Tommy DeVito, founder member of the 1960s doo-wop band the Four Seasons – obituary
Tommy DeVito, who has died from complications of Covid 19 aged 92, was a founding member of the Four Seasons, the white singing group from the streets of New Jersey that, during the 1960s, competed for popularity with the Beach Boys and the Beatles.
His career began in the early 1950s when he teamed up with the singer Francis Castelluccio (aka Frankie Valli) in a group called the Four Lovers. The pair went on to form the Four Seasons in 1960, with Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi.
The Seasons’ brand of doo-wop influenced rock, powered by Frankie Valli’s falsetto, with DeVito supplying baritone vocals and lead guitar, conquered the American hit parade, their first three singles, Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like a Man all making number one in the Billboard chart. “It was crazy,” DeVito recalled. “We went from making $1,000 a week to $1,000 a day.”
Their record label, Vee Jay, had bought the US rights to the Beatles’ early releases and in 1963 drummed up a PR campaign entitled the “battle of the bands’’. The Beatles won, but the Seasons were not finished, and the hits kept coming: Dawn, Rag Doll, Let’s Hang On, Working My Way Back to You. Overall they had 25 Top 40 hits and sold 175 million records before they reached their thirties.
With their smart Italian suits and swept-back hair, the Seasons nurtured a clean-cut image which belied the fact that they had links to the Mob – a connection that they strove to keep secret from fans, but which, it emerged later, precipitated DeVito’s departure from the group in 1970.
The youngest of nine children, Gaetano “Tommy” DeVito was born into an Italian-American family on June 19 1928 at Belleville, New Jersey. He taught himself the guitar and started performing aged eight. By the age of 12 he was playing for tips in local bars, and by the time he was 16 had his own band.
By 1954 he had joined up with Frankie Valli, his brother Nick DeVito and Hank Majewski in a quartet that became the Four Lovers after landing a recording contract with RCA in 1956. The band had a minor hit with their debut single, You’re the Apple of My Eye.
In a 2008 interview with The Sunday Telegraph, DeVito’s Four Seasons’ bandmate Bob Gaudio, revealed that at the height of their fame in the Sixties, it would have been impossible to come clean about their lives. The Mobster Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo, who ran loan-sharking and gambling interests in New Jersey, helped out early on, and stories of those years included robbing convenience stores in between gigs and spending a weekend in jail after fleeing a hotel without paying the bill.
As time went on DeVito, a free-spending gambler, racked up huge debts, for which he is said to have been threatened by the Mob. He was, Valli recalled later, “abusive with money for himself and for the group.’’
When he left the band in 1970 he claimed that he had simply had enough of “travelling and changing clothes three times a day”. But it later emerged that Valli and Gaudio had agreed to bail him out to the tune of almost a million dollars in exchange for buying him out of the group.
After leaving the Four Seasons DeVito worked as a card dealer in Las Vegas and later as an assistant to the actor Joe Pesci, an old friend.
Along with the other original band members DeVito was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Their story also inspired the hit musical Jersey Boys, which opened in 2005 on Broadway and went on two national tours of the UK.
Tommy DeVito’s wife Edda died earlier this year.
Tommy DeVito, born June 19 1928, died September 21 2020