Longtime rocker returns to area for hometown gigs

Courtesy photo

Demetri Callas returns to his hometown for gigs.

Most people know Frankie Valli as an iconic musician, lead singer of the internationally successful '60s rock/pop band The Four Seasons and, more recently, one of four lead characters in the Broadway show "Jersey Boys."

Frederick-born-and-raised musician Demetri Callas, however, knows Valli as a former colleague and close friend.

Callas, 70, joined The Four Seasons (of "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man" fame) in late 1970, taking the place of founding member and lead guitarist Tommy DeVito, he said in a recent phone interview from his home in Las Vegas. He toured throughout the U.S. and internationally with the group until 1974, when he voluntarily walked away from the band.

"I was a bad boy," he said, laughing. "It's only today in retrospect that I realize how irresponsible I probably was. ... I'm not proud of it, but instead of waiting for them to relieve me, I knew it was time for me to walk."

Callas will return to Frederick next week to play several hometown shows -- the first, a benefit concert at the Frederick Elks Lodge #684 on Tuesday night and the next afternoon in Baker Park for a brief, opening gig at the Frederick's Fourth celebration. Callas will be appearing as a guest artist with Frederick band The Shades, who mostly cover tunes from the 1950s and '60s. Wednesday evening, he will perform in Hagerstown with a group of local musician friends under the name The Teddy Boys, as part of the city's Fourth of July celebration. The Hagerstown performance, a set of covers of classic '50s and '60s tunes, will be much more impromptu and a bit more "off the cuff" than the other two, he said.

The Frederick High School grad began his music career early on, having taught himself to play guitar at age 13. He purchased his first acoustic guitar from Cole's Pawnbroker's Outlet in Frederick, he said, and it cost him $12.95.

"I recall seeing local bands at carnivals or The Great Frederick Fair and just really enjoying their music," he said. "I was fascinated by guitar players, mostly."

Some early influences included guitarists "Punch" Hahn (who impressed Callas because he played a handmade guitar, he said), area country artist Johnny Glaze, Fredericktonians Roy, Ray and Paul Dayton and even Jimmy Dean, musician and, later, founder of Jimmy Dean Sausages, who once played country music events at the former armory downtown, Callas said.

Callas began playing guitar professionally around 1960, and although initially influenced by "hillbilly music," as he called it, he began playing rock 'n' roll from day one.

"I began playing kind of before rock 'n' roll hit ... but when it did, I was hooked," he said.

Throughout his career, Callas played with local musicians and bands in the greater Frederick, Baltimore and Washington areas, often as part of "combos" of several musicians, he said. Under the band name Flavor, he did a few recordings for Columbia records, including the single "Sally had a Party" in 1968. Callas also spent a year playing with the group Bill Black's Combo, named after Elvis Presley's former bassist, Bill Black, and played briefly with Bill Haley & His Comets (of "Rock Around the Clock" fame).

He was performing with a combo at Baltimore's Club Venus when a member of The Four Seasons heard him play, he said, and four weeks later, he got a call from the band's manager asking him if he was interested in joining the act.

In his time with the Seasons, Callas had several interesting experiences, including the group being followed in and out of former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne's Inaugural Ball (where they were performing) in the '70s by the FBI because of alleged mafia connections present within the band's camp, he said.

During his tenure, the group also performed at the Atlanta State Penitentiary to gain access to the personal cell of Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo, New Jersey mobster and a friend of Valli's, Callas said. DeCarlo was incarcerated for tax evasion, and was dying of terminal cancer, but Valli wanted to visit him and pay his respects.

"We were up there performing in front of all the inmates in our funny little suits ... who were lying back with these looks on their faces, thinking 'who the hell are these guys?,'" he said, laughing.

"Then going down to Gyp's cell -- if you could call it that, because it was more like a suite -- was also nerve-wracking. Frankie and Gyp embraced, and, of course, there were tears. ... It was something I'll never forget."

SHOWS

Benefit concert for The Patty Pollatos Fund Inc., with Frederick band The Shades, Tuesday, July 3 from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. at the Frederick Elks Lodge #684, 289 Willowdale Drive, Frederick. Tickets are $100 for a table of eight, or can be purchased individually with an assigned table number. For tickets, contact, Sylvia Lucas at sawings@aol.com or Debbie Williams at debbie@ppfine.org.

WFRE Free Country Stage at Baker Park with The Shades at Fredericks Fourth celebration at noon Wednesday. That event is free. For more information, visit www.celebratefrederick.com.

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