November 21, 2007

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Joe Long–Part Two!

November 21st, 2007

Joe Long and the Four Seasons

In Part Two of his interview, Joe Long reflects on his eleven-year journey as a member of The Four Seasons, including the early days when the group was one of the hottest groups on the pop charts; his recording studio experiences; the live performances; the years without the hits; and his life on the road.

JBB: When you became a member of the 4 Seasons, they were riding high on the charts! Tell us about your early days with the group. Considering the guys had been together for so long before you joined them, what was it like being “the new kid” in the band?

JL: Being in so many bands, being a saloon player, and working in so many clubs before joining the 4 Seasons, it really wasn’t difficult to blend into the situation and fit into the band almost immediately.

I did feel the anxiety of being the new guy in the band at first, but I latched on to Gaudio. I related to Bobby—he was a music guru. Tommy and I became close and had such a great time together. Frankie was the star—working with him in the ‘60s was a revelation!

JBB: What about your experiences in the recording studios as a member of the 4 Seasons?

JL: My first recording with the group was “Opus 17,” then we did the Beechnut Gum commercial. I had been in recording studios before, but never like this—with the most up-to-date equipment. I would compare the experience like going from the Columbus Clippers to the New York Yankees. The first couple of sessions was somewhat overwhelming and nerve wracking, but by the time we recorded “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” I was an old hand at it and the guys were comfortable with me.

Time in the studio was like major surgery—you had to get it right. I really enjoyed the challenge of the studio, but I’m an old ham, so I always preferred the stage.

JBB: You described Bob Gaudio as a music guru. Did you have the opportunity to work with him on projects in the studio?

JL: When I first started, we only had a drummer and an additional guitar player who traveled with us. In 1966, Bobby wanted to add horns. So I got to hire the musicians and work with an arranger. We put together horn arrangements for all of the songs, and I conducted. Then, by the time we did “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” it was a bigger sound. I had the opportunity to do everything in the show–except for sweeping the floor (laughs)–conducting, hiring the band members, and emceeing the show. It was a lot of fun doing what I had trained to do.

JBB: We’ve heard that you and Tommy DeVito really had a lot of fun on stage-with some spontaneous comedy/joking during your concerts. For those of us who didn’t have the opportunity to see it, what did you guys do? Were you the emcee of the Seasons’ shows?

JL: Like I just said, I’m an old ham from way back, so being the emcee of our show happened almost immediately. From ’65 through ’70, we tried to do more of a variety show at our concerts—with lots of music and some comedy. The comedy was mostly spontaneous. If something worked, we kept it in the show, and honed it until it played smoothly. We were on the “Red Skelton Show” back in 1967, where we did this “Sound of Music” medley and actually sounded more like The Four Freshmen, and less like the 4 Seasons in this performance. Here’s an audio clip of that performance:



JBB: I’ve also heard that there was a comedy skit that the 4 Seasons used to so that was constructed around the old standard “The Nearness of You” that you used to do in your previous group. You also updated it to fit Frankie’s and Tommy’s personalities with the theme of the skit having something to do with “What does a singer think of when he’s singing a love song?” Can you tell us about that?

JL: Yes, it was part of our show, where we would talk about what was on a singer’s mind and what he may be thinking about when he’s up on stage singing a love song. While Frankie sang the lyrics, Tommy would take his mike out of the spotlight, and right after Frankie sang a line, Tommy would say something like, “Boy, these lights are hot and my underwear are tight.” Then, Frankie would say, “Look at that girl in the front row. I guess she really digs me.” Then, he’d look down and realize that “my fly is unzipped” and cover himself up. It was a lot of fun on stage.

JBB: It was incredible to see you perform live back in ’75—the first time I saw the Four Seasons in Columbus. By that time, there was no variety show. Did the variety show format become outdated in the ‘70s?

JL: Well, by the time you saw us, Tommy and Bobby were both gone from the group. You don’t replace a Tommy DeVito or a Bob Gaudio. Tommy’s stage presence was that unique. In the ‘70s, we hired the best musicians, but the essence of the early group and the direction of the band had changed radically.

JBB: Back at the Columbus concert, I remember you and the other Seasons were spotlighted with an instrumental segment in the show when Frankie briefly left the stage. It was amazing!

JL: We were probably performing “Warsaw Concerto” back then. Frankie’s voice had amazing durability—I was stunned by it. His voice was like driving a car at top speed at all times without stopping. Probably by the time you saw us in the ‘70s, the years had taken a toll on his voice, so he took a break when we did our instrumental.

JBB: You recorded four albums (“New Gold Hits,” “Genuine Imitation Life Gazette,” “Half & Half,” and “Chameleon”) with the 4 Seasons. Do you have a favorite single, a favorite album cut, and a favorite album?

JL: My favorite single by far is “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” There’s a story behind how that song happened for us. Back in 1966, we were performing at the AARM Convention. Frank Sinatra was playing at the main room at the hotel. Bobby and I went to see his show and as Sinatra was singing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Gaudio leans over to me and tells me that it would be a good song for us. I’m thinking, ‘What are you, nuts, that’s a Cole Porter song from 1936.’

We started messing around with it with the “never win, never win.’ Bobby calls Crewe and the other guys. So, the genesis of that song was seeing Sinatra playing it on stage. The song, that drum break at the end—it was new for us and it was a really big hit.

There was the “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Rag Doll” era; then we went into what seemed like a marching band period, like “Opus 17.” By the mid to late ‘60s, the group had gone to the other end of the spectrum. As artists, we tried new things to stay viable, we moved ahead and expanded.

