Tommy James and the Shondells (Niles)
Tommy James and the Shondells are an American rock and roll group whose period of greatest success came in the late 1960s. They had two No. 1 singles in the U.S. — “Hanky Panky” (1966) and “Crimson and Clover” (1969) — and also charted 12 other Top 40 hits, including five in the top ten: “Crystal Blue Persuasion”, “Mony Mony”, “I Think We’re Alone Now”, “Sweet Cherry Wine”, and “Mirage”.
The band formed in 1959 in Niles, Michigan, first as the Echoes, then under the name Tom and the Tornadoes, with Tommy James (then known as Tommy Jackson), then only 12, as lead singer. In 1964 James re-named the band The Shondells because the name “sounded good.” At this time, the Shondells were composed of Tommy James (vocals and guitar), Larry Coverdale (lead guitar), Larry Wright (bass), Craig Villeneuve (keyboards) and Jim Payne (drums). Later that year, the band recorded the Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich song “Hanky Panky” (originally a B-side by The Raindrops). Released by a local label, Snap Records, James’s version sold respectably in the South Bend, Indiana, market of Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, but Snap Records had no national distribution. Although the band toured the eastern Midwest, no other market took to the song. The single failed to chart nationally, and The Shondells disbanded in 1965 after graduating from high school.
After first considering taking a job outside of music, James decided to form a new band, the Koachmen, with Shondells guitarist Larry Coverdale and members of a rival group called the Spinners (not the hit-making group from Detroit). The Koachmen played a Midwestern circuit of clubs through the summer and fall of 1965 but returned to Niles in February 1966, after the gigs dried up, to plot their next move.
In 1966 a Pittsburgh radio station unearthed the forgotten single and touted it as an “exclusive”. Listener response encouraged the station to play it regularly. Another Pittsburgh disc jockey played his copy of the single at various dance parties, and demand soared. Bootleggers responded by printing up 80,000 black market copies of the recording, which were sold in Pennsylvania stores.
James first learned of all this activity in April 1966 after getting a telephone call from Pittsburgh disc jockey “Mad Mike” Metro to come and perform the song. James attempted to contact his fellow Shondells. But they had all moved away, joined the service or gotten married and left the music business altogether.
In April 1966 James went by himself to make promotional appearances for the Pittsburgh radio station in nightclubs and on local television. “I had no group, and I had to put one together really fast,” recalled James. “I was in a Pittsburgh club one night, and I walked up to a group that was playing that I thought was pretty good and asked them if they wanted to be the Shondells. They said yes, and off we went.” James recruited a Pittsburgh quintet called The Raconteurs – composed of Joe Kessler (guitar), Ron Rosman (keyboards), George Magura (saxophone), Mike Vale (bass), and Vinnie Pietropaoli (drums) – to become the new Shondells.
With a touring group to promote the single, James went to New York City, where he sold the master of “Hanky Panky” to Roulette Records, at which time he changed his last name to James. With national promotion, the single became a No. 1 hit in July 1966. Before long, Kessler and Pietropaoli were forced to leave after a dispute when planned monies were not paid to them by Roulette. They were replaced by Eddie Gray and Peter Lucia; Magura departed as well.
At first, Tommy James and His Shondells played straightforward shambolic[clarification needed] rock and roll, but soon became involved in the budding bubblegum music movement. Songwriter Ritchie Cordell gave them the No. 4 hit “I Think We’re Alone Now” and the No. 10 hit “Mirage” in 1967. In 1968, James had a No. 3 hit with “Mony Mony”. Co-written by James, Cordell, Cordell’s writing partner Bo Gentry, and Bobby Bloom, “Mony Mony” reached No. 3 in the US and was a British No. 1 in 1968. The title was inspired by a sign for Mutual Of New York that hung outside James’ apartment window. He followed it with the song “Do Something to Me”. However, James was labeled as a bubble-gum rock artist, which he hated. Therefore, he changed his style to psychedelic rock.
From 1968, the group began writing their own songs, with James and Lucia penning the psychedelic classic “Crimson and Clover”. The song was recorded and mixed by Bruce Staple, with James tackling vocal duties and playing all instruments, and featured the then unusual use of electronic gadgetry such as vocoders and phasers. Later in 1968, the group toured with Vice President Hubert Humphrey during his presidential campaign. Humphrey showed his appreciation by writing the liner notes for the Crimson and Clover album.
