“Oh, What A Night” this will be.
The five-man group—known as The Hit Men since 2010 (though each member has been a hit music man on his own for decades, making music with, and for, some of the biggest names in the business—Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Carly Simon, Elton John, Barry Manilow, Carole King, Sting, Cat Stevens and Paul McCartney, among others)—will be rocking Guild Hall on Monday, August 25.
In the words of Hit Men founder Lee Shapiro (former member of The Four Seasons), they’ll be “making magic;” turning 60- and 70-somethings into 23-year-olds. He guarantees it: “the audience is gonna leave happier and younger.” And if they’re already young? Well, that’s because someone older probably introduced them to Hit Men classics, especially “December 1963 (Oh What a Night),” which has become a kind of anthem for the group, with Gerry Polci (formerly of The Four Seasons) once again doing lead vocals. Check out the YouTube video of this Four Seasons billboard hit of decades ago: it’s registered over 2.3 million hits.
The Hit Men group is barely four years old. [The name] “Hit Men? Well, yeah, we’re from New Jersey,” Shapiro laughs. But here’s an unusual feature: each member of The Hit Men—Jimmy Ryan, Larry Gates and Russ Velazquez, along with Shapiro and Polci—boasts multiple talents. They’re not just superb performers with longtime careers, they were—and still are—composers, arrangers, producers and teachers. And, just as importantly, they’re exemplary as colleagues and friends. As Shapiro says, when he started out at the age of 19 with Valli, who was 38 at the time, ego understandably ruled—everyone wanted to do solo. It was “I, I, I”. Now, to his great delight, it’s “we.” Their harmonies are genuine, their music authentic. As Shapiro notes, The Hit Men are not a “tribute band,” a group that names itself after a group it admires (for example, Hotel California, in tribute to the Eagles, or A Hard Day’s Night, in tribute to The Beatles). The Hit Men are what they were.
The Hit Men love to perform, and do about 60 performances a year. Shapiro and Polci left The Four Seasons 41 years ago “to make our own individual ways.” The hit-record period had crested—time to move on. But a few years ago, Shapiro says, he felt the pull of the past, and no doubt the extraordinary success of the award-winning Broadway musical, Jersey Boys, got him to wondering: could a couple of the original “Boys” get back together again, joined by longtime, multi-talented musician friends Jimmy Ryan (lead guitarist and founder of The Critters), Larry Gates and Russ Velazquez? As Shapiro recalls, Polci said “OK, let’s do a rehearsal and see how it goes, but it’s gotta be great.” They hadn’t played together for 35 years, but after a few notes, Shapiro knew: “Polch, we can do this, we are gonna be great.” The rehearsal ended. There was an eerie silence, and then they giggled, “This is too cool, I remember this.” And so do audiences. Everywhere they perform, Shapiro points out, people come up asking for signed CDs. He particularly recalls one older fan because “he had tears in his eyes, an original album in his hand,” and he said, “You gave me my youth back.”
Better watch the aisles for dancers, but also watch the screen behind the band that will be showing footage from the old days—“baby pictures” from 40-50 years ago.
The Hit Men will be recreating joyous sounds from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and no doubt Shapiro’s promise will be realized: Everyone will be young again.
The Hit Men play Guild Hall in East Hampton on Monday, August 25 at 8 p.m. Call 1-866-811-4111 or visit guildhall.com for ticket info.