Meeting Frankie Valli or Is that a room key in your pocket?
I mentioned in another blog post: when you are a photographer, you are a fly on the wall of history. And, that works great until someone decides to beat the crap out of you.
But there’s an advantage of being a photographer: at some point, you meet the famous. At least, if you work in my specialty: events. It may take a while. As Cathy Griffith says, those D list celebrities are for my A list events.
Frankie Valli isn’t exactly D list, in fact, he’s pretty A list. And he was the entertainment for the National Grocers Association (NGA) Convention Gala, something I cover every year in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The NGA represents the mom and pop, independently owned grocery stores — and let me tell you — they are the nicest people in the world. These are the folks who own the corner store — or maybe a small chain — and are as down to earth as they come. About 3,000 people attend the convention, and it always wraps up with a no-holes-barred gala party.
But Frankie Valli was my favorite.
First of all, the dude is — well seasoned. Maybe that’s not politically correct to say — but he is. And, as he trotted out onto stage, I kinda rolled my eyes in the back of my head, expecting a boring show. I was an idiot. The singer hasn’t lost a thing — in fact — it was one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Period. Anywhere. And I downloaded all his music to my iPhone. I still listen to it anytime I’m heading to Las Vegas. It puts me in the mood.
As it turned out, Valli may have been in the “mood” that night, too. If he wasn’t, there was at least one lady in the audience who was…
Now, there are a few rules when you are a convention photographer, and you are shooting stage talent during a convention. Typically, you PUT THE CAMERA DOWN. It’s almost always against the rules to even click the shutter while the performer is on stage. The minions go into MELTDOWN. This rule always pisses me off — it makes no difference the convention attendees record the thing on Vine and upload live while the performer is still warming up. I can’t do anything.
But rules like this don’t apply with the NGA — however they do it, they have some clout — and I’m not only permitted to shoot during the performance, I’m expected too. But I always feel a little awkward, everywhere else it is a huge no-no.
So, I sat at my usual table in the front of the ballroom, waiting to take some photos toward the end of the show: I didn’t want to disrupt the opening performance.
I was doing my best to blend.
My camera was in my lap.
Vallli came over to my table.
He stuck the microphone in my face.
“Who are you?” He asked.
“I am Mike Gatty the photographer,” I said, expecting him to throw a fit about my camera, right there, in front of 3,000 grocers.
“Come with me Mike Gatty the photographer,” said Valli.
With that, he performed Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, grabbed one of the female grocers, stuck his head next to hers, smiled — looking right at me and expecting a photo. I had to follow him around the ballroom, shooting about 3 songs worth of pictures. Finally, he wrapped it up, and I sat down.
By the way, IT IS TOUGH TO SHOOT A GREAT PHOTO WHILE A GUY SERENADES A CHICK IN A SPOTLIGHT, WHILE THE CAMERA IS SET TO MANUAL AND YOU HAVE TO ADJUST EVERYTHING ON THE FLY. But don’t even think of TTL and automatic — those lights shinging right at the camera (and on Valli) will fool the camera’s computer every, single time.
The evening progressed to the meet and greet after the show. Now, keep in mind, I’ve been shooting since 7 am. It is now 11 pm. The meet and greet is a big deal — Valli, of course is there, with the most important attendees, and we do prints of all those photos and upload live to social media.
Valli walks in.
“I have to tell you, I hate these things,” he said, “and I’m fucking tired.”
Just what a photographer wants to hear.
Now, many of you remember my Cher speech (see previous blog post). But you CAN’T tell Frankie Valli he has to act like Cher (or can you?). So, I said the only thing that came to mind:
“Mr. Valli, I am really good — and fast — I’ll have you out of here in 15 minutes.” I was secretly dreaming of bed and being done. He wasn’t the only one tired.
He just glared at me.
The first participant — a well dressed lady in a beaded gown — approached the singer, posed, and I clicked the photo. She was one of those serenaded earlier. She grabbed his hand intimately, and twisted her arm awkwardly into the crook of his elbow, her fingers dipped into his jacket pocket.
I miss nothing. She thought she was so sneaky.
“Mr. Valli,” I said, after she walked away, “check your pocket.”
The woman had slipped her room key into the performer’s tux.
His face lit up. Suddenly, he wasn’t tired.
We were there for 2 hours. I couldn’t get rid of the man. He dragged everyone and his brother over for a photo. I even did the stage crew. After every photo, he checked his pockets.
And, in the end, he said the nicest thing anyone could say to me:
“Mike, that was so much fun.”
That night, that night I wasn’t a fly on the wall of history. Oh, what a night that was — that night, I hung with a star. And he’s way better than Cher.
A side note. This Frankie Valli shoot happened about 2 years ago. This past year, the NGA ran a “best of” slideshow of their past conventions. Front and center was the photo of the room key woman being serenaded by Valli. In retrospect, she had a devious smile on their lips.
This is not the room key lady, but I can’t resist this photo. I think it totally shows what the evening was like. I couldn’t find the photo of the room key lady. OK, that’s a lie. I couldn’t POST the photo of the room key lady for fear of…
Perhaps this is her sister?