Further hits included “Sweet Cherry Wine”, “Crystal Blue Persuasion”, and “Ball of Fire”, all from 1969. They also produced “Sugar on Sunday”, later covered by The Clique. As the band embraced the sounds of psychedelia, they were invited to perform at the Woodstock concert but declined.
The group continued until 1970. At a concert in Birmingham, Alabama in March of that year, an exhausted James collapsed after coming off stage from a reaction to drugs and was actually pronounced dead. He recovered and decided to move to the country to recuperate. His four band-mates carried on for a short while under the name of “Hog Heaven” but disbanded soon afterwards.
In a 1970 side project, James wrote and produced the No. 7 hit single “Tighter, Tighter” for the group Alive N Kickin’. James launched a solo career in 1971 that yielded two notable hits over a 10-year span, “Draggin’ the Line” (1971) and “Three Times In Love” (1980).
During the 1980s, the group’s songbook produced major hits for three other artists: Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ version of “Crimson And Clover” (No. 7 in 1982), Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” and Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony” (back-to-back No. 1 singles in November 1987). Other Shondells covers have been performed by acts as disparate as psychobilly ravers The Cramps, new wave singer Lene Lovich, country music veteran Dolly Parton and the Boston Pops orchestra.
In the mid 1980s Tommy James began touring in oldies packages with other acts from the 1960s sometimes billed as Tommy James & The Shondells, although he is the group’s only original member. A Greenwich Village nightclub appearance was filmed and released as Tommy James & the Shondells: Live! At The Bitter End.
In 2006, Tommy James and the Shondells were inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. In 2008 they were inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
In 2009, James and the surviving Shondells, Gray, Vale and Rosman, reunited to record music for a soundtrack of a proposed film based on James’ autobiography, Me, the Mob, and the Music, released in February 2010. The group still gets together from time to time for special video/TV events and nostalgia shows.
In March 2011, the Tommy James song I’m Alive(co-written with Peter Lucia) became a top 20 hit in the Netherlands for UK singer Don Fardon after his version had been used in a Vodafone commercial. The song originally appeared on the Crimson and Clover LP.
They amassed six million-selling gold records: “Hanky Panky”, “I Think We’re Alone Now”, “Mony Mony”, “Crimson and Clover”, “Sweet Cherry Wine”, and “Crystal Blue Persuasion”.
- 1966 Hanky Panky (#46) — Roulette R (Mono)/SR (Stereo) -25336
- 1966 It’s Only Love — Roulette R/SR-25344
- 1967 I Think We’re Alone Now (#74) — Roulette R/SR-25353
- Original pressings feature a black album cover with yellow footprints, later replaced with a photo of the group
- 1967 Something Special!:The Best Of Tommy James & the Shondells (#174) — Roulette R/SR-25355
- Reissued in 1968 as Roulette SR-42005
- 1967 Gettin’ Together — Roulette R/SR-25357
- 1968 Mony Mony (#193) — Roulette SR-42012
- 1968 Crimson & Clover (#8) — Roulette SR-42023
- 1969 Cellophane Symphony (#141) — Roulette SR-42030
- 1969 The Best of Tommy James and the Shondells (#21) — Roulette SR-42040
- 1970 Travelin’ (#91) — Roulette SR-42044
- 1983 Short Sharp Shots (10″ PRT Records)
- 1964: “Hanky Panky” / “Thunderbolt” — Snap 102
- 1965: “Hanky Panky” / “Thunderbolt” — Red Fox 110
- 1966: “Hanky Panky” (#1 U.S.) (#38 UK) (#1 CAN) / “Thunderbolt” — Roulette 4686
- 1966: “Say I Am (What I Am)” (#21) (#12 CAN) / “Lots of Pretty Girls” — Roulette 4695
- 1966: “It’s Only Love” (#31) (#10 CAN) / “Don’t Let My Love Pass You By” (replaced with “Ya! Ya!” on later pressings) — Roulette 4710
