TOMMY JAMES & THE SHONDELLS
On the road, Tommy James and his Shondells are still rockin’, performing their many timeless hits to sellout crowds across the country. With hits like “Say I Am (What I Am)” and “It’s Only Love”. What a great chance to see some outstanding musicians performing songs that shaped alot of the music of their era!
Tommy James’ road to superstardom began when a nightclub DJ in Pittsburgh discovered a two-year-old record by “The Shondells” and played it at his weekend dances. The crowd response was so overwhelmingly positive that radio deejays started spinning it and an enterprising record distributor bootlegged it, selling 80,000 copies in ten days. By May of 1966 “Hanky Panky” was the number one record in Pittsburgh and Tommy James was a sensation.
A Pittsburgh promoter tracked Tommy down at his home in Niles, told him of the success tale of “Hanky Panky,” and urged him to “come on down!” Unable to put the original group back together, Tommy hired a hot P-burgh R&B bar band to become the Shondells. Two weeks later he and this new group signed a record deal with Roulette Records in New York. The label, in turn, put their promotion team to work on “Hanky Panky” and made it the summer smash of ’66. Thus, began one of the longest strings of nonstop hits in recording industry history.
The Shondells 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.
With three hits under his belt, Tommy 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 and The Shondells became one of the first acts 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 and company took over the creative reins of their career by writing and producing their next record, the groundbreaking “Crimson and Clover” single and the accompanying album. Released in early 1969, it went multi-platinum, 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.
The Shondells followed up the Crimson and Clover album with Cellophane Symphony, which featured the newly developed Moog Synthesizer and included yet another Top Ten single, “Sweet Cherry Wine.”
Tommy James and The Shondells were on a roll! Not only did the total sales of “Sweet Cherry Wine” and the band’s other three hits in 1969 top those of the Beatles that year, their second volume of greatest hits – The Best Of Tommy James and The Shondells (featuring “Ball of Fire”) – also appeared, and ultimately 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 the group released the gritty rock ‘n’ roll Travelin’ album which contained the gold singles “She” and “Gotta Get Back To You.” Thought by many to be the band’s best work, this innovative concept album was the last LP Tommy made with the 1960s Shondells. After four hectic years, both he and the band decided to take a break.
When Tommy returned, he did so as a solo act, writing and producing the million selling single “Tighter, Tighter” for the groupAlive And Kickin’. 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 in Nashville with an all-star cast that featured ace guitarist Pete Drake and Elvis Presley sidemen, Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana.
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” respectively battled for the top spot on the pop chart for a solid month, each eventually going number one. It was the first time in music history that two cover versions of songs by the same artist went number one back-to-back.
In 2006, Tommy marked the start of his fifth decade as a recording artist with the release of a fan-pleasing, career-spanning retrospective 40 Years: The Complete Singles Collection (1966-2006), which included all 48 of his singles. Next came his I Love Christmas album on CD and a special collector’s vinyl edition.
His autobiography – Me, The Mob and The Music – became a bestseller for Simon & Schuster, garnered rave reviews from critics and industry insiders, and was chosen by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 25 greatest rock ‘n’ roll memoirs of all time (#12).
This thrilling tale of Tommy’s career and his tumultuous relationship with the “Godfather” of the music industry, Morris Levy, 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 Hugo. With a top Hollywood screenwriter now on board, Tommy’s story has taken a critical step forward in the always-lengthy film development process.
Today, Tommy’s career is still in high gear. With the signing of a new distribution deal with Allegro, his entire recorded catalog will be available around the world.
Tommy has also signed an agreement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing to represent Tommy’s self-published songs and the accompanying masters. This move means that all of Tommy’s songs from 1962 onward are now being pitched for film, television, advertising and other uses by the world’s largest music publishing house.
On the road, he and his Shondells are still rockin’, performing their many timeless hits to sellout crowds across the country. When not on the road, Tommy continues to craft new music geared toward film and television, and develop new business opportunities for his company Aura Entertainment Group.