Tommy James

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Tommy James
Tommy James 2010.png
Tommy James in 2010
Background information
Birth nameThomas Gregory Jackson
Born (1947-04-29) April 29, 1947 (age 73)
Dayton, Ohio, US
Origin Niles, Michigan, US
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, guitarist
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, keyboards, tambourine
Years active1959–present
Labels Roulette Records,
Fantasy Records,
Millennium Records,
Rhino Records,
Aegis Records,
Aura Records
Website Tommy James and the Shondells

Thomas Gregory Jackson (born April 29, 1947), known professionally as Tommy James, and also known as Tommy Tadger, is an American rock, psychedelic rock [1] musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer, widely known as leader of the 1960s rock band Tommy James and the Shondells. [2]


Early life and career

Born in Dayton, Ohio, James and his family moved to Niles, Michigan. He was a child model at the age of four. [2] [3] In 1959, at the age of twelve, he formed the band "The Echoes", which eventually became "Tom and the Tornadoes". [3] In 1964 the band changed its name to The Shondells. That same year, Jack Douglas, a local DJ at WNIL radio station in Niles, formed his own record label, Snap Records. The Shondells were one of the local bands he recorded at WNIL studios. [4] One of the songs was the Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich ditty "Hanky Panky", which the pair had recorded under the name The Raindrops. [4] The song was a hit locally, but the label had no resources for national promotion, and it was soon forgotten. [3] [4]

James in 1967 Tommy James and the Shondells (cropped).png
James in 1967

In 1965, a local dance promoter, Bob Mack, found a copy of "Hanky Panky" in a used record bin and started playing it at his Pittsburgh dance clubs. [2] [3] Soon after, a Pittsburgh area bootlegger made a copy of the song and began pressing copies of it, speeding it up slightly in the process. [4] Sales of the bootleg were estimated at 80,000 in ten days. [2] [5] It became number one on Pittsburgh radio stations in early 1966. [5] Douglas heard about the record's sudden popularity in Pittsburgh because his name and location always appeared on Snap Records labels. [4] Numerous calls from Pittsburgh convinced James to go to Pennsylvania, where he met Mack and Chuck Rubin, who handled the talent bookings for Mack's dance clubs. Before long, all three major music trade papers, Billboard , Cashbox and Record World , were listing "Hanky Panky" as a regional breakout hit. Rubin, who had music industry connections, said it was a good time for the trio to travel to New York City in search of a record deal. [4]

The men made the rounds of the major recording labels, getting initial potential offers from most companies they visited. One label, Roulette Records, gave no initial response because its head, Morris Levy, was out of town until evening; Roulette was one of the last stops on their visit. [4] By the next morning, Mack, Rubin, and James were now receiving polite refusals from the major record companies after the enthusiasm for the record the day before. James said, "We didn't know what in the world was going on, and finally Jerry Wexler over at Atlantic leveled with us and said, 'Look, Morris Levy and Roulette called up all the other record companies and said, "This is my freakin' record." (laughs) and scared 'em all away – even the big corporate labels.'" Their only option would be to sign with Roulette. [5]

Since the band had broken up two years before, James was the only Shondell left. [4] Mack made his dance club bands available to James, but nothing seemed to fit until one of the bands' guitarists took James to the Thunderbird Lounge in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. James sang with the house band, the Raconteurs. The Raconteurs became the new Shondells, [4] and Jackson acquired the professional name of Tommy James. By the third week of June 1966, "Hanky Panky" had become the top single at WLS. [6] By the third week of July 1966, "Hanky Panky" had become the top single in the United States. [4]

Tommy James and the Shondells

After a few comings and goings of members, the classic lineup of James, Eddie Gray (guitar), Mike Vale (bass), Ron Rosman (keyboards) and Pete Lucia (drums) was formed. The group recorded a follow-up song to "Hanky Panky". When Bob Mack's attempt at finding some Shondells worked out in an inadvertent way, he told James about another record he found in the same used record bin "Hanky Panky" came from: "Say I Am" by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs. The only thing James and his new Shondells were aware of when they entered the recording studio for the first time is that whatever they recorded should sound similar to "Hanky Panky", although the two songs sound nothing alike. Mack played The Fireballs record for the group, and they decided to record their version of the song. Mack was credited as the producer for the group's first album, Hanky Panky. [4] [7]

