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Members include Eddie Gray (born on February 27, 1948, in Scottsdale, PA), guitar; Tommy James (born Thomas Gregory Jackson on April 29, 1947, in Dayton, OH), vocals; Mick Jones, guitar; Peter Lucia (born on February 2, 1947, in Morristown, NJ; died 1997), drums; Paul Reaney, vocals; Ronnie Rosman (born on February 28, 1945, in Greensburg, PA), keyboards; Mike Vale (born on July 17, 1949, in New Alexanderia, PA), bass. Addresses: Management--Oasis, P.O. Box 3073, Allwood Station, Clifton, NJ 07012. Website--Tommy James Official Website: http://www.tommyjames.com.
Successfully combining the saccharine and the psychedelic, pop outfit Tommy James and the Shondells made some of the most memorable music of the late 1960s. Steering clear of the angry and political rants that dominated the era, the group showcased instead an infectious blend of rock 'n' roll and pop that enabled them, for a short period, to sell more singles than any other artist. Landing an impressive 14 top 40 hits between 1967 and 1969, many of which, 30 years later, are still played on the radio, the group is considered an important contributor to 1960s pop.
Tommy James was born Thomas Gregory Jackson on April 29, 1947, in Dayton Ohio. It was there, early in his life, that he received a quick introduction to show business. At age three, his grandfather gave him his first instrument--a ukulele--igniting his lifelong affair with music. A year later, James, an attractive toddler, got his initial taste of performing as a child model. By the time he was eleven, the burgeoning musician was played electric guitar, and in 1960, at age 12, he had already formed a band. The Shondells, based in Niles, Michigan, where James was living with his family, consisted of James on vocals and four junior high school classmates, including Larry Coverdale on guitar, Larry Wright on bass, Craig Villeneuve on piano, and Jim Payne on drums. Performing at dances and parties, the group attracted the attention of local deejay Jack Douglas, who then persuaded the band to record some songs for his new label, Snap Records. In 1963, the group proceeded to cut a four-track recording for Snap. The results of that recording have all but disappeared, except for one significant single, "Hanky Panky."
The song "Hanky Panky" was written by esteemed songwriting duo Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich and was initially recorded by their early 1960s outfit, the Raindrops. James had witnessed another band win over an audience with the song and decided to record it with his group as well. In 1963, James's version of "Hanky Panky" became a moderately popular single in the immediate Midwest area in which the band was based. However, it failed to make an impression nationally. The group toured the region but eventually disbanded and James went to work in a record store while continuing to pursue music at night.
In 1965, in a bizarre twist of fate, James received an unexpected call from a Pittsburgh deejay. Apparently, "Hanky Panky," the song he had recorded two years earlier, was suddenly a runaway success in the Iron City. Oddly, a promoter found a copy of the 1963 single in a used record bin, liked what he heard, and resurrected the song. The track, which was often played at dances, was frequently requested in the area. In fact, it became so popular that the original record was bootlegged and estimated to have sold more than 80,000 copies. There was suddenly a great demand for Tommy James and the Shondells to come to Pittsburgh and play for their adoring audience.
However, James needed a new backup band. He went to Pittsburgh and, apparently not very picky, recruited the first bar band he saw, which in this case was a local outfit called the Raconteurs. The group, which included Joe Kessler on guitar, Ron Rosman on keyboards, George Magura on saxophone, Mike Vale on bass, and Vinnie Pietropaoli on drums quickly evolved into the new Shondells. Peter Lucia and Eddie Grey later replaced Pietropaoli and Kessler, respectively, and the saxophone was eventually cut from the lineup. An obscure local act, Tommy James and the Shondells were suddenly performing in front of thousands of people. The group's rising popularity and the success of their resurrected single quickly garnered the interest of several record labels. Morris Levy's Roulette Records offered the band the most attractive contract and in 1966 the group signed with the label. The same year, Roulette rereleased "Hanky Panky," which went on to become a number one hit and sell more than one million copies.
