The music of Tommy James is played continuously, everyday, in every country in the world, and has been for over a generation. His songs have become so ingrained in modern culture, it’s difficult to go for more than a couple of days without hearing one of them on the radio, TV, in films, or one of the 300 plus cover versions of his songs by other artists. He has sold, to date, over 100 million records and has been awarded 23 gold singles and 9 gold and platinum albums.
He was born Thomas Jackson on April 29, 1947 in Dayton, Ohio finally settling in Niles, Michigan which he still regards as his hometown. His first stage appearance was as a child model at age 4. In 1959, at the age of 12, he formed his first rock band, “The Tornadoes”, and began playing local gigs around the area and developing a sizeable following.
In 1964 a local DJ asked Tommy and the group to sign with his new regional label, “Snap Records”. One of the 4 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. It was an instant local hit but didn’t break nationally and was soon forgotten.
Two years later, in May of ’66, amazingly the record exploded out of Pittsburgh and“Hanky Panky” was a smash! Unable to put the original group back together, Tommy went to Pittsburgh alone and hired the first local band he could find to be The Shondells. Two weeks later the new group signed a record deal with Roulette Records in New York and “Hanky Panky” became the biggest hit of the summer of ’66. Thus began one of the longest strings of non-stop hits in the record business.
“Hanky Panky” was quickly followed up by two more million selling singles: “Say I Am”and “It’s Only Love” with the “HANKY PANKY” album going gold a mere 4 weeks after its release in July of ’66.
Tommy then added producers Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell to the team who, over the next two years, produced 7 more back-to-back gold singles including: “I Think We’re Alone Now”, “Mirage”, “I Like The Way”, “Gettin’ Together”, “Out Of The Blue”, “Get Out Now”, and the party rock icon… “Mony Mony”. The Gentry/Cordell/James team also produced three platinum albums: “I THINK WE’RE ALONE NOW”, “SOMETHING SPECIAL”, and “MONY MONY”.
Tommy James and The Shondells were also one of the first acts to experiment with Music Videos of their hits starting with “Mony Mony” in 1968, 13 years before MTV.
By the end of ’68, after three months on the road with Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s Presidential campaign, TJ and company began writing and producing their own records. Their first project, released in early 1969, was the unforgettable “CRIMSON AND CLOVER” album which, in addition to going multi-platinum, spawned three more monster hits for the group: “Do Something To Me”, “Crimson And Clover”, and “Crystal Blue Persuasion”. A fourth song on the LP, “Sugar On Sunday”, was recorded by The Clique and also went top ten.
The “CRIMSON AND CLOVER” album was followed by the “CELLOPHANE SYMPHONY” album, which featured the newly developed Moog Synthesizer, as well as another smash hit, “Sweet Cherry Wine”. Their second volume of greatest hits titled “THE BEST OF TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS” was released that same year and featured the smash hit “Ball Of Fire”. The LP has sold, to date, over 10 million copies.
In 1970 the group released another million selling LP, “TRAVELIN’ “. This innovative theme album was viewed by many as their best work. It contained 2 gold singles:“She” and “Gotta Get Back To You”. “TRAVELIN’ “, however, would be the last album Tommy would make with The Shondells.
With the breakup of The Shondells, Tommy continued with a solo career beginning with the writing and producing of the million selling “Tighter, Tighter” for the group Alive ‘N Kickin”. Over the next 4 years Tommy scored an additional 12 chart singles including: “Come To Me”, “Ball And Chain”, “I’m Comin’ Home” and “Draggin’ The Line”. Tommy also produced three top 40 albums during that time: “TOMMY JAMES”, “CHRISTIAN OF THE WORLD”, and “MY HEAD, MY BED AND MY RED GUITAR”. The latter was recorded in Nashville with an all-star cast featuring Pete Drake and Elvis side-men: Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana.
In 1974 Tommy left Roulette Records and over the next 3 years, recorded 2 albums for San Francisco based Fantasy Records: “In Touch” and “Midnight Rider”.
Returning to the east coast in 1980, Tommy signed with Millennium Records scoring 3 more chart singles including the million selling “Three Times In Love”.
By the mid-80’s, Tommy’s songs, now considered classics, were being covered all over the world by everyone from punk rockers like Joan Jett and the Blackhearts to symphony orchestras like The Boston Pops. At one point in 1987, Tiffany and Billy Idol, with their versions of “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Mony Mony”, fought it out for the top spot on the charts for a solid month, each eventually going number one. It was the first time in music history that 2 cover versions of songs by the same artist went number one back-to-back.
In the 90’s Tommy’s music has appeared in countless movie soundtracks including: “Forrest Gump”, the Oliver Stone movie “Heaven And Earth”, “Cape Fear” “Pontiac Moon”, “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead”, “Off And Running”, “Vice Versa” and in 1999 REM’s cover of “Draggin’ The Line” was one of the high points in the summer blockbuster “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me while the film “A Walk On The Moon” featured Cher singing “Crimson And Clover” and Morcheeba doing “Crystal Blue Persuasion”.
Entertainment Giant BMG has also released Tommy’s landmark “Live! At the Bitter End” video as one of their first DVD packages and is now available in stores coast to coast.
In the 21st century, Tommy is busier than ever performing to sold out crowds across the country as well as working on a myriad of projects including an autobiography and a music television show “American Jukebox”. and appeared in throughout 2004, in the PBS music special, “Sixties Pop Rock Reunion”.
Tommy James has left an indelible mark on his industry and his generation with credits and longevity as an artist, songwriter, and performer that few have equaled. With the ever increasing popularity of his music, there seems to be no end in sight.
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