Songwriter Richie Cordell wrote (or co-wrote) and produced many of the group's hits, among them "I Think We're Alone Now", "Mirage", and "Mony Mony". [8] The creation of "Mony Mony" was a group effort involving Cordell, James, Shondells band member Peter Lucia, producer Bo Gentry, and Bobby Bloom. James and Cordell set out to create a party rock single, working out everything except the song's title, which eluded them even after much effort. When they took a break from their creative endeavors on James' apartment terrace, they looked up at the Mutual of New York Insurance Company's large neon sign bearing the abbreviation for the company: M-O-N-Y, which provided the song's name. [4]

Tommy James and the Shondells also produced a "Mony Mony" video when the song was a hit. Even though a number of musical groups had already produced videos by that time, there was no market at all for that film in the US. Television stations would not air it, and it was originally shown between double features in movie theaters in Europe. The film was not seen in the US until the creation of MTV. [3]

James was contacted by Beatle George Harrison, who was working with a group called Grapefruit at the time. Harrison and the group had written some songs they wanted James to consider recording. Since the group came to a decision to change their musical style (and would do so with "Crimson and Clover": see below) and the material Harrison and Grapefruit provided was in the style of "Mony Mony", James turned down their offer.

The music business changed after the success of "Mony Mony". Top 40 program formatting, based on 45 RPM single records, drove popular music on the radio. Few stations played cuts from record albums, so radio was, in effect, "selling" single records for the record companies. [4] In August 1968, James and the Shondells went on the campaign trail for three months with presidential candidate, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. Meanwhile, popular music had become album-driven, displacing many performers whose singles had been top sellers. James realized he and the Shondells needed to become an album-oriented group if they were to survive in the business, necessitating a change in their style.

After working out a marketing strategy for their new sound, James visited WLS when the group was in Chicago to play a concert, bringing along a rough cut of "Crimson and Clover" to the station. WLS secretly recorded the music when James played his tape for them. By the time James was out of the building and in the car, its radio was playing the station's dub of the not-yet-finished song. "Crimson and Clover" had to be pressed the way it was heard on the radio station, and the marketing plan was now wasted time and effort. [4]

"Crimson and Clover" was a huge success, and the group would have two follow-up hits that also reached the Hot 100's top 10, "Sweet Cherry Wine" and "Crystal Blue Persuasion". James, who co-wrote all three of those songs, [9] and his band did well enough with the transition to be invited to perform at Woodstock. James describes Artie Kornfeld's invitation like this: "Artie was up and asked if you could play at this pig farm up in upstate New York." I said, "What?!?" "Well, they say it's gonna be a lot of people there, and it's gonna be a really important show." At the time James was in Hawaii and was incredulous about being asked to travel 6,000 miles to play a show on an upstate New York pig farm, telling the Roulette Records secretary, "If I'm not there, start without us, will you please?" [2] [4]

In March 1970, after four more hits, drugs almost killed James when, at a concert, he collapsed, and was pronounced dead.[ citation needed ] However, he survived, decided to take a break from the recording studio, and moved up into the country to recuperate.[ citation needed ] The Shondells, without James, recorded two albums under the new group name Hog Heaven (one "self titled" on Roulette Records in 1970 and the 2nd (1971) unreleased until 2008), but disbanded soon afterwards.

