Friday, January 16, 2015

Jersey Boys Guitars - The Original Four Seasons Guitars

If you haven’t seen Jersey Boys, please do so. It is not just a walk back to through the early days of rock and roll and doo-wop music, but a great insight into all the drama that goes on within a band of musicians. If you want to understand how we got to where we are musically today, learn your roots.

Despite my research, I cannot find much information on the instruments played by Tommy Devito, Nick Massi, Charley Calleo and Joe Long. So I have checked out photos and videos of the group and read their history, from a guitarist perspective.

Tommy Devito was the guitarist throughout the original groups history, until he was asked to leave and his share of the group was purchased by Frankie Valli and Bob Guadio.

Nick Massi was the main bass player and bass singer for the group throughout their early history.

Charley Calleo, was the also a bass player with the group when Massi was not around. Calleo became the groups musical arranger and deserves a lot of credit for doing such a wonderful job. He stepped in again to play bass shortly after Nick Massi quit.

Joe Long was the Season's final bass player. He can be distinguished by his excellent left-handed technique on the bass guitar.

The Variety Trio
The movie of the Jersey Boys opens with DeVito playing a 1950's model Fender Telecaster. Judging from this photo of The Variety Trio, the movies artistic director was spot on as you can see DeVito with a Tele, his brother Nick DeVito playing an unidentified archtop acoustic and Nick Massi playing an upright bass.

The first group that included Frankie Valli and Tommy DeVito was called The Four Lovers. (the video in this link has the players in a mirror image) The bass player and acoustic guitarist are unidentified.

Here is an early staged publicity photo of the Four Seasons. Tommy Devito is playing a Gibson LG-3 and Nick Massi appears to have a sunburst Guild D-140.

A professional photograph of The original Four Seasons shows Tommy DeVito holding a beautiful white Fender Jazzmaster and Nick Massi fingering an equally beautiful Fender Precision bass.

A 1962 video of Big Girls Don’t Cry shows DeVito playing a Gibson ES-355 and Nick Massi playing a new (for that year) Fender Precision bass. This is a different P-bass since the pickguard appears to be anodized and the neck is maple.

This 1964 video from the Dick Clark TV series "Where The Action Is" when the production was done in the UK. You can see Joe Long playing his Fender Precision Bass with the stacked knobs and Tommy DeVito is now playing a Danelectro Coral guitar.

This is video of their hit Rag Doll that was shot in a London park appears to be from the same "Where The Action Is" show. Once again Joe Long playing his favorite Fender Precision bass while Tommy DeVito is playing that Danelectro Coral guitar.

A clip from the 1964 movie The Beach Ball shows Nick Massi back in the group, but now he is playing a fake Fender Precision bass guitar. Judging from the headstock and  close ups of the instrument you can tell it is not a Fender. Tommy DeVito is playing a cheap blue Asian guitar; possibly a Teisco.

Perhaps to the Seasons credit these were props from the movie.

This 1964 clip shows Joe Long playing an Ampeg bass on a TV show and Tommy DeVito playing a white Fender Jaguar.

This TV clip is of the Seasons playing a medley of their hits.  Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito are sporting matching Gibson instruments. Both are beautiful sunburst guitars from the 1963-64 era. DeVito is playing a Gibson Firebird VII while Nick Massi is holding down the bass on a Gibson Thunderbird bass.

Prominently displayed next to them is a Gibson Titan III guitar amplifier, which had a 65 watt head matched to a separate cabinet that contained one 15” speaker and two 10” speakers.

While the bass is being played through a Gibson Atlas IV. It had 2 – 6L6GC tubes, so I estimate it at around 40 watts. The speaker contained one 15” model.

I assume this was an obvious plug by Gibson as I can find no other videos of the Seasons visibly playing through amplifiers.

A video of Working My Way Back To You shows Joe Long once again with his Ampeg bass guitar and Tommy DeVito playing his white Fender Jaguar.

This 1965 clip from the Ed Sullivan Show shows the Seasons playing white instruments. Tommy DeVito is playing his white Fender Jaguar, while Joe Long is playing a Hagstrom F400 bass, which in my opinion is an underrated bass guitar.

I can only find one image of Charley Calleo playing bass with the group. Calleo is playing a dark Fender Precision bass with a white pickguard alongside Tommy DeVito who is playing a white Fender guitar.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of the Jersey Boys, it centers around Tommy DeVito’s connection with the mob and how he got in way over his head with a loan shark. By his own admission, DeVito spent some time in prison.

DeVito was forced out of the group in 1971.  Frankie Valli paid off the debt, which was nearly a million dollars, by striking out on his own as a solo performer. Bob Guadio spoke about the deal on NPR radio and said that Valli had to earn twice that amount because the earnings were taxed.

Subsequently once DeVito and Massi left there are no further videos or still photos of the original group and their guitars.

The Four Seasons stayed together releasing several hits under the Frankie Valli name or pseudonyms such as The Wonder Who and the Valli Boys.

After releasing a disastrous concept album called The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette the group left the Phillips Record label to go with Motown. They recorded under the MoWest label but the relationship was not at all solid. There venture with Motown may account for The Spinners version of Working My Way Back To You which became a hit.

Before exiting Motown, Valli tried to purchase the entire catalogue from Motown but only was able to purchase My Eyes Adored You for $4000. Of course this became one of Valli and Guadio's best loved songs.

Joe Long left the group in 1975 recording his last song, Who Loves You. Frankie started a new core band with drummer and singer Gerry Polci and bass player Don Ciccone, who had a hit song with a group called The Critters. John Paiva was the guitarist.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

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