Tommy James is an American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer. He is best known as the vocalist of the 1960s rock band Tommy James and the Shondells, who is best remembered for their classics including “Mony Mony” and “Crimson and Clover.” Tommy James was born Thomas Gregory Jackson on April 29, 1947.
In 1964, the American rock group Tommy James and the Shondells was founded in Niles, Michigan. They had five top ten hits on the Hot 100, including “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Mirage,” “Mony Mony,” “Sweet Cherry Wine,” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” as well as two No. 1 singles in the country with “Hanky Panky” (July 1966, their only RIAA Certified Gold record) and “Crimson and Clover” (February 1969).
Tommy James Early life and career
James was born in Dayton, Ohio, and later relocated to Niles, Michigan, with his family. At the age of four, he was a child model. In 1959, while he was twelve years old, he started the group “The Echoes,” which later changed its name to “Tom and the Tornadoes.” The band’s name was changed to The Shondells in 1964. In the same year, Niles-based DJ Jack Douglas established his own record company, Snap Records. One of the local bands he recorded at WNIL Studios was The Shondells.
The duo that had recorded “Hanky Panky” as The Raindrops was represented by one of the tracks, the Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich ditty. Although the song was popular locally, the label lacked the funds to promote it nationally, and it was quickly forgotten.
A copy of “Hanky Panky” was discovered by local dance producer Bob Mack in a discarded record bin in 1965, and he began playing it at his venues in Pittsburgh. Shortly after, a bootlegger in the Pittsburgh region copied the song and started pressing copies of it, speeding it up a little bit in the process. In ten days, the bootleg’s sales were reported to have reached 80,000. At the start of 1966, Pittsburgh radio stations ranked it as the number one song. Because his name and contact information were on the labels for Snap Records, Douglas learned about the record’s remarkable success in Pittsburgh.
James was persuaded to travel to Pennsylvania after receiving numerous calls from Pittsburgh. There, he met Mack and Chuck Rubin, who was in charge of scheduling performers for Mack’s dance clubs. Soon, “Hanky Panky” was being listed as a regional breakout hit by all three of the main music trade publications: Billboard, Cashbox, and Record World. The band should proceed to New York City to look for a record deal, according to Rubin, who had connections in the music business.
The men visited all of the big record labels and received preliminary offers from the majority of them. One label, Roulette Records, didn’t respond at first because Morris Levy, the label’s CEO, wasn’t in town until that evening; Roulette was one of their final destinations.
After the enthusiasm for the record the previous day, Mack, Rubin, and James were now politely being rejected by the big record labels the following morning. We had no idea what was happening, but Jerry Wexler at Atlantic ultimately came clean with us, saying, “Look, Morris Levy and Roulette called all the other record labels and said, “This is my freakin’ record.” and scared everyone away, even the major corporate labels.'” They would have no choice but to join Roulette.
James was the only Shondell still alive because the band had disbanded two years prior. James had access to Mack’s dance club bands, but nothing felt right until one of the guitarists led him to the Thunderbird Lounge in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. James performed in the Raconteurs’ house band as a singer. The Raconteurs changed their name to The Shondells, and Jackson adopted the stage name Tommy James. The top single at WLS was “Hanky Panky” by the third week of June 1966. “Hanky Panky” had risen to the top single in the United States by the third week of July 1966.
Tommy James and the Shondells
The 12-year-old Tommy James (then known as Tommy Jackson), the main vocalist of the Tom and the Tornadoes, was in the band The Echoes when it was founded in Niles, Michigan, in 1959. The trio issued its debut song, “Long Pony Tail,” in 1962 while they were students at Niles High School in Niles, Michigan.
James renamed the group the Shondells in 1964 because he thought the name “sounded good” and in honor of local Fort Wayne resident Troy Shondell, who became well-known for his 1961 single “This Time.”
Tommy James (vocals and guitar), Larry Coverdale (lead guitar), Larry Wright (bass), Craig Villeneuve (keyboards), and Jim Payne (drums) made up the band at this time. The song “Hanky Panky” by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, which was originally a B-side by the Raindrops, was recorded by the group in February 1964. James’ popularity in the neighborhood kept increasing as he was frequently seen performing at Niles High School events. James’ rendition of “Hanky Panky” did well in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, but Snap Records, the label that published the song when it was first released, did not have a nationwide distribution network. While on tour in the eastern Midwest, no other region responded favorably to the song. After their members received their high school diplomas and the single failed to chart nationally, the Shondells broke up in 1965.
James decided to start a new band named the Koachmen with guitarist for the Shondells Larry Coverdale and members of a competing band called the Spinners (not the hit-making group from Detroit), after first considering choosing a job outside of music. After their gigs dried up in the Midwest throughout the summer and fall of 1965, The Koachmen went back to Niles in February 1966 to determine their course of action.
