THE ORIGINAL “JERSEY BOY” FRANKIE VALLI
Francesco Stephen Castelluccio. Most of us know him as Frankie Valli. With and without the Four Seasons, he has been making music and performing for more than six decades. He has sold nearly 200 million records. “Sherry”, “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You”, and “Grease” are just a few of the 29 hits he recorded that placed in the top 40 charts. At 87 years old he is still going strong and touring. He will soon be performing shows at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark. His shows originally scheduled for November needed to be rescheduled due to a non-COVID related illness, but the original “Jersey Boy” has every intention of playing for us in 2022 when he recovers and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Dining Out spoke with Mr. Valli who reminisced about his early days in Jersey and what he’s been up to lately.
Dining Out Jersey | (It’s a pleasure meeting and speaking with you today.) You have a couple of upcoming dates at the NJPAC in Newark on November 19th and 20th. You being the preeminent “Jersey Boy” let’s start from the beginning. You grew up in New Jersey, how does it feel to return to Newark to perform after all these years?
Frankie Valli | I lived in Belleville, I lived in Fort Lee, I lived in Englewood. I lived in Newark. I am not too sure you would remember or know about the time when Newark was really a hot spot. They had a theater in downtown called the Adams Theater. The Adams Theater brought a different big band that was popular at the time, in for a week. Then we had the Mosque Theater and Pinkco City which was a major nightclub. And they had a Latin club called The Hourglass. And they had a burlesque in Newark called Minsky’s. So, I mean Newark was really happening. This was in Newark at Brandford Place, home of the Adams Theater. And I got to see all the big bands and I got a lot of inspiration. It was probably one of the reasons why I ended up in the music business. Silhouette was like home for us on Mount Prospect Avenue. And there was a club called the Jada. Then there was Jazz City in Long Branch. And the Pike Inn. There were so many of them and everybody worked.
Dining Out Jersey | Do you remember playing at Palisades Amusement Park in Cliffside Park/Fort Lee?
Frankie Valli | Sure, there were many great shows in the early days at Palisades Amusement Park. Cousin Brucie did his radio show from there and had some really great acts. There was also another place we played across the river, Freedomland, which was similar and open for just a short while, but it was not as good as Palisades Amusement Park was.
Dining Out Jersey | Your first number one hit was “Sherry”, I believe in 1962. Do you remember where you were when you got the news that the song went to number one?
Frankie Valli | We were working in Asbury Park at a place called Martell’s. It was a summer gig, and we were contracted to do the whole summer there. The guy, the owner, Fred Martell was really a terrific guy. He let us out of the contract when Sherry became #1 so that we could go out and benefit from it. And then we played at his club over the following
5 or 6 years, and we would come in and do a weekend for free. It got really crazy.
Dining Out Jersey | The Four Seasons had their first #1 hit before the Beatles ever touched ground in the U.S. Everyone knows the Beatles had a rivalry with the Stones. It kept the teen magazines in business, I guess! Did The Four Seasons have any rival bands back then?
Frankie Valli | We were competitive. Everyone was competitive but we just did what we did and were enjoying what we
were doing, and hopefully we were thinking that we would like for the public to feel the same way. And we had a string of hits that was amazing.
Dining Out Jersey | Speaking of The Rolling Stones, they are all in their late 70’s and still touring. Charlie Watts sadly passed away at the age of 80 recently but played his drums and rocked and rolled right to the end. Some artists have stood the test of time. Some still have it while others do not.
Frankie Valli | It’s the same for Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Elton John, and except for the fact that Phil Collins has had some medical problems he was incredible. And there are a lot of guys out there; there is Felix Cavalier from the Rascals and Dion was working for a really long time and has just decided that he was going to be taking a break for a while.
Dining Out Jersey | Your falsetto voice is still amazing today! Do you ever see yourself retiring? Or do you plan on rocking on to the end?
Frankie Valli | I don’t how much longer but as long as I feel like I am ok and I could do it. What else would I do? I am not ready to swing on a porch. I love it, my life is basically revolving around rehearsing, performing, traveling and the love life I have with Jackie Jacobs.
Dining Out Jersey | New Jersey will start renaming some of the Garden State Parkway exits after notable Jerseyans like Frank Sinatra, James Gandolfini, Jon Bon Jovi, Celia Cruz. Where is the Frankie Valli service area?!! I say we put together a petition for this!
Frankie Valli | That would be great. I have been trying to get the political end of NJ to get more involved with the fact that there are so many people that come from New Jersey, things that happened in NJ, and that they should start thinking about naming streets and places after these people. From Sinatra to all the way down, Jerry Lewis was from
Newark and Lou Costello was from Patterson. There are a lot of people that became famous that came from New Jersey.
Dining Out Jersey | Of all the places you have eaten in the United States, where would you rank NJ for its food?
Frankie Valli | Growing up as a kid some of the best Italian restaurants especially and Chinese restaurants came out of NJ. There is still a place right off Bloomfield Avenue called the Belmont Tavern that is absolutely incredible. Usually when I come to town, I have my people pick up some food for me at the Belmont Tavern. I like the Chicken Savoy. They do a shrimp dish that’s great and their pasta dishes are all great.
Dining Out Jersey | Can you tell us a few of your favorite North New Jersey restaurants you like to visit when you come back home?
Frankie Valli | Most of them are all gone. The First Ward had a whole section of Italian restaurants. Vesuvio’s was one of them. And down the First Ward was a restaurant called the Sports Rest which was very, very good. They had the Wai Kai, a Chinese restaurant on Bloomfield Avenue in Newark. And nobody anywhere made better hot dogs than Jimmy Buff – hot dogs with potatoes, onions and peppers. And the original owner of that was a guy named Ting-a-Ling. Almost every 3 or 4 blocks there were one of these little stores that made these hot dogs and sausages where they fried them with potatoes, onions, and peppers. When I lived in Fort Lee, Michael Monaco had a restaurant up there, Picco Lissimo. And Archers was always sensational, I ate there a lot. You could go in a neighborhood in Newark and
there would be 20 restaurants that were all terrific. Sardella’s was another restaurant in Newark that was very famous. In what they call the “Down Neck” area in East Newark, there are Portuguese restaurants and Spanish restaurants that are the best.
Dining Out Jersey | Are there current restaurants where you go now?
Frankie Valli | I really don’t get out that much now for restaurant eating. One of the best restaurants on the east coast is in New York and it’s in East Harlem, it’s called Rao’s. Il Mulino is another great restaurant in New York.
Dining Out Jersey | I really liked Rao’s too, but recently Frank Pellegrino passed away.
Frankie Valli | Rao’s isn’t the same without him. He had the personality – that’s what really did it. And he was a good friend too. He had a jukebox in there and when certain songs came on, he would start singing out loud. They have a Rao’s in LA, they kind of copied the look of the one in Harlem. In fact, on Sunday that’s where I’m going with my kids and my fiancé. It’s not as hard to get in there, but in Rao’s at East Harlem they don’t even answer the phone.
Dining Out Jersey | What were/are some of your favorite clubs (not arenas) in NJ to play? I remember back when there were clubs where you could eat and dance!
Frankie Valli | All those clubs are all gone – The Copa, the Latin Quarters, Plaza, the Waldorf – they are all gone. There are no clubs anymore. The problem is that most of the clubs didn’t seat more than between 500 –700 people. The businesses have grown into a different type of business it’s more concert because they can make more money. It would be sensational to have that again. Thank God we still have the Theaters. My granddaughter just got the lead in a play called Pretty Woman in a company that will be traveling. We are really excited about that. She is spectacular, her name is Olivia Valli. They are in rehearsal right now.
Dining Out Jersey | When you are in New Jersey, hopefully we can see each other. We can do that at Michaels Monaco’s new place, Picco Tavern. One last question. Who has better pizza? New York or New Jersey?
Frankie Valli | I would have to say Jersey.
Dining Out Jersey | That was the right answer!