Tommy DeVito is one of the main characters in Jersey Boys and gets the show off with a bang right after the opening musical number “Ces Soirees-La,” but he isn’t just a character in Jersey Boys, he’s a real live person that lived the rock star life portrayed on stage by Tony Award Winner, Christian Hoff.
Tommy was born on June 19, 1928 in Belleville, New Jersey. His musical career began in the early 1950′s with his brother Nick and Hank Majewski as the Variety Trio. They were performing in nightclubs when Frank Castelluccio (later known as Frankie Valli) joined the band. They renamed themselves the Four Lovers and had a minor hit in 1956 with “Apple of My Eye” and appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show.”
After changing their name again, this time to the Four Seasons (singer/guitarist Tommy DeVito, keyboardist and songwriter Bob Gaudio, bass vocalist/vocal arranger Nick Massi, and lead singer Frankie Valli), the group struck gold with a string of hits beginning with “Sherry,” which remained in the Number One position on the Billboard charts for five consecutive weeks in 1962.
DeVito left the band in 1970 and currently lives in Las Vegas. His new CD of Italian folk and similar-style songs entitled “A Man for All Seasons, 1st Season Summer,” has just been released!
Jersey Boys Blog recently had the privilege of talking to original Four Seasons member and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Tommy DeVito. Tommy spoke about his new CD; his early years; his chart-topping years with the Four Seasons; and the Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys.
JBB: Congratulations on your new CD! How did it come about? When was it recorded? Why did you decide to do Italian folk songs?
TD: Thank you. It took me about two and a half years to record it since I played all the instruments myself. I recorded it in New Jersey. At first, I decided to make the recording for my friends. Lots of my friends had been asking me to record the Italian folk songs for a long time. These were the songs I used to play years ago, before we became famous as the 4 Seasons.
JBB: Two songs that really stand out to me on the new CD are “Come Si Bella” and “Ginger’s Theme.” Could you fill us in on those two?
TD: Carmine DePalma, who lived in Frankie Valli’s neighborhood, created “Come Si Bella”. Carmine had cerebral palsy, and he really enjoyed writing music. He teamed up with Charlie Calello for this song. It’s a really great one.
Joe Pesci wrote “Ginger’s Theme.” I think it would be a great theme for a movie.
JBB: How did it all begin for you? Was it always your dream to have a band, or did life take you in that direction? What led you to playing guitar?
TD: I started playing my older brother’s guitar when I was about eight or nine years old. My folks were very poor; it was during the Depression, so we didn’t have money for my own guitar. My brother’s guitar was very big, so I had to lean over it to play. Yeah, my brother used to hit me every time he caught me playing it, but I kept playing. I really enjoyed it. Sometimes in school, my teacher would tell me to bring my guitar in the classroom to play for the kids. I grew up with it and really enjoyed it. Early on, I got into playing with some country music bands.
JBB: After so many years of struggling, what did it feel like when “Sherry” hit Number One on the charts?
TD: It’s hard to explain. You go from having nothing at all to selling a million records. There was really no time to think about it when it happened; it all came on so fast. It was a great, great feeling. You don’t know how great it was until you look back on it years later.
JBB: What part of the music industry did you like best? Live performing? Making deals? Or creating the music?
TD: It was all so good. It was great to make the deals to keep working, but creating the music and performing was every bit as good.
JBB: Do you have a favorite song? A favorite road appearance?
TD: I can’t get away from “Sherry”-that record will always be special to me since it started it all for us. I also love “Rag Doll” and “Dawn.”
If I had to pick one favorite road appearance, it would be the Roostertail in Detroit. That place was always my favorite. It was laid out so nicely. At night, when the 4 Seasons were closing our set, they had this beautiful waterfall with all kinds of colors in the background behind the band. It was just a great scene and a really great club.
JBB: When you first saw Jersey Boys, what was your reaction?
TD: At first, I had some mixed feelings. There were a couple of things that didn’t jive with me when I first saw it. But it’s doing great-so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
It’s really thrilling to see yourself being played on stage, and Christian Hoff does a terrific job playing me.
JBB: Did you give Christian Hoff any advice about playing you?
TD: Christian and I talked on the phone before he started playing me and I gave him a bit of advice about the character. Christian really did his homework for this part.
Christian Hoff is a wonderful person, a truly nice guy, and I’m just so glad to have him in my life. He has a beautiful wife and a new baby. He’s just a great guy.
JBB: Jersey Boys has become such a blockbuster hit musical-What is it about the story and the music that makes the audience feel so connected?
TD: Well, since it’s a story about me, I’m sure I see if differently from people in the audience.
I think people connect with it because they see the story about guys from the wrong side of the tracks who are toughin’ it up, arguing, and you’re also hearing the stories about the mob. It’s a rags to riches story about tough guys and good guys. There’s so much interest in what’s going to happen to these guys. It’s not just a jukebox musical; it’s great songs combined with a really great story.
JBB: There’s lots of talk about Jersey Boys becoming a movie. Who would you like to see play you in the movie version?
TD: Well, I’m so close to Joe Pesci, so I’d like him to play me in the later years, but I don’t know if that could happen. Maybe in the early years, somebody like Mark Wahlberg?
Of course, Christian Hoff could do a great job playing me on the screen!
JBB: Although the music industry has changed in the last 50 years, what advice would you give young men of today who are singing under street lamps dreaming of making hit records?
TD: I’d tell the guys to study long and study hard. If you have the desire, the drive and the determination, and the fire in your gut to succeed, you’re going to make it. You might go through a lot of disappointments and get doors slammed in your faces-we sure did–but if you have the determination and the talent, you can make it.
JBB: What do you think will be your legacy?
TD: How do I want to be remembered? First, I’d want people to remember all of the great music the Four Seasons did together. Then, I’d also want people to know that everyone makes mistakes-nobody’s perfect. I’m not ashamed to admit it-I’ve been punished; did some jail time; and I’ve paid my dues.
Jersey Boys Blog would like to extend our thanks and appreciation to Tommy DeVito for taking the time for such an amazing interview. This was an incredible opportunity to gain some insight into the enigmatic rocker’s life and his character in Jersey Boys. You’ll always be remembered as the founder of the of one of the greatest rock bands in history and as a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!
Photo Credit: BroadwayWorld.com