Tell me about the distribution of work between you and Bob Crewe in terms of production. How did the collaboration go?
I pretty well took care of arrangements. When you’re in with a group it’s a collaborative situation. It’s hard for me to chronicle who did what and when. Some said that if you don’t want someone’s name to be on a song, throw them out of the room because you never know who’s going to say something that’s going to make the difference. Are they entitled to get something from it?
I had a lot to do with the music, putting it together. I was a frustrated drummer so drum stuff kind of fell in my lap, or I fell in the drummer’s lap (laughs). A lot of that stuff was dictated on sessions. The drum fills, the openings, the closings. They were to me as much a part of our records as the songs were, as Frankie was. That’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.
You always had amazing drummers on those records.
The drummers were the best that we could find. Buddy Saltzman in particular played on most of our early stuff. There’s no doubt that if you would have put a Four Seasons and a Beach Boys record out, apart from Frankie and apart from Brian, and they’re miles away from each other, if you took the rhythm tracks you’d probably conclude that we were very heavily rhythm oriented, drum oriented, while the Beach Boys were more focused on filling their records with harmonies. So there’s an immediate identification and you could probably determine that without the leads on, if you just heard the tracks.
Speaking of the Beach Boys, aside from the sound of the tracks, you were both big American vocal groups. Did you feel a sense of competition with the Beach Boys at that time?
I’ve been told that there is a Beach Boys record, and I’ve never found it, that has a background part that says ‘watch out Four Seasons.’ We had fun with it. I spent some time with Brian in the studio. I’m sure we were competitive, but it wasn’t like a football game. I was always aware of what their next single was, when it came out, how it sounded. There were times that I looked at it and said well geez they came out with a pretty good rhythm thing, I think we should be thinking softer, or ballads. I think Brian probably went through that stuff.
You’re listening to radio because you love radio. You love what’s on the radio. We loved everything that was out at the time. I’m sure that I was influenced by something I heard that was hot and new and inspirational. The Beach Boys were certainly there all the time, ever present.
What about a couple of years later when the Beatles came along? Did you recognize that things were about to change?
Early on, and I don’t remember what year, we were touring the U.K., and the Beatles had a record out called “Please Please Me.” They were not here (in the U.S.) yet. I brought that record back to the States, and I brought it to Vee Jay Records because I thought it was something that we might like to cover.
I hadn’t a clue as to what was to happen. I don’t believe that was their first single either. I just considered them another pop act. I had no clue what was to come. When they did the Sullivan show, pretty much closing New York City, it was an awakening. “Please Please Me” was a record that I thought was something we were interested in, but at the time we had “Walk Like a Man” in the can. Vee Jay thought (“Please Please Me”) was good, and eventually they bought the master and a bunch of others, but they said let’s go with “Walk Like a Man,” so I just dropped it, and I have no complaints.
The group released four singles as the Wonder Who, but those same songs appeared on Four Seasons albums. Was that a contractual thing? What was the impetus behind the Wonder Who singles?
The Wonder Who record, the Bob Dylan thing (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”), was one of our favorite songs. Frankie will have a different story of how this all came to be, but I just remember that we cut the song in the wrong key. It didn’t feel right, but when Frankie jumped the octave and had that Rose Murphy (jazz singer known for her high-pitched singing voice) thing in the clubs it always went over so well. He started clowning with it and Bob (Crewe) said ‘wait a minute.’ The track was so hot. We didn’t want to burn the track so we played with it, did some background parts and off it came.
Nobody identified us with that track. At time the Newbeats had “Bread and Butter,” and most people thought it was the Newbeats because it was more their place vocally. We had a bunch of records out, climbing the charts. The record company said ‘who’s going to play another Four Seasons record?’ We said, ‘yeah, you’re right.’ The Wonder Who came up and we said let’s have a guessing contest, and most people thought it was the Newbeats.
When it finally cracked the top 15 the record company thought it was time to expose the truth because it didn’t matter anymore. From that point on when it was put on albums it was the Four Seasons. We had a lot of fun with that. Frankie met Dylan somewhere and asked him what he thought of it. Dylan said that he didn’t even know it was his song (laughs).