudio was involved as a producer on the subsequent Valli LP, Closeup, released that month. But he had a much bigger hand in reviving the fortunes of the Four Seasons, who were now being billed without Valli's name upfront anymore, and consisted of Valli, singer/drummer Gerry Polci, singer/bassist Don Ciccone, keyboardist Lee Shapiro, and guitarist John Paiva. Valli and Gaudio got the band signed to Mike Curb's Curb Records label, which had distribution deal with Warner Bros., and Gaudio wrote a disco-tinged song for them, "Who Loves You," with his girlfriend (and eventual wife) Judy Parker. He also produced the single, which was released in July 1975 and peaked in the Top Five in November. In October, he had a producer credit on Eric Carmen's gold-selling self-titled debut solo album. Gaudio and Parker wrote all the songs, and Gaudio handled production, for the first Four Seasons album in three-and-half years, Who Loves You, released that month. The album's second single was "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)," on which Polci, Ciccone, and Valli alternated vocals. Released in December 1975, it hit number one in March 1976. A third single, "Silver Star," took off in the U.K. in the spring of 1976, peaking in the Top Five, then crossed the Atlantic, where it reached the Top 40.
Gaudio had had less involvement with Valli's solo work, but he produced the next Valli single, "Fallen Angel," released in March 1976, which peaked in the Top 40 in May. As he had with Who Loves You, he co-wrote all the songs for the next Four Seasons album, Helicon, with Parker and produced the disc, also playing keyboards. It appeared in April 1977 and failed to reach the charts, although "Rhapsody" became a Top 40 hit in the U.K. and "Down the Hall" reached the U.S. singles chart. Notwithstanding the album's commercial failure, Valli went through with his plan to exit the group in the fall of 1977. Since it had no immediate recording plans, that left space in Gaudio's schedule, which he filled by writing and producing for Neil Diamond's multi-platinum November 1977 album I'm Glad You're Here with Me Tonight. Gaudio and Parker wrote the title song, and he wrote "Let the Little Boy Sing" with Crewe. The album also featured Diamond's composition with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," and after a disc jockey famously combined it with Barbra Streisand's contemporaneous cover, a decision was made to cut an actual duet recording. Gaudio produced that recording, which hit number one in December 1978. For Diamond's multi-platinum You Don't Bring Me Flowers album, which appeared in November, Gaudio served as an arranger/producer and he and Parker contributed the song "Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Sons." He returned to work with Diamond as an arranger, producer, and session musician on the platinum September Morn album, released in December 1979, as well as working with Diamond on the multi-platinum soundtrack to The Jazz Singer, released in November 1980.
Meanwhile, Valli had hit the heights with his number one theme song from the movie musical Grease in 1978, but had suffered difficulties since, both professionally and personally. He had a rare disease, otosclerosis, that threatened his hearing, and was undergoing a series of operations to overcome it while trying to maintain his career. The latter day Four Seasons, unable to attract attention without Valli, had split up in 1979. Under Gaudio's supervision, they reunited for a tour in the spring of 1980, and Valli was able to join them after recovering from his last successful operation. A live album was cut in July 1980 with Gaudio, who produced it, sitting in on piano and released in early 1981 as a double-LP set, Reunited Live. Thereafter, Valli and the Four Seasons continued to work together. Meanwhile, Gaudio and Crewe contributed the title song to Valli's latest solo album, Heaven Above Me.
Gaudio next worked with Barry Manilow, co-writing "Break Down the Door" with him and Enoch Anderson for Manilow's gold-selling 1981 album If I Should Love Again. Gaudio teamed up with Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack to arrange, produce, and play on their gold-selling 1983 album Born to Love, which included both "Heaven Above Me" and the pop chart single "You're Lookin' Like Love to Me," which Gaudio wrote with Crewe and recent Four Seasons member Jerry Corbetta. Gaudio and Corbetta, with John Bettis, then contributed "Come Back to My Love" to the second self-titled Eric Carmen album, released in 1984, on which Gaudio also worked as a producer. The same year, he and Valli formed the short-lived FBI Records label and teamed with the Beach Boys on a joint single, "East Meets West," written by Gaudio and Crewe and arranged and produced by Gaudio. In 1985, Gaudio served as executive producer of a new album credited to Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, Streetfighter. He produced two tracks and played keyboards, although his only songwriting contribution was the closing track, "What About Tomorrow," co-written with Crewe. At the end of the year, he had a track, "Deeper Than Love," co-written with Parker, Lenny Lee Goldsmith, and Fred Webb, on the Temptations album Touch Me. In 1986, he played on, arranged, and produced the soundtrack album for the film adaptation of the musical The Little Shop of Horrors.
In 1990, Gaudio was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Four Seasons. He placed the song "When Someone Tears Your Heart in Two," written with Madeline Stone, on Roberta Flack's 1991 album Set the Night to Music. He had a much deeper involvement on the next Four Seasons album, Hope + Glory, released in 1992, co-writing nine of the 12 tracks as well as performing on the disc and producing. In 1995, he and Crewe were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Later in the decade, he renewed associations with previous clients, working as a producer on Barry Manilow's 1995 album Another Life and on Neil Diamond's albums Tennessee Moon (1996) and The Movie Album: As Time Goes By (1998). In the early 2000s, Gaudio began working with Valli on a stage musical based on the Four Seasons' story. It opened on Broadway under the name Jersey Boys on November 6, 2005, and became a runaway hit, winning the Tony Award for best musical. Of course, Gaudio produced the cast album, which won him his first Grammy Award. Then he went back to his usual session work; in 2006, he served as an arranger on Barry Manilow's album Greatest Songs of the Sixties. He produced Valli's 2007 album Romancing the '60s. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi