Gary James' Interview With Gerry Polci of
The Four Seasons
The Hit Men
He was a member of The Four Seasons. That's him singing lead on "Oh What A Night". He went on to become the Musical Director for Barry Manilow's television specials and then joined The Hit Men. And to top it all off, he's a music teacher. His name is Gerry Polci and Gerry talked to us about The Four Seasons, Barry Manilow, The Hit Men and teaching music.
Q - Gerry, you're a music teacher?
A - I've been teaching in a public school while touring in The Hit Men for the last twenty years. I tour with The Hit Men on weekends and a lot of different days. So, my weeks are jam packed.
Q - I saw this movie, Jersey Boys. Does that movie accurately portray the personality of Frankie Valli?
A - Well, as we know, movies have a tendency to have quite a lot of poetic licence. Let me put this way, Frankie is a great guy. He's a family guy. He's the hardest working man you'll ever meet. So in those respects, that was portrayed fairly well in the movie. I think that some of the time line, definitely most of the time line was wrong in terms of what songs were done in what decade. So that was moved around. As far as Frankie's general personality, I mean, I've known the guy for forty-three years and he always was just a hard working, blue collar worker in the music business. He's just always worked really hard.
Q - Does anyone of your students ever recognize your name or do you tell them about your background?
A - Oh, they know everything. They know the whole career. They know about the current band. You're talking about thirteen-year-old kids singing "Oh, What A Night".
Q - They know it because you told them?
A - No. I didn't say a word. I fly under the radar as much as I can. I kind of enjoy my anonymity and considering even with that song so many people didn't even know I sang lead on it...
Q - I'm one of 'em.
A - So, my anonymity has proven true all these years, but yeah, they find out. You can't help but know I was with The Four Seasons, but the kids are online, different sites, download stuff, so it's a lot fun. But it added credibility to my teaching because I didn't get into teaching until my 40s and so I wasn't just a kid out of college with no experience. I had a lot of life experience and so much professional music experience. It really helped my credibility considerably.
Q - I know you're a part of The Hit Men, but do you ever miss The Four Seasons and all of the applause you must've received?
A - It's funny that you should say that. I don't want to sound selfish, but being a musician and being a singer for me has always been about the process, the learning process, the playing. The accolades and the applause and all of that is a fantastic by-product of the hard work, but it doesn't start with that. It starts with the hard work, the enjoyment of actually trying to be good at something. Then I have the privilege to actually play in front of people and they appreciate that. That's a gift. That's how I look at it. I'm enjoying this time around as much, if not more, than when I was with The Seasons because when I was with The Seasons I was young. I might have understood what was going on to some degree, but I was caught up again in the playing and touring and all of that stuff. Maybe I didn't appreciate it as much and now maybe the crowds are smaller, but they're very, very appreciative and I'm enjoying myself tremendously right now, especially at 63.
Q - What year did you join The Four Seasons?
A - March of '73.
Q - How did you get that gig? Did you have to audition? Did someone recommend you?
A - Well, very specific. Someone did recommend me. I worked professionally since I was 14 in the New York, New Jersey area. So, I built up somewhat of a reputation in this area. So, my cousin knew of this fella who wanted to find a drummer for his band. His name was Ritchie Natoli, "Duke" Natoli. Well, Duke was also the equipment manager and saxophone player for The Four Seasons, but his side band was something he was interested in, so whenever he was gone on the road he would have a band. He heard about me and so he wanted me to be in his band. So, when the drummer position opened up in The Seasons, he recommended me and so I met Frankie. I went to an audition and I got the gig.
Q - What was that like, to be on stage with Frankie Valli and the other guys in The Four Seasons? You were playing Las Vegas?
A - No. The Vegas thing was really minimal compared to what we did. I mean, my first job was Harry Crown Theatre, 7,500 people. I'm 20 years old. The next night Knoxville, Tennessee, 10,000 people. The next night, Washington, D.C., 10,000 people. That was my first weekend. And the weekend before I was doing a wedding for 200 people. So, the transition was quite distinct to say the least.
