The Hit Men: Golden oldies to the forefront


PITTSFIELD -- Oh what a night, late December back in ‘63 when Sherry baby was told big girls don't cry and Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons were telling people to walk like a man.

Dozens of chart-topping singles later the group finally said "Bye Bye Baby" and parted ways, but the memories people created while listening to the iconic pop hits endured.

When "Jersey Boys," the musical story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, hit the Broadway stage it was an instant success as audiences rekindled those memories forever bonded to songs like "Stay," "Working My Way Back to You" and "Who Loves You."

Seeing the joy across audiences faces as they listened to the music of their generation, Lee Shapiro, founding member of the Four Seasons, had an idea.

After decades of working behind the scenes in the music industry, Shapiro approached fellow Four Seasons alum Gerry Polci and his friends, Jimmy Ryan of the Critters, Larry Gates, co-songwriter for Desmond Child, and Russ Velazquez, who has worked with Sting, LL Cool J and Korn, all musical legends in their own rights, to form a new "supergroup."

"If we were ever going to do this, now was the time," Shapiro said.

"With the music now back in the foreground because of ‘Jersey Boys' it was now or never. All these other guys did nothing except make hits, thus the name, The Hit Men."

Two years ago they got together after not being in a room for nearly 35 years.

"We played ‘Oh, What a Night.' Gerry sang lead on the record so it made sense," Shapiro said. "After the song was over there was an eerie ‘Twilight Zone' silence and we both said, ‘That sounded just like it did' and that was it."

Now The Hit Men are booking 50 sold-out gigs a year and having the time of their lives. On Thursday evening at 7:30, people can have a good time with them when The Hit Men play the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s at Berkshire Theatre Group's Colonial Theatre.

"Back then we were all in our early 20s, cooing for our own recognition, for us we got to be upstarts at the same time," Shapiro said. "Forty years later we all enjoyed the process so much, we're all in for the fun of it now. It's more enjoyable now because it doesn't come with any baggage."

Throughout the show each musician takes turns playing and singing the songs that reflect each one's legacy that represented their history and the people they worked with. In between they share behind-the-scenes stories of touring and what the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s were like for them.

"We feel like we're finally doing what we were put on this planet to do," Gates said.

Often times after the show people will come up to various members of the band in tears, sent back in time during the performance, he said.

Others bring their original records to have them sign, something they're proud to do he said.

"It's a fountain of youth," Shapiro said. "You close your eyes and you're 23 years old again. It's a reunion with the audience."

When asked why the three-minute songs they made decades ago are so popular again, Shapiro said it was history repeating itself.

"The music of today isn't being made for people of my generation, just like when I was younger that music wasn't being made for my father," he said. "You gravitate back to the music you grew up on."


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