- 1967: “I Think We’re Alone Now” (#4) (#6 CAN) / “Gone, Gone, Gone” — Roulette 4720
- 1967: “Mirage” (#10) (#2 CAN) / “Run Run Baby Run” — Roulette 4736
- 1967: “I Like the Way” (#25) (#21 CAN) / “Baby I Can’t Take It No More” — Roulette 4756
- 1967: “Gettin’ Together” (#18) (#24 CAN) / “Real Girl” — Roulette 4762
- 1967: “Out of the Blue” (#43) (#35 CAN) / “Love’s Closing In On Me” — Roulette 4775
- 1968: “Get Out Now” (#48) (#37 CAN) / “Wish It Were You” — Roulette 7000
- 1968: “Mony Mony” (#3) (#1 UK) (#3 CAN) / “One Two Three And I Fell” — Roulette 7008
- 1968: “Somebody Cares” (#53) (#40 CAN) / “Do Unto Me” — Roulette 7016
- 1968: “Do Something to Me” (#38) (#16 CAN) / “Gingerbread Man” — Roulette 7024
- 1968: “Crimson and Clover” (#1) (#1 CAN) / “I’m Taken” (promotional copies only), “Some Kind Of Love” (commercial copies) — Roulette 7028
- 1969: “Sweet Cherry Wine” (#7) (#6 CAN) / “Breakaway” — Roulette 7039
- 1969: “Crystal Blue Persuasion” (#2) (#1 CAN) / “I’m Alive” — Roulette 7050
- 1969: “Ball of Fire” (#19) (#8 CAN) / “Makin’ Good Time” — Roulette 7060
- 1969: “She” (#23) (#15 CAN) / “Loved One” — Roulette 7066
- 1970: “Gotta Get Back to You” (#45) (#16 CAN) / “Red Rover” — Roulette 7071
- 1970: “Come to Me” (#47) (#46 CAN) / “Talkin’ and Signifying” — Roulette 7076
- James, Tommy (with Martin Fitzpatrick), Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and the Shondells, New York : Scribner, 2010. ISBN 9781439128657
- ^ a b “Post-gazette.com”. Post-gazette.com. 2010-03-22. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
- ^ Allmusic.com
- ^ a b Tommy James & the Shondells > Biography. Allmusic.
- ^ “Tommy James & the Shondells Official Website”. Tommyjames.com. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
- ^ “Djallyn.org”. Djallyn.org. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
- ^ Allmusic.com
- ^ Deming, Mark. “Tommy James & the Shondells: Live! At the Bitter End (2000)”. Allmovie. The New York Times. Retrieved January 2, 2009.
- ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 206, 224, 242 & 262. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 279. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
TOMMY JAMES – Biography
* Created some of the most iconic songs of the 1960s and 1970s, including “Mony Mony,” “Crimson And Clover,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” and “Draggin’ The Line.”
* Hundreds of cover recordings and live performances of his songs by Bruce Springsteen, Kelly Clarkson, Prince, Dolly Parton, Santana, R.E.M., Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Billy Idol, Tom Jones, The Killers, and many others.
* His music prominently featured in 54 movie and 39 television soundtracks, among them Molly’s Game, Battle Of The Sexes, 16 Cloverfield Lane, Moneyball, Pirate Radio, Austin Powers, The Italian Job, Cape Fear, Forrest Gump… and Breaking Bad, The Simpsons, Crowded, Casual, MacGiver, The Goldbergs, Boston Legal, My Name Is Earl, and Criminal Minds.
* A major Hollywood movie in development based on his bestselling autobiography Me, The Mob & The Music, chosen by Rolling Stone magazine as the 12th greatest rock ‘n’ roll memoir of all time.
* Sold over a hundred million records sold worldwide, and has received Five BMI “Million Air” awards in recognition of 22 million broadcast spins of his songs.
* Inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame by Stevie Van Zandt at a live ceremony held in Asbury Park, NJ’s historic convention center. Also, received the Pittsburgh Rock Legends award.
* Celebrated 50 years in the music business with a star-studded concert at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ.
* Host of his own weekly international radio show — “Gettin’ Together with Tommy James” — on SiriusXM (Sundays; 5-8pm Eastern time: 60s on 6 channel).