In the meantime, Pittsburgh dance producer Bob Mack had rediscovered the forgotten song “Hanky Panky” in 1965, playing it at various dance events and promoting it as a “exclusive” on local radio stations. Demand increased and regular play was encouraged by listener feedback. In retaliation, bootleggers produced 80,000 black market copies of the album, which they then sold in Pennsylvanian shops.
After receiving a call from Pittsburgh disc jockey “Mad Mike” Metro(vich) inviting him to come and perform the song, James first became aware of all of this activities in April 1966. James made an effort to get in touch with the other Shondells, but they had all quit the music industry, moved away, enlisted in the military, or gotten married. Regarding Metrovich’s contribution to the recording, there is still some contention. James never mentions Metrovich in his book Me, The Mob and the Music, but gives credit to Pittsburgh dance promoter Bob Mack.
James traveled by himself to Pittsburgh in April 1966 to make promotional appearances in nightclubs and on local television. James was given the opportunity to perform with Bob Mack’s dance club bands for promotional events, but nothing felt right until one of the bands’ guitarists took him to the Thunderbird Lounge in Greensburg, where he chose a quintet called the Raconteurs, which consisted of Joe Kessler on guitar, Ron Rosman on keyboards, George Magura on saxophone, Mike Vale on bass, and Vincent Pietropaoli on drums, to be the new Shondells.
James recalled, “I had to quickly form a group because I had none. “One night in a club in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, I approached a band that I thought was doing very well and asked them if they wanted to be the Shondells. They confirmed, so we left.
James traveled to New York City with a touring band to promote the song. While there, he changed his last name to James and sold the master of “Hanky Panky” to Roulette Records. With widespread advertising, the song reached No. 1 in the charts in July 1966. He committed to management with Leonard Stogel and Associates. When scheduled funds from Roulette, a label intimately affiliated with organized crime, were not forwarded to them in 1967, Kessler and Pietropaoli were forced to quit. Morris Levy, the label’s head, served as the model for the Herman “Hesh” Rabkin character on The Sopranos. Eddie Gray (guitar) and Peter Lucia (drums) took their places; Magura left as well.
An tired James experienced a drug reaction and fainted after leaving the stage at a concert in Birmingham, Alabama, in March 1970. He was later declared dead. He was still alive, though, and made the decision to leave the band and relocate to the countryside to relax and recover. His four teammates continued playing together for a brief period of time under the moniker Hog Heaven, releasing two albums (the first, “self-titled,” on Roulette Records in March 1971, and the second, recorded the same year but not released until 2008), and scoring one Hot 100 hit, “Happy,” which peaked at number 98. However, the group disintegrated soon after.
James composed and produced the No. 7 hit single “Tighter, Tighter” for the band Alive N Kickin’ as a side project in 1970. In 1970, James began a solo career that lasted ten years and produced the successes “Draggin’ the Line” (1971) and “Three Times in Love” (1980).
Tommy James Covers by other artists
Three additional musicians saw significant success with songs from the group throughout the 1980s: Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ cover of “Crimson and Clover,” and Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony,” which reached back-to-back No. 1 singles in November 1987. Other Shondells songs have been covered by groups as diverse as the Cramps, a pioneer of the new wave, Lene Lovich, Dolly Parton, and the Boston Pops orchestra.
1980s and later
Even though he is the only original member of the group, Tommy James started touring in oldies packages with other 1960s performers in the middle of the 1980s under the name Tommy James & the Shondells. Tommy James & the Shondells: Live! At The Bitter End is a video recording of a performance from a nightclub in Greenwich Village. Peter P. Lucia Jr., the band’s original drummer, passed away on January 6, 1987, at the age of 39, from a heart attack while playing golf.
Tom Jones recorded “I’m Alive” in 2008 and included it on his “24 Hours” album.
James and the Shondell brothers who were still alive, Gray, Vale, and Rosman, got back together in 2009 to record songs for the soundtrack of a movie that would be based on James’ autobiography, Me, the Mob, and the songs, which was published in February 2010. The club still meets occasionally for unique video/TV events and nostalgic programs.
The Tommy James song “I’m Alive” (co-written with Peter Lucia) became UK singer Don Fardon’s top 20 hit in the Netherlands in March 2011 after his rendition of the song was featured in a Vodafone commercial. The song was first released as part of the Crimson & Clover album.
Breaking Bad’s “Crystal Blue Persuasion” was used in a montage in the eighth episode of Season 5’s “Gliding Over All” in 2012 to show how Walter White’s methamphetamine business expanded to a global scale and how its distinctive blue crystal meth came to be known around the world.