Tommy James and The Shondells were voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends online Hall of Fame in 2006. Four of the band's biggest hits have been voted Legendary Michigan Songs: "Crimson & Clover" in 2010, and "Hanky Panky", "I Think We're Alone Now", and "Mony Mony" in 2011. [10]


James went solo and had two further Billboard Hot 100 top 20 chart hits with "Draggin' the Line" (co-written by Bob King) (#4 in 1971) and "Three Times in Love" (#19 in 1980), plus eleven much smaller Hot 100 chartings. "Hanky Panky" has been James' one RIAA certified gold single. He also wrote and produced the million-selling 1970 hit "Tighter, Tighter" for the group Alive 'N Kickin' (co-written by Bob King). In 1971 James spent time in Nashville at the recommendation of friends when a "mob war" erupted among organized crime families in New York, and threats against James were intimated due to his connection to Morris Levy. He recorded an album there with top Nashville musicians, My Head, My Bed and My Red Guitar, which received critical acclaim but sold poorly. He left Roulette Records in 1974 and two more albums, In Touch (1976) and Midnight Rider (1977), followed on Fantasy Records, with yet another, Three Times in Love, appearing on Millennium Records in late 1979. The independent label Aegis Records put out his Hi-Fi in 1990.

To date, over 300 musicians have recorded versions of James' music. [2] [3] Covers of three of James' songs went top ten on the Hot 100 (the last two as consecutive No. 1s) in the 1980s: Joan Jett with "Crimson and Clover", Tiffany with "I Think We're Alone Now", and Billy Idol with "Mony Mony".

In October 2008 James and the three surviving members of the original Shondells (Pete Lucia died in 1987) reunited in a New Jersey studio to record again, after 37 years. The group recorded an album, I Love Christmas. [3] [11]

Music and the mob

In February 2010, an autobiography Me, The Mob, and The Music was published. James announced that deals were in hand to turn the story into both a film and a Broadway play. [3] Barbara De Fina is producing the film.

It was evident when James first met Morris Levy, the head of Roulette Records, that Levy was willing to strongarm others when necessary. Those signed to Roulette were there to produce money for the company, having their needs met only when it pleased Levy. Asking to be paid meant intimidation; to survive, those under contract to Roulette needed to find a means of generating income that did not involve the record company, such as personally booked tours. [5] While a Roulette artist had great creative control when recording for the company, the lack of payment for those efforts was difficult to take. [4] [5] [11]

James estimates the company owed him $30–40 million in royalties he never received. [5] [12] Roulette was used as a front for organized crime, also functioning as a money laundering operation, as Levy was closely allied with the Genovese crime family. In the early 1970s, the Genovese outfit found itself in a bloody gang war with the Gambino family, which saw victims not only among mobsters (such as Levy's close friend and business partner Thomas Eboli), but increasingly among non-mob figures on the periphery of the organizations. Levy had taken a somewhat fatherly shine to James, and worried that he might be a target for those who wanted to get at the Genovese family through Levy, so he warned Tommy to flee New York for an extended period, until the war was over. James settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where the Mafia had little presence or influence. While there he began jamming with local country music session players, and was inspired to record a country-rock record in 1971. He did not feel comfortable writing his book until all those deeply involved with the record company had died. [5] It was only after Roulette Records and Levy's Big Seven Music publishing company were sold (the record company to an EMI and Rhino Records partnership, the music publishing company to Windswept Pacific Music which was later sold to EMI) that James began to receive large royalty checks from sales of his records. [13]

Current career

In February 2018, James became host of weekly radio program 'Gettin Together with Tommy James' on Sirius XM Radio channel 60s on 6. [14]

James can also be seen on late-night informercials selling collections of music from the Woodstock era for Time Life. [15]

Personal life

James moved to Clifton, New Jersey in the mid 1970s and circa 2000 to nearby Cedar Grove. [16]

Solo discography


YearAlbum Billboard 200 Record label
1970Tommy James Roulette Records
1971 Christian of the World 131
My Head, My Bed, and My Red Guitar
1976In Touch Fantasy Records
1977Midnight Rider
1979Three Times in Love134 Millennium Records
1990Hi-FiAegis Records
1991The Solo Years (1970-81) Rhino Records
1994Discography Deals and Demos 74-92Aura Records
2006Hold the Fire
2008I Love Christmas


