Music News & Reviews

'The Hit Men' to play golden oldies at Cal Poly on Saturday

The Hit Men include keyboardist and group founder Lee Shapiro, lead guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Ryan, bassist/vocalist Larry Gates, vocalist Russ Velasquez and drummer Gerry Polci.
The Hit Men include keyboardist and group founder Lee Shapiro, lead guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Ryan, bassist/vocalist Larry Gates, vocalist Russ Velasquez and drummer Gerry Polci.

Lee Shapiro was 19 years old when he began performing with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, playing hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like A Man” to crowds of screaming teens.

Four decades later, he’s back on stage playing those and other chart-toppers as a founding member of The Hit Men, a group of musicians performing songs from the Four Seasons, Tommy James and the Shondells, Barry Manilow, and other stars they played with through the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.

“We’re 62 and 63 and getting to do it again,” said Shapiro, who will join his fellow bandmates at Cal Poly’s Performing Arts Center on Saturday. “We’re all delighted to be able to do what we’re doing at this stage of our lives.”

Shapiro and the others went on to fruitful careers, producing records and music for TV and advertising. But the success of the 2005 Broadway musical “Jersey Boys,” depicting the life and music of Valli and his band, convinced Shapiro there was an audience eager for an encore act.

So in 2010, Shapiro rounded up musicians he’s known and worked with through his career, including Gerry Polci, the original singer of the Four Seasons’ biggest hit, “December 1963 (Oh What A Night),” Jimmy Ryan, Larry Gates and Russ Velasquez.

Those may not be household names, but the roster of stars they’ve performed and recorded with are: Carly Simon, Elton John, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, Carol King, Sting, Chicago and LL Cool J, to name just a few.

The group hit the road in 2012 and has been touring nationwide since, playing songs that were the soundtrack of youth to more modest but no less enthusiastic audiences, backed by screens showing video and photos from the time.

“If you’re looking up at the screen at things that happened during your teen years, and you’re hearing music performed by a real live band actually sounding like the record sounded, you’re caught up and you go back,” said Shapiro, who likes to say the band sells time travel and youth. “People tell us that all the time that they feel like they are 23 again.”

The artists also share behind-the-scenes stories about the stars and songs they performed. Catch Ryan after the show and he may even tell you who Carly Simon wrote the song “You’re So Vain” about.

“People get a real look behind the curtain and behind the music industry as a whole back in those days through our eyes,” Shapiro said. “We have a closet full of material to choose from, working with so many people.”

It’s a chance to relive earlier times not just for the audience, but for the band members as well. The first time he was touring, Shapiro said, it was all about him — wanting the fame, the spotlight, the girls.

“This time, there’s none of that. There’s all the great music part and none of the baloney,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun for us and the audience feels that.”

THE HIT MEN

8 p.m. Saturday Cal Poly Performing Arts Center $25.60 to $52 456-4TIX or http://pacslo.org

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