* * * * *
Born and raised in the upper Midwest, Tommy James grew up in Niles, Michigan, where he made his first stage appearance as a child model at age four. In 1959 he formed his first rock band, The Tornadoes, which developed a sizable regional following.
In 1964 a local DJ asked Tommy and the group to sign with his new label, Snap Records. Among the four sides they recorded was an obscure song written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich called “Hanky Panky.” The group changed their name to “The Shondells” and released it as a single. Although it was a local hit, it didn’t break nationally and was soon forgotten.
Tommy’s road to superstardom began when a nightclub DJ in Pittsburgh discovered that two-year-old record and played it at his weekend dances. By May of 1966 “Hanky Panky” was the number one record in Pittsburgh and Tommy James was a local sensation.
Two weeks later he signed with Roulette Records in New York, and “Hanky Panky” became the summer smash of ’66. Thus, began one of the longest strings of nonstop hits in recording industry history!
Tommy James promptly followed “Hanky Panky” with two more million selling singles – “Say I Am (What I Am)” and “It’s Only Love” – and the Hanky Panky album, which went gold just four weeks after its release.
Tommy then brought in producers Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell who, over the next two years, produced seven more back-to-back smash singles: “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Mirage,” “I Like The Way,” “Gettin’ Together,” “Out Of The Blue,” “Get Out Now,” and the party rock rave-up “Mony Mony.” The Gentry/Cordell/James team also produced three platinum albums.
In 1968, Tommy became one of the first artists to experiment with music videos, creating a mini-film around “Mony Mony” for theatrical showings, thirteen years before MTV hit the airwaves.
After spending three months on the road that year with Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign, TJ took over the creative reins of his career, writing and producing the groundbreaking “Crimson and Clover” single and album.
The album racked up multi-platinum sales, and spawned two more monster hits for the group: “Do Something To Me” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” A fourth song from the LP, “Sugar On Sunday,” rose high on the charts in a cover version by The Clique.
Tommy followed with the Cellophane Symphony LP, which featured the newly developed Moog Synthesizer and included the Top Ten single “Sweet Cherry Wine.”
Tommy James was on a roll! The total sales of his four 1969 hits topped those of the Beatles that year, and The Best Of Tommy James and The Shondells (featuring “Ball of Fire”) sold over 10 million copies.
Alone among his 1960s contemporaries, Tommy had successfully made the transition from a Top 40 pop singer to a respected classic rock album artist.
In 1970 he released the gritty rock ‘n’ roll Travelin’ album (thought by many to be the band’s best work) which contained the gold singles “She” and “Gotta Get Back To You.” Tommy then took a break.
Upon his return, he wrote and produced “Tighter, Tighter” for Alive And Kicking. Over the next four years Tommy scored an additional 12 chart singles, among them “Come To Me,” “Ball and Chain,” “I’m Comin’ Home,” and “Draggin’ The Line.”
During that time he also produced the albums Tommy James, Christian Of The World, and My Head, My Bed And My Red Guitar; the latter of which he recorded with an all-star cast that featured ace guitarist Pete Drake and Elvis Presley sidemen, Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana.
In 1974 Tommy left Roulette Records and released the In Touch and Midnight Rider albums for San Francisco-based Fantasy Records. In 1980, he signed with Millennium Records and scored three more chart singles, including the million selling AC #1 “Three Times In Love.” In the 1990s, Tommy formed Aura Records and landed three Top 5 AC hits from his Hold The Fire album.
Meanwhile Tommy’s songs had become pop culture classics and were being covered by everyone from punk rockers to country icons. In 1987, Tiffany and Billy Idol’s versions of “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Mony Mony” reached #1: the first — and only — time that two cover versions of songs by the same artist topped the national chart in back-to-back weeks.
Tommy marked the start of his fifth decade as a recording artist with the release of a career-spanning retrospective 40 Years: The Complete Singles Collection (1966-2006) and his first-ever holiday album I Love Christmas.
Meanwhile, Me, The Mob and The Music is on its way to becoming a major motion picture: a project helmed by producer Barbara De Fina, whose credits include Goodfellas, Casino, Cape Fear, Color of Money, The Grifters, The Age of Innocence, and Silence.
Today Tommy’s still rockin’ around America, performing his many timeless hits to sellout crowds, and recording an exciting new album to be released in 2018.