Q - You hit the ground running.
A - Oh, I certainly did. Was I ready for it? Absolutely. It was exactly what I wanted to do in life and the fact that I was with a band that my parents used to go watch. For me, to join The Four Seasons, to my Dad, it was like joining The Beatles. He was such a Seasons fan. He was born in Newark (New Jersey). He went to the same elementary school as Frankie did. For me to join The Four Seasons was like joining The Beatles. I mean, it was crazy. It was really a great experience I have to say when that happened.
Q - I'm sure you introduced your father to Frankie Valli.
A - Oh God, yeah. He knew my father very well. He was very respectful. They became friends. My father passed away at a young age, but they were very friendly. He still talks about my father.
Q - You sang lead on "Oh, What A Night". That was a big hit. Did you write that song?
A - I did not. Bob Gaudio and Judy Parker wrote that song, Bob's wife, Judy Parker. If I wrote that song I'd probably be in Hawaii right now on a beach somewhere.
Q - That got a lot of air play.
A - It was the biggest selling single for The Seasons. It sold millions of records worldwide. It was their biggest selling single.
Q - What year did you leave The Four Seasons?
A - I left at the end of '77. I then moved to California. I was living in Las Vegas. I lived in California. I was with Barry Manilow for a little while. I was his Music Director on four or five television shows. Then I got into the studio scene in Los Angeles. Then I went back with The Seasons in '79 for about four more years. We did a 'live' album. You know, going back and forth on the road, I just stayed in L.A. and did demo work, television work, had different bands. Then they asked me back one more time at the end of the '80s for a couple more years and I went back. I finally left in 1990, moved to New Jersey because I got married to Frankie's daughter and we got married in New Jersey and had two beautiful children. We're not married now. We're divorced, but we're still very good friends.
Q - Marrying Frankie Valli's daughter.
A - Yeah. So he and I have quite the connection. Like I said, we're divorced now, but we're still very close friends because of our children and because of who we are. I've known her since she was sixteen. Frankie and I have been friends for forty-two, forty-three years. It's been crazy.
Q - How was it that you came to the attention of Barry Manilow?
A - He found me. I was at a friend's apartment and somebody gave him my phone number. And he called me and said, "Do you want to work for me awhile?" I said, "Fine. Let's do it." Very nice man. Wonderful guy. Very talented. Very focused. Very, very nice man.
Q - It seems to be referral and word of mouth in the music business.
A - Oh my goodness, yeah. Oh, yeah. I mean, you can audition, but people want to have an insight into who you are before you even get there. Networking is huge in the sense that people really need to know you in order to... I mean, I wouldn't make a recommendation for anyone unless I knew them well and knew what they were capable of doing. I don't think you would either. That's how it works.
Q - Did you put this group The Hit Men together?
A - Actually, Lee Shapiro, who was one of The Four Seasons with me, he came in a month later than me; he approached me about ten years ago to do this and then when The Jersey Boys things really took off, he approached me again about five years ago to do this. I said yes and he and I put a band together. The premise is just that. We play our hits. They're the hits that we recorded with artists or the hits that we toured with those particular artists. We have Jim Ryan, who was Carly Simon's Music Director and guitar player for twenty years and also played with Elton John, Paul McCartney, The Doors and all kinds of people. Russell Velazquez was a number one polled jingle singer in the '80s and '90s. His credibility is unbelievable, the credits he has. Larry Gates, our bass player was with Bon Jovi, Desmond Child and different people. I thought it was a good premise. I thought it was a great idea, his idea. So, it's our band and we love it. We have the privilege of being able to get out and do it on our terms. It's a gift.
Q - You work how often with this group?
A - We actually did 77 dates. This year (2015) we'll do 80. We're in that 80 to 85 dates. It's pretty constant. We very rarely have a month when we just have a couple of dates. It's pretty constant. It's been very successful. We're very pleased with it. It didn't start out that way of course. We had to work hard at it, but it's now doing pretty well. We're pretty happy with it to say the least.