The label quickly recognized the value of their new find and soon thereafter paired the group with the accomplished writer/producer team of Bobbie Gentry and Rich Cordell. Additionally, Roulette, primarily acknowledged for its string of successful singles, allowed the band the creative leeway to put forth a generous number of full-length albums as well. As a result of the label's efforts, as well as the talents of the band, Tommy James and the Shondells became a formidable act of the late 1960s.
The band's sound visited several styles during its ascension on the charts. Following the success of "Hanky Panky," Tommy James and the Shondells produced several syrupy though catchy numbers that were placed in the musical category best known as "bubblegum." "I Think We're Alone Now" made the top five on the American charts. "Mirage" and "Getting Together" made the top 20 in June and September of 1967, respectively.
In 1968 the band's sound flashed its first noticeable shift in direction as they released one of their most popular singles, "Mony Mony." The song, the title of which was taken from a Mutual of New York (M.O.N.Y.) sign that James spotted one day, showcases an infectious rock 'n' roll dance beat and proved successful to audiences both in the United States and overseas. "Mony Mony" made number three on the American charts in June of 1968 and was number one for four weeks in the United Kingdom in August of the same year.
At the end of 1968, the group persuaded Roulette to let them produce their own album. The record, Crimson and Clover, saw yet another shift in sound for Tommy James and the Shondells. Released in 1969, the title track meshed the group's pop sensibilities with psychedelic touches, resulting in their most successful single ever. "Crimson and Clover" hit number one in February of 1969 and eventually went on to sell more than five million copies. "Sweet Cherry Wine," the band's subsequent single, also made the top ten and in July of 1969 "Crystal Blue Persuasion," a breezy, summer-style track hit number two and went on to sell more than one million copies. At the pinnacle of their popularity, Tommy James and the Shondells were even asked to play at the historic Woodstock Festival. They turned down the offer. As James explained in Goldmine magazine, "I could have kicked myself. We were playing Hawaii. My secretary calls me up and says 'This farmer from upstate New York wants to put on a concert.' I said 'Yeah, right, I'm going to travel 6,000 miles to play in a pig farmer's field.'"
Despite the group's otherwise good fortune, by 1970 the seemingly endless parade of hits had slowed and internal conflicts split the band. The Shondells proceeded to regroup as the unsuccessful Hog Heaven, while James achieved moderate success as both a solo artist and a producer. In August of 1970, James produced a top ten hit for the Brooklyn-based group Alive and Kicking entitled "Tighter and Tighter." The following year, his own solo effort, "Draggin' the Line," made the top five.
Tommy James and the Shondells may have ended up as a significant though fleeting moment in 1960s pop history if not for an unexpected revival of their music in the 1980s. Heavyweights such as punk rock 'n' roller Joan Jett, teen queen Tiffany, and the infamous rebel Billy Idol all covered the group's songs, all achieving great success with their individual renditions. In 1982 Jett had a top ten hit with "Crimson and Clover"; in 1987 mall-crawling pop princess Tiffany had a number one hit with "I Think We're Alone Now," which was knocked off the chart by Billy Idol's version of "Mony Mony." In revisiting Tommy James and the Shondells' most popular songs, these covers introduced the group to a new generation. More than 30 years since their split, Tommy James and the Shondells still maintain a presence on the radio and a notable place in the history of pop music.
by Nicole Elyse
Tommy James and the Shondells's Career
Tommy James formed the Shondells in Niles, MI, 1960; band signed to new local label, Snap Records, 1963; recorded four sides including single "Hanky Panky" for Snap, 1963; Pittsburgh deejay resurrects "Hanky Panky," record becomes a regional hit, 1965; James recruits a group called the Raconteurs as the new Shondells, 1966; group signed to Roulette Records, 1966; Roulette rereleases "Hanky Panky," 1966; "I Think We're Alone Now" makes U.S. top ten, 1967; "Mony Mony" reaches U.S. top ten, June 1968; group creates one of the first music videos, for "Mony Mony," 1968; "Crimson and Clover" becomes number one on U.S. charts and band's most successful single, 1969; "Crystal Blue Persuasion" hits number two on U.S. charts, sells more than one million records, July 1969; the Shondells quit to become the unsuccessful Hog Heaven, Tommy James moves on to a solo career, 1970.