The Crystal Blue Band was created in 2015 after Gray, Vale, and Rosman made the decision to come back together. To replace the late Peter Lucia, they enlisted their longtime friend and drummer Mike Wilps. In 2022, that group was dissolved.
Tommy James Music and the mob
Me, The Mob, and The Music, an autobiography, was released in February 2010. James revealed that agreements had been reached to adapt the narrative into both a Broadway play and a film. The movie’s producer was claimed to be Barbara De Fina.
When James first met Morris Levy, the owner of Roulette Records, it was clear that Levy was not above using force when necessary. Those hired by Roulette were there to generate revenue for the business; they only received support when it pleased Levy. Asking for money was intimidating, so individuals working for Roulette had to find other ways to make money without the help of the record label, including through independently arranged tours, in order to live. Although a Roulette artist had complete creative power when recording for the firm, it was tough to accept the lack of compensation for such efforts.
James believes he is due $30 to $40 million in royalties by the corporation. Due to Levy’s close ties to the Genovese criminal family, Roulette served as a front for organized crime and a means of money laundering. The Genovese organization and the Gambino family engaged in a deadly gang war in the early 1970s that claimed the lives of non-mob personalities on the fringes of the organizations as well as mobsters (including Levy’s close friend and business partner Thomas Eboli).
Levy, who had developed a somewhat fatherly affection for James, cautioned him to leave New York for an extended period of time until the war was over because he might become a target for those seeking to harm the Genovese family through Levy. James relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, a city with minimal Mafia influence or presence. He started jamming with local country music session musicians while there, which gave him the idea to record a country-rock album in 1971.
James waited until everyone who was particularly connected to the record firm had passed away before feeling comfortable writing his book. James didn’t start getting sizable royalty payments from the sales of his records until 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).
Tommy James Current career
On Sirius XM Radio channel 73, 60s Gold, James started hosting the weekly radio show “Gettin’ Together with Tommy James” in February 2018.
James can also be seen promoting Time Life’s Woodstock music collections in late-night informercials.
Tommy James Personal life
James relocated to Clifton, New Jersey, in the middle of the 1970s, and then to nearby Cedar Grove around 2000. He has one child and has been married three times. His wife Lynda passed away on February 23, 2022, following a protracted illness.
Tommy James Recognition
The Shondells and Tommy James were admitted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2008.
Who is Tommy James?
Tommy James was born on April 29, 1947, in Dayton, Ohio, in the United States of America. His parents’ names are unknown. At the age of four, he was a child model. When he was twelve years old, he started the group “The Echoes,” which later changed its name to “Tom and the Tornadoes.” The band’s name was changed to The Shondells in 1964. Jack Douglas, a local DJ at WNIL radio station in Niles, established his record company, Snap Records, in the same year. One of the local bands he recorded at WNIL Studios was The Shondells.Their songs “Mony Mony” and “Crimson and Clover” were well known.
Where was Tommy James originally from?
Tommy James, a native of Dayton, Ohio, started playing with his band, the Shondells, at school dances, auditoriums, and other local venues when he was twelve years old. The group occasionally produced music for independent labels, such as the 1960 release of “Hanky Panky” for the Snap label.
Where is Tommy James now?
Tommy is presently a Monroe, Wisconsin, resident. At the age of eleven, Tommy’s family relocated to Niles, Michigan, in 1958. James started his first band called Tom and the Tornadoes in 1959 when he was twelve years old.
When was Tommy James born?
Tommy James was born in Dayton, Ohio, on April 29, 1947.
How rich is Tommy James?
Tommy James has a $4 million net worth and is an American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer. In April 1947, Tommy James was conceived in Dayton, Ohio. The rock group Tommy James and the Shondells, of which he is the frontman, is most known for him.
Is Tommy James in the Hall of Fame?
Recognition. The Shondells and Tommy James were admitted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2008.
What is Tommy James real name?
Tommy James, best known as the frontman of Tommy James and the Shondells, was born Thomas Gregory Jackson on April 29, 1947, in Dayton, Ohio.
How many houses and cars does Tommy James have?
Regarding Tommy James’ possessions, such as his homes and vehicles, no information is publicly available.
How much does Tommy James make per year?
The estimated net worth of Tommy James is $4 million.
How many Philanthropy works has Tommy James supported?
Tommy James has contributed to several nonprofit organizations.
How many businesses does Tommy James own?
In addition to being the lead singer of the 1960s rock group Tommy James and the Shondells, James is well-known for his work as a musician, singer, composer, and record producer. Whether or if he has started any other businesses is unknown.