My favorite album cut was “Saturday’s Father.”

My favorite album? Definitely “Genuine Imitation Life Gazette.” It was the most challenging work we had ever done, and it is my favorite collection.

JBB: What was it about “GILG” that made it your favorite album?

JL: I’m very proud of that album. It’s one of the only ones I still listen to on occasion. It all came together. I became very involved in the studio with Bob, making the album. In fact, Bobby gave me credit, on the jacket, as assistant producer. That album should have done so much better than it did. I feel we were short-changed by the critics and the fans. I recall the Berkeley University newspaper, The Berkeley Barb, said that Genuine Imitation Life Gazette was a great album and would have been a hit, if someone like Moby Grape recorded it.

I am very proud of that album. But, the underground radio stations didn’t take us seriously with this album. It was like, ‘What are these teeny boppers doing recording this kind of album?’ Thanks to Bobby, it was an amazing project and I grew as a rock musician thanks to that recording. It was a heavy duty production.

JBB: What was life like as a rock star of the mid ’60s-mid ’70s? Was it like a 10-year party on the road? Was it rough being away from home? Is it true what Nicky said in Jersey Boys—does the “soap keeps getting smaller”?

JL: It was all of the above. Back in the early days, when we were still having lots of hits, it was great—only away from home a couple of days at a time. Then, when there were fewer hits, we had to compensate for loss of income by touring more. Sure, it was fun, but it was tough being away from home for more than a week or so.

You know, we had tremendous visual appeal—there was visual notoriety being a member of the 4 Seasons. People recognized us. Back then, if my wife and I were at dinner, fans would come up to me for autographs and such. Sure it was exciting and flattering, but at times annoying—but I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.

JBB: Do you have a favorite concert venue?

JL: I have two US favorites: Madison Square Garden, and Carnegie Hall. I also loved playing The Palladium, in London.

JBB: What was it like back in 1970-74 when the hits stopped for the 4 Seasons?

JL: It was depressing at times, but you had to accept it. We began to play smaller venues, with less people, perhaps, but the audiences still loved the shows. Standing ovation after standing ovation. We may not have been the group on the tip of everyone’s tongues at the time, but the audiences still were there for us.

JBB: Your last recording with the group was the “Who Loves You” single in 1975. I remember hearing it for the first time on the “Midnight Special” and loving it from the very first time I heard it! Did you think the song would reach the Top 5 and become such a big hit?

JL: Actually, no. I was pleasantly surprised. I played bass and sang the bass part on “Who Loves You.” Although Frankie had hits with “My Eyes Adored You” and “Swearin’ to God” in that same year, it had been a long time, maybe five years, since the 4 Seasons had a hit on the charts, so I was surprised to see how well it did on the charts.

Thank you again to the incredible Joe Long for sharing his amazing journey as a member of The Four Seasons! In Part Three, Joe shares more insightful reflections on his life as a musician, on Jersey Boys, and more.

7 Comments »

  1. I also first heard “Who Loves You” on the Midnight Special! I remember that Orleans debuted “Dance With Me” on that same show. Both great songs that still get airplay.

    The Four Seasons version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is a masterpiece, and I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying I much prefer it to Frank Sinatra’s!

    Comment by Ted Hammond — November 21, 2007 @ 4:25 pm

  2. “Ive Got You Under My Skin” became their signature official closing song for so many years, although it was usually followed by two or three encores.

    The “IGYUMS” recording was only surpassed by their live performance of it. It was done very dramatically on stage, however, sometimes during the “just the thought of you makes me stop” pause “before I begin” part, some of the women in the audience would yell out something like “Oh Frankie” during the pause and that’s all Tommy and Joe needed to take off on that and start fooling around on stage. As Joe says above, Tommy’s stage presence was indeed “unique.”

    The “Nearness of You” skit was very very funny. The audience loved it.

    What memories. Thanks Joe.

    Comment by David Cace — November 21, 2007 @ 11:01 pm

  3. Very nice interview. With no apologies to Frank Sinatra, I have always preferred The Four Season version, especially the pause, as mentioned above.

    Comment by LindaL — November 22, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

  4. The Sound of Music (with other “music” songs) medley was also performed live on stage but only when the 4 Seasons appeared with a full orchestra which was usually limited to appearing at the more notable night clubs like the Empire Room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York or the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. In this version we get an extended musical arrangement. As I recall during this extended musical arrangement, the Red Skelton Dancers did a dance routine.

    Comment by David Cace — November 23, 2007 @ 8:36 am

  5. Those songs with the Band/Orchestra type accompaniment were an inspiration to those of us who played wind and string instruments. The Left Banke was doing something similar, the Happenings did Gershwin (“I’ve Got Rhythm”) a little later than the Four Seasons’ Cole Porter cover, the Cowsills had interesting instrumentation, still later there was the Neon Philharmonic. I really miss the accoustic instrumentation in today’s pop music. I think Hank Medress, Dave Appell, and Charlie Calello did some work with at least some of these groups, as I recall without more google searches.

    Comment by Ted Hammond — November 23, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

  6. Ted,

    Check out the first sentence of the sixth paragraph above. Joe confirmed what I’ve been saying all along about his first song with the group–great song.

    Comment by Tom — November 24, 2007 @ 8:48 am

  7. Thanks, Tom. I guess I had just read Part One when I posted that on the other thread. I miss things if I don’t print them out also.

    Comment by Ted Hammond — November 24, 2007 @ 1:38 pm

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