Happy Birthday: Tommy DeVito of The Four Seasons
Today’s the birthday of Tommy DeVito, one of the founding members of The Four Seasons. Not a lot of guys get to celebrate their birthday one day and then have a movie about their group released the day after, so we hope Mr. DeVito makes the most of this happy coincidence.
Born in Belleville, New Jersey, DeVito formed the Variety Trio in the early 1950s with his brother Nick DeVito and their friend Hank Majewski, but the lineup, name, and number of members all changed over the course of the next several years, with the most notable addition coming in 1954, when Francis Castelluccio – soon to be known as Frankie Valli – joined the group. By 1956, they’d started calling themselves the Four Lovers, but although they found a certain amount of success under that name (their single “You’re the Apple of My Eye” hit #62 on the Billboard Hot 100), it wasn’t until changing over to The Four Seasons in 1961 that the big hits started to kick in.
DeVito was there for every hit the band had in the ‘60s, but after departing the ranks of The Four Seasons in April 1970, times were tough for him for awhile, 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,” but after doing his time, the former Four Season slowly but surely got back on his feet – doing a bit of record producing here, popping up in a few Joe Pesci movies there (DeVito and Pesci have been friends since they were kids) – and has kept his nose squeaky clean ever since. More importantly, though, DeVito and the rest of the Four Seasons have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and when Jersey Boys made its Broadway debut in 2005, DeVito was there alongside Valli and Gaudio (Massi died in 2000) for opening night.
In the short film Tommy and the Boys, DeVito asks, “Why did I steal? Why did I go to jail?” He doesn’t have an answer for these questions, but it’s clear that it doesn’t really matter to him, given the end result: “It made for a hell of a life.”
In turn, to celebrate DeVito’s birthday, we could just offer up a straightforward best-of collection, but you’ll have plenty of those shoved down your throat for the next few weeks anyway, so we’re going a different direction and spotlighting the last full Four Seasons album featuring DeVito as a member: 1969’s The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. It’s definitely an anomaly in the group’s catalog, but it’s a particularly interesting one, we think, so we hope you enjoy it.