By Anthony J. Machcinski
For six men in their 60s, the passion of performing in front of a live crowd never gets old. On Friday, July 13, The Hit Men will fulfill their passion at Town Hall Park in Lyndhurst, showcasing three decades of experience in the music business.
The performance is part of Lyndhurst’s Summer Concert Series that extends from July 11 to 14.
“It’s no different,” Hit Men lead singer Lee Shapiro said, when asked about his opinion on performing in front of both larger and smaller crowds. “As a musician, it’s your responsibility to make everyone happy. It’s about whoever is at the show having a great time.”
The Hit Men formed over a year and a half ago, with members culled from such notable bands as Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Barry Manilow, Sting, Phoebe Snow, and Cat Stevens collaborating on the project.
“The group came together because people had been asking Gerry (Polci), Don (Ciccone) and me to get together for years,” Shapiro said. “When (the Broadway musical) ‘Jersey Boys’ came out, we said we were going to do it and we assembled friends and other people from the industry to help us.”
Since its inception, the group has moved quickly from a small show they performed for free to larger concerts across the state, with national tours anticipated in the near future. Shapiro got his start in the music business after he saw a relative play the piano.
“I loved what it sounded like,” Shapiro recalled. “I said to myself, ‘I can do this.’”
In a bit of foreshadowing, Shapiro and his mother watched the Ed Sullivan show when Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons performed.
“I was watching the show thinking, ‘See? This band has a piano player, so I know can do it,’ ” Shapiro said. Ten years later, Shapiro would be playing piano in that same band.
Through nearly three decades on the road, Shapiro was able to help form the band by creating a tightly knit group of musicians who have known each other for years.
“Our bass player and I go back to when we were eight years old (nearly fifty years ago),” Shapiro explained. “Jimmy (Ryan) and I go back at least 28, I’ve known Russ (Velazquez) for 20 years. It’s a fun thing to recreate our biggest successes.” Larry Gates completes the band.
With this chemistry, it’s easy to recognize why the group has had such longevity in the harsh music industry. Even though this band has traveled together decades ago, its newest travels continue to bring a lot of excitement.
“I love Frankie and the guys, and we can attach all of our credibility to them,” Shapiro said, explaining the value of his experience with Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. “Now that everyone is hovering around 60, we can have the best times on the road. It’s truly like a brotherhood.”
The band has continued to wow crowds across the region by performing many of the Four Seasons covers that made them famous many years ago, including, “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Mony Mony.”
The creation of The Hit Men has spawned a new life for this group of dedicated musicians.
“This experience has been ridiculously good for me. Now we are actually playing the circuit,” said Shapiro, who, along with the band, will play in several states including Florida, Louisiana, and California in the coming months.
While all the members of the group continue to thrive working with their life’s passion, the group would still perform, even without the acclaim attached.
“I said to Frankie (Valli), ‘Had nothing happened, would you still be singing?’ and he replied, ‘Yes,” Shapiro said. “This is what we do, you wake up in the morning and music is your career.”
The Hit Men will take the stage at Lyndhurst’s Town Hall park on July 13 at 7 p.m. The Summer Concert series will also feature such acts as the Four Tops, Kenny Vace and the Planotones, and Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses performing throughout the event. For a full listing of bands, go to www.lyndhurstnj.org/calendar.