Robert John "Bob" Gaudio (born November 17, 1942) is an American singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer, and the keyboardist/backing vocalist for The Four Seasons. One night he went to The Bitter End in Greenwich Village and saw Jake Holmes performing. Gaudio was taken with Holmes' song, "Genuine Imitation Life", and decided to base a Four Seasons album upon it. With Holmes as his new lyricist, The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette album was released in January 1969. Gaudio and Holmes subsequently wrote and produced Watertown.
The Creative Process
A conversation with Bob Gaudio
Ed OBrien: I understand that you have had a long association with the pop/rock group The Four Seasons.
Bob Gaudio: I was one of the originals. Frankie Valli and I have been partners for 34 years or so. From a professional standpoint, I left the group about 20 years ago. I don't travel anymore, but I've continued to write for them and produce for them.
EO: Let's talk about Watertown. When were you first approached about doing a project for Frank Sinatra?
BG: It seems as though, the way it went down, my partner Frankie spent some time with Frank, and they got to be real friendly. They started talking about a project, and Frankie made the suggestion that Frank and I should meet and talk about doing something contemporary, something maybe a little different and unusual, something he hadn't done before. So we did that. I was out in Vegas for a couple of weeks and went to see all of Frank's shows. We hung out, but it was about a year or year and a half before the writing and recording. It had to be about mid-'68.
EO: Was (lyricist) Jake Holmes involved at this juncture?
BG: Not yet. I wasn't sure who I was going to use for the lyrics. Jake and I had written an album, "Genuine Imitation Life Gazette," for The Four Seasons. I was very happy with that album and the lyric content and I knew that Jake and I worked very well together. After thinking it over, I thought he would be a good choice.
EO: What was the next step?
BG: Choosing the arrangers. We met with Charlie Calello and Joe Scott. They understood the work we were doing and the sound we were looking for.
EO: Tell me about the creative process.
BG: I had a place in Montclair (California) at the time. Jake came out and we just locked ourselves away. It must have been for about three or four weeks. He just packed his bags and lived with us, and on a twenty-four hour basis, whenever we felt the urge, we wrote. The whole album only took about six weeks – a surprise for both of us (laughs).
EO: How did you come up with the concept of Watertown?
BG: To launch the project, we had envisioned a one-man TV show. We had the idea of a man in a small town...a slice of life so to speak. Jake and I discussed what would be an interesting thing to for Sinatra. What we could do that he hadn't done before. We just hit on putting him in a small town. Having a small-town approach, and taking it down as much as we could to basic life in middle America. We tried to strip all the gloss and sheen off of it.
EO: That was a daring move at the time. Sinatra was the guy who personified urban cool all through the 50's and 60's. All of a sudden, he makes the transition: here he is, doing an album that takes place in a rural setting. How did you ever get him to do it?
BG: Jake and I were under the impression that we were doing a project. We were asked to come up with something unusual, something different: a concept album if you will. It's such an old word, but I can't think of a better explanation for it. Jake and I did a demo record for Frank. I laid down the charts, and Jake did the singing. Then Sarge (Irving "Sarge" Weiss, Sinatra's long-time music coordinator) called about a week after Frank got the tapes. He said, "Guess what?" I said, "What?" Sarge said, "He wants to do all of them." Apparently, Frank was just expecting to get ten or so songs. I don't think he was expecting it to be what it was, which was a story. He fell in love with something. We never really discussed it in detail, Frank and I. I don't know what turned him on to wanting to do it. I don't think he looked at it as being contemporary commercial. It was pretty obvious that it wasn't one hit song after another. I think he fell in love with the concept, the love story.
EO: The arrangements have the obvious orchestral make-up of strings and horns. A couple of oboes and maybe an English horn. But there are a lot of things going down that I don't recognize.
BG: Vinny Bell did a lot of that for us. Besides being a fantastic guitar player, he was some sort of an electronic wizard. He had all these wonderful sounding electronic instruments. There was a bellzouki (12-string guitar) and all kinds of interesting sounds.
EO: The sound of the album is wonderful. The arrangements are so sparse, and there is such a raw quality to Sinatra's voice.
BG: As wonderful as they are, I didn't want it to be like every other album Sinatra had done. I felt the sogs needed to be treated a little more introspectively. Like the character. This was not the big city. This was a man in a small town – a very simple, unfortunate slice of life. I wanted to create as haunting a sound as possible and I think I accomplished that. It does have a lot of space, and air, and unusual things. A lot of things Sinatra had never done. Raw is a perfect description for Frank's interpretation.
EO: How did the sessions go?
BG: They were tough. I had asked Frank to overdub. It was such a unique sound for him. I felt we needed tight controls. Overdubbing gave us that aspect. He wasn't all that comfortable with the concept, but he agreed to do it.
EO: The results are marvelous.
BG: Well, Frank is a real pro. He didn't feel he was in his best voice for some of the sessions, but he just forged ahead until he got it right. To be honest, I was astonished by the results.
EO: How did you feel about the final product?
BG: I loved it. Frank loved it. It was a fantastic artistic experience.
EO: Do you have any idea why he didn't follow up with the TV special?
BG: He just wan't happy with his singing at the time and he didn't want to do any television or films. He made very few personal appearances. Unfortunatley, he also didn't want to hold the album back. In retrospect, we would have been much better off sitting on it for as long as it took. We needed a launching pad and never got it.
EO: I was having a conversation with a friend a few days ago, and I mentioned Watertown. She told me that it was impossible for her to listen to the album without getting all teary-eyed. She said, "It rings so true. It's what happens to you in life."
BG: That's wonderful.
Guy Steele asks Bob Gaudio about "Lady Day"