June 5, 2014

The Hit Men take their shot at Gallo Center

Former band members of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Tommy James & The Shondells and other hitmakers of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s come together for the touring group The Hit Men.

Don’t worry, no one is gonna get whacked.

Unless, of course, it’s the welcome whack of nostalgia The Hit Men deliver at all their shows. The band of veteran musicians has worked with Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Tommy James & The Shondells and other hitmakers of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. They group stops at the Gallo Center for the Arts on Saturday for a show.

Former Valli keyboardist and arranger Lee Shapiro put the group together in 2010 after seeing the resurgence of music thanks to the The Four Seasons-based Broadway musical “Jersey Boys.” He brought along fellow Four Seasons bandmate and drummer Gerry Polci. Joining them are guitarist and vocalist Jimmy Ryan (Carly Simon and Cat Stevens), vocalist and composer Larry Gates (Janis Ian and Rick Derringer) and Russ Velazquez (Sting and Carol King).

Shapiro, who was with Valli from 1973 to 1980, also toured with Tommy James as one of the Shondells. But he said the show isn’t just a tribute act to the great groups of that era.

“Part of what this band is all about is that we’re not a tribute band; we were there,” he said from his New Jersey home. “Our stories, our visuals are authentic and the real stuff. Our audience loves peeking behind the screen, hearing the hits by the guys who made them. That’s what we’re about.”

The men in the group, who range in age from 57 to 67, all knew one another through their years playing in the industry. They intersperse their act with the hits and tell stories about their days playing with the greats. And they playfully call the pictures they show on screen of their past work their “baby pictures.”

“The show basically consists of music and visuals and stories from ’60s, ’70s and ’80s as pertaining to artists worked with and songs performed,” Shapiro said. “When we do ‘Who Loves You,’ I was one of the Four Seasons then. I knew what Frankie was doing and why he decided to re-form the group. People are captivated by what it took to make all these hit records.”

The band runs through the hits like “Oh What a Night,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Rag Doll,” “Hanky Panky,” “Peace Train” and many more throughout the show. While he said many people come for the music, it’s how the music makes them feel that really sells the show.

“What I always say in these situations, people who come to our concert leave happier and younger than when they got there,” Shapiro said. “Our product is the feeling you come away with, not just the music or visuals or stories. I’ve had people tell us they feel like they’ve gone back in time. Our show is time travel.”

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