YearTitlePeak chart positions Record label B-side Album
AUS [18] CAN
1970"Ball and Chain"5744 Roulette Records "Candy Maker"Tommy James
"Church Street Soul Revival"6255"Draggin' the Line" Christian of the World
1971"Adrienne"93"Light of Day"
"Draggin' the Line"46202"Bits and Pieces"
"I'm Comin' Home"4019"Sing, Sing, Sing"
"Nothing to Hide"4135"Walk a Country Mile"My Head, My Bed, and My Red Guitar
1972"Tell 'Em Willie Boy's A'Comin'"8989"Forty Days and Forty Nights"
"Cat's Eye in the Window"9085"Dark is the Night"non-album
"Love Song"674051"Kingston Highway"non-album
"Celebration"95"The Last One to Know"non-album
1973"Boo, Boo, Don't'cha Be Blue"7068"Rings and Things"non-album
"Calico""Hey, My Lady"In Touch
1974"Glory, Glory" MCA Records "Comin' Down"non-album
1976"Tighter, Tighter" Fantasy Records "Comin' Down"In Touch
"I Love You Love Me Love""Devil Gate Drive"
1977"Love is Gonna Find a Way""I Don't Love You Anymore"Midnight Rider
1979"Three Times in Love"19164 Millennium Records "I Just Wanna Play the Music"Three Times in Love
1980"You Got Me"101"It's All Right (For Now)"
1981"You're So Easy to Love"58"Halfway to Heaven"non-album
1983"Say Please"21 Records"Two Time Lover"non-album
2006"Love Words"40Aura RecordsHold the Fire
2019"So Beautiful"29Aura RecordsAlive
"I Think We're Alone Now" (acoustic)27


Related Research Articles

Tommy James and the Shondells American rock band

Tommy James and the Shondells are an American soft rock / psychedelic rock band, formed in Niles, Michigan, in 1964. They had two No. 1 singles in the U.S. – "Hanky Panky" and "Crimson and Clover" – and also charted twelve other Top 40 hits, including five in the Hot 100's top ten: "I Think We're Alone Now", "Mirage", "Mony Mony", "Sweet Cherry Wine", and "Crystal Blue Persuasion".

Roulette Records was an American record company and label founded in 1957 by George Goldner, Joe Kolsky, Morris Levy and Phil Kahl, with creative control given to producers and songwriters Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore. Levy was appointed director.

Hanky Panky may refer to:

Crimson and Clover

"Crimson and Clover" is a 1968 song by American soft rock / psychedelic rock band Tommy James and the Shondells. Written by the duo of Tommy James and drummer Peter Lucia Jr., it was intended as a change in direction of the group's sound and composition.

<i>Crimson & Clover</i> (album) 1968 studio album by Tommy James and the Shondells

Crimson & Clover is the sixth album by Tommy James and the Shondells. It features the #1 hit "Crimson and Clover" as well as the #2 hit "Crystal Blue Persuasion". The album "Crimson & Clover", was released in December 1968 and reached a peak of #8 on the Billboard 200.

Morris Levy

Morris Levy was an American gangster and con artist in the fields of jazz clubs, music publishing, and the independent record industry. He was the founder and owner of Roulette Records, the Birdland jazz club and the Roulette Room. He was a subject of investigations into the role of organized crime in the music industry.

Hanky Panky (Tommy James and the Shondells song)

"Hanky Panky" is a song written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich for their group, The Raindrops.

I Think Were Alone Now 1967 single by Tommy James and the Shondells

"I Think We're Alone Now" is a song written and composed by Ritchie Cordell that was the title selection from a same-named album released by the American recording artists Tommy James and the Shondells. "I Think We're Alone Now" was a 1967 US hit for James and the Shondells, reaching number 1 on the WLS Silver Dollar Survey for five weeks, starting on 24 February 1967, and number 8 for the entire year 1967, and number 4 on the Hot 100 on 22 April 1967, nearly two months later, and one week to the day before Tommy's 20th birthday.

