Tommy DeVito (musician)
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June 19, 1928 |
Belleville, New Jersey, US
|Genres||Pop, Rock n roll|
|Associated acts||The Four Seasons|
Tommy DeVito (born June 19, 1928) is an American musician and singer, best known as a founding member, baritone vocalist, and lead guitarist of the rock band The Four Seasons. Devito is the youngest of nine children.
DeVito grew up in Belleville, N.J., the youngest of nine children of Italian immigrants. During the Depression his family lived with an uncle in a cold-water flat in a tough neighborhood. “You did anything to survive,” DeVito says. “You’d steal milk off of porches.”
At 8, he taught himself to play his brother’s guitar by listening to country music on the radio. “I was so small I couldn’t hold the guitar in my lap so I put it on the floor on its side and leaned over and played it that way,” he says.
By the time he was 12, he was playing for tips in neighborhood taverns. “My parents were elated that we were bringing home eight bucks a night or so. That’s basically how I got started in music.”
He quit school after the eighth grade. (Belleville High made him an honorary graduate in 2007.) By 16 he had his own R&B band and was making $20 or $25 a night.
Tommy DeVito's musical career began in the early 1950s when he formed the Variety Trio with his brother Nick DeVito and Hank Majewski. This core group performed under various names and changing lineups. The band expanded to a quartet and changed its name to :the Variatones" including the addition in 1954 of singer Francis Castelluccio (later known as Frankie Valli). When they were signed to a recording contract with RCA Victor, 1956 the quartet of DeVito/DeVito/Hank Majewski/Valli had renamed themselves the Four Lovers. Tommy and Frankie remained the only consistent members of the Four Lovers, as the group released seven singles and one album under the Four Lovers name. Their 1956 debut single, Otis Blackwell's "You're the Apple of My Eye", achieved enough national sales to appear as a minor hit on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The single landed Tommy his first national television appearance, when the Four Lovers appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956.
While his brother Nick left the group, Tommy DeVito continued his musical pursuits, reforming and realigning the group. By 1960 The Four Lovers consisted of DeVito and Valli along with lyrics/singer/keyboardist Bob Gaudio and vocal arranger Nick Massi, and were mainly used as a backup band for producer Bob Crewe under contract. This is the lineup which adopted the name "The Four Seasons," (actually, they were billed numerically as the 4 Seasons) named after a bowling alley in Union, New Jersey, that had a lounge where they'd auditioned. Signed by songwriter/producer Bob Crewe, the Four Seasons cut their first single under that name, "Bermuda," in November 1961. It was released by Gone Records, but did not succeed. Their next single did, in 1962 Gaudio's composition #1 single "Sherry." Released by Vee Jay Records in July 1962, "Sherry" hit number one in September, the first of three consecutive chart-topping hits by the Four Seasons, the others being "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man."
Though initially the founder and leader of the band, DeVito's influence diminished as Valli and Gaudio took more control of the band. Nick Massi left the group in 1965, just before the release of "Lets Hang On," and famous arranger Charles Calello played bass until a new bass player could be found, and then Joe Long joined the band and participated on many chart topping hits for the remainder of the decade and into the mid-1970s. Tommy DeVito left the group in April 1970 before the album Half and Half was released. Valli and Gaudio agreed to assume his debt in exchange for his departure from the group. On the last song of this album, "Oh Happy Day, Any Day Now," Tommy can be heard playing a bit of a solo on his guitar as a fitting end to a great career with the Four Seasons. He sold Valli and Gaudio his rights to the Four Seasons' material, name, and touring act. Times were tough for him for a while, as he discussed in a 2009 interview with Doug Elfman in the Las Vegas Review Journal. After leaving the group (“I had had it up to here with the traveling and changing clothes three times a day, and taking two planes and then driving 100 miles to do a date”), he also left New Jersey for Las Vegas, arriving with $100 grand in his pocket but finding the whole wad gone within a year. “Gambling, women… Every night was another party,” DeVito told Elfman. “Just whatever I wanted to do, that’s what I did. I went down broke, hungry and cold.”
Unfortunately, DeVito also went up the river for a spell, doing half a year behind bars in Arizona for what Elfman describes in his piece as “doing a guy a favor, helping him with counterfeit money,” "It's stupid, actually stupid, on my part, nobody else's part," Tommy says. When he got out, he went right back to work and making a new life with a new wife, a showgirl-dancer who quit when her shows went topless. He dealt cards for years, until the mid-1970s, when a friend from back East finally convinced him to do some record producing. That pulled him out of the muck.
He was always helping his friends who had helped him. In the late 1970s, his friend since they were 11, Joe Pesci (then unknown), came to live with him for a few years. Pesci then wound up getting Tommy bit parts in movies, in "Casino," "Gone Fishin'" and The Good Shepherd," while also putting Tommy on his payroll a few days a week to "watch my back." After more than a dozen years, Tommy finally convinced Pesci to take him off the payroll. "We're like brothers," Tommy says. "He remembers everything I did for him. And whatever he did for me, I'll never forget, too.... His heart's bigger than his body."
By the time he retired from the Four Seasons, DeVito's decision to form a trio to play nightclubs and bowling alleys in 1950s New Jersey had led to international fame, repeated appearances on the Billboard singles and album charts and four #1 hit singles.
DeVito rejoined Valli and Gaudio (Massi had died in 2000) on stage at the 2005 Broadway opening of the documentary-style musical Jersey Boys, a Tony Award winning hit chronicling the story of the group's early days.
The tale of "Jersey Boys" is mostly accurate, though Tommy's mob ties and debts are blown out of proportion, he says. "Some of it is bullshit -- where I pee in the sink, and the dirty underwear. I was probably the cleanest guy there," he says. "I don't even know how they come up with this kinda stuff. -Las Vegas Review-Journal
- Grendysa, Peter, 1989, Bear Family Records release BCD 15424, liner notes
- Ruhlmann, William. "Biography: Tommy DeVito". Allmusic. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- "Vegas man knows 'Jersey Boys'".
- Whitburn, Joel. Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1993, Billboard Publications 1994 ISBN 0-89820-105-5
- "How a Jersey boy worked his way back".
- "Jersey Boys 2014".