- Selected discography
- "Hanky Panky"/"Thunderbolt," Roulette, 1966.
- "Say I Am (What I Am)"/"Lots of Pretty Girls," Roulette, 1966.
- "It's Only Love"/"Don't Let My Love Pass You By," Roulette, 1966.
- "It's Only Love"/"Yah Yah," Roulette, 1966.
- "I Think We're Alone Now"/"Gone Gone Gone," Roulette, 1967.
- "Mirage"/"Run Run Baby Run," Roulette, 1967.
- "I Like the Way"/"Baby I Can't Take It No More," Roulette, 1967.
- "Gettin' Together"/"Real Girl," Roulette, 1967.
- "Out of the Blue"/"Love's Closing in on Me," Roulette, 1967.
- "Get Out Now"/"Wish It Were True," Roulette, 1968.
- "Mony Mony"/"One Two Three and I Fell," Roulette, 1968.
- "Somebody Cares"/"Do Unto Me," Roulette, 1968.
- "Do Something to Me"/"Gingerbread Man," Roulette, 1968.
- "Crimson and Clover"/"(I'm) Taken," Roulette, 1968.
- "Crimson and Clover"/"Some Kind of Love," Roulette, 1968.
- "Sweet Cherry Wine"/"Breakaway," Roulette, 1969.
- "Crystal Blue Persuasion"/"I'm Alive," Roulette, 1969.
- "Ball of Fire"/"Makin' Good Time," Roulette, 1969.
- "She"/"Loved One," Roulette, 1969.
- "Gotta Get Back to You"/"Red Rover," Roulette, 1970.
- "Come to Me"/"Talkin' and Signifying," Roulette, 1970.
- Hanky Panky Roulette, 1966.
- It's Only Love Roulette, 1966.
- I Think We're Alone Now Roulette, 1967.
- Gettin' Together Roulette, 1967.
- Something Special! The Best of Tommy James and the Shondells Roulette, 1967.
- Mony, Mony Roulette, 1968.
- Crimson and Clover Roulette, 1969; reissued, 1981.
- Cellophane Symphony Roulette, 1969.
- The Best of Tommy James and the Shondells Roulette, 1969.
- Travelin' Roulette, 1970.
- Lazell, Barry, editor, Rock Movers and Shakers, Billboard Publications, 1989.
- Goldmine,March 6, 1992, pp. 10-12.
- Trouser Press,December 1976/January 1977, pp. 20-22.
- Zoo World, September 12, 1974.
- "Biography: Tommy James & the Shondells," ARTISTdirect.com, http://ubl.artistdirect.com/music/artist/bio/0,,448579,00.html?artist=Tommy+James+%26+the+Shondells (December 3, 2001).
- "Tommy James & the Shondells," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=B7udyyl3jxpmb (December 3, 2001).
- "Tommy James (& the Shondells)," ArtistInformation.com, http://www.artistinformation.com/tommy-james.html (December 3, 2001).
- "Tommy James and the Shondells," Borderline Books, http://www.borderlinebooks.com/us6070s/fuzz.html (December 3, 2001).
- "Tommy James & the Shondells," Classic Bubblegum Music Page, http://home.att.net/~bubblegumusic/tjames.htm (December 3, 2001).
- "Tommy James and the Shondells," Yesterdayland, http://www.yesterdayland.com/popopedia/shows/music/mu1021.php (December 3, 2001).
- Tommy James & the Shondells Official Website, http://www.tommyjames.com (December 3, 2001).
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