"Mony Mony" is a 1968 single by American pop rock band Tommy James and the Shondells, which reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart and No. 3 in the U.S. Written by Bobby Bloom, Ritchie Cordell, Bo Gentry and Tommy James, the song has appeared in various film and television works such as the Oliver Stone drama Heaven & Earth. It was also covered by English singer-songwriter Billy Idol in 1981. Idol's version, which took in more of a rock sound, became an international top 40 hit and additionally revived public interest in the original garage rock single. In 1986 it was covered by Amazulu, who gave it a ska rendition.

<i>Mony Mony</i> (album) 1968 studio album by Tommy James and the Shondells

Mony Mony is a studio album by Tommy James and the Shondells. It was released in 1968. The record includes the band's hit single "Mony Mony" which reached #1 on the UK Singles Chart and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It reached #193 on the Billboard 200. While trying to come up with lyrics for the music they had already recorded, James spotted a sign for Mutual of New York, sing their acronym MONY.

"I'll Go Crazy" is a rhythm and blues song recorded by James Brown and The Famous Flames. Released as a single in 1960, it was Brown's fourth R&B hit, charting at #15. Brown and the Flames also performed it as the first song on their 1963 album Live at the Apollo.

<i>Classics: The Early Years</i> 1983 compilation album by Neil Diamond

Classics: The Early Years is a compilation album by American musician Neil Diamond released in 1983 featuring the early recordings he made for Bang Records in 1966 and 1967. After CBS acquired the Bang Records catalogue, the twelve best recordings were reissued on this album. Columbia gave Diamond control of the Bang masters of his recordings. The original copyright notice of this album read "(C) and (P)1983 Neil Diamond and CBS Inc." This compilation has a different track lineup compared to the 1968 Bang compilation album titled Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits which contains two cover songs. All the songs in this album are original Diamond compositions and substitutes "I'm A Believer" and "Shilo" in place of the Gary U.S. Bonds hit "New Orleans" and the Tommy James and the Shondells hit "Hanky Panky."

Draggin the Line Single by Tommy James

"Draggin' the Line" is a hit song by American rock musician Tommy James, who went solo after the Shondells disbanded in 1970. It was first released as the B side of "Church Street Soul Revival" in 1970. The song was judged to have some hit potential so they went back in the studio and added horns to the master and re-released it as an A side single in 1971. It was included on his second album, Christian of the World in 1971 on the Roulette Records label, the song was James' biggest hit as a solo artist selling more than a million copies, and appears as the fifth track on James' 1991 retrospective album The Solo Years (1970-81) released by Rhino.

"Mirage" is a song by the American rock and roll group Tommy James and the Shondells, released as a single on 5 January 1967 on the Roulette Records label.

Sweet Cherry Wine

"Sweet Cherry Wine" is a song by Tommy James and the Shondells from their 1969 album, Cellophane Symphony. It hit number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 and rose to number six on the Canadian charts. This psychedelic song was released at the height of psychedelia, right after one previous 'mind expanding' song by Tommy James and the Shondells, "Crimson and Clover", and before "Crystal Blue Persuasion". It begins with the use of an organ, adds brass instruments, and ends with a solo flute that fades out at the end. Adding to the feel of this form of music, this and other songs on the album included the then-new Moog synthesizer.

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<i>Hanky Panky</i> (Tommy James and the Shondells album) 1966 studio album by Tommy James and the Shondells

Hanky Panky is the debut album of Tommy James and the Shondells and was released in 1966. It reached #46 on the Billboard 200. The album had two singles that charted. "Hanky Panky" reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and "Say I Am " reached #21.

<i>I Think Were Alone Now</i> (album) 1967 studio album by Tommy James and the Shondells

I Think We're Alone Now is the first of three studio albums by the pop rock band Tommy James and the Shondells released in 1967.

Ritchie Cordell was an American songwriter, singer and record producer. He wrote and produced several hits for Tommy James and The Shondells, including "I Think We're Alone Now" and "Mony Mony", and co-produced Joan Jett's I Love Rock 'n' Roll.

Robert Allan Ackoff, known professionally as Bo Gentry, was an American pop singer, songwriter and record producer, most noted for his work with Tommy James and the Shondells in the 1960s.


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