TOMMY JAMES – BIO
“Hanky Panky,” “Mony Mony,” “Crimson and Clover,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” “Draggin’ The Line”...
The music of Tommy James is heard continuously, everyday, in every country in the world: on the radio, television or a film soundtrack. To date, he's sold over 100 million records and has been awarded 23 gold singles plus nine gold and platinum albums.
Born Thomas Jackson on April 29, 1947 in Dayton, Ohio, his family finally settled in Niles, Michigan, where he made his first stage appearance as a child model at age four. In 1959 he formed his first rock band, The Tornadoes, which developed a sizable regional following.
In 1964 a local DJ asked Tommy and the group to sign with his new label, Snap Records. Among the four 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. Although it was a local hit, it didn't break nationally and was soon forgotten.
Amazingly, two years later, a copy of “Hanky Panky” was discovered in a record bin by a Pittsburgh nightclub DJ who played it at his weekend dances. The crowd response to it was so overwhelming 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 went alone and hired a hot local bar band to become the Shondells. Two weeks later he and his 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 biggest hit of the summer 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: I Think We’re Alone Now, Something Special, and Mony Mony.
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 with Vice President Hubert Humphrey's presidential campaign, TJ and company took the creative reins of their career into their own hands 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 Blur 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 that year, and ultimately sold over 10 million copies.
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 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 group Alive 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.
In 1974 Tommy left Roulette Records and released the In Touch and Midnight Rider albums for San Francisco-based Fantasy Records. Returning to the east coast in 1980, he signed with Millennium Records and racked up three more chart singles, including the million selling AC chart-topper “Three Times In Love.” In the 1990s, Tommy formed Aura Records and racked up three Top Five AC hits from his Hold The Fire studio album.
Meanwhile Tommy’s songs had become pop culture classics and were being covered by everyone from punk rockers (Joan Jett and the Blackhearts) to country icons (Dolly Parton). 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.
As of 2011, over 300 artists have recorded their rendition of a Tommy tune (among them Prince, R.E.M, Tom Jones, Cher, and Concrete Blond) or performed his songs in concert (including Bruce Springsteen, Kelly Clarkson, Santana, and Broken Bells).
Over the years, Tommy's music has graced countless movies, television shows, and advertisements. Notable appearances on the big screen include spots in Forrest Gump, Oliver Stone's Heaven And Earth, Cape Fear, Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead, We Are Marshall, Pirate Radio, and the 1999 summer blockbuster Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
Small screen fans also caught “Draggin’ The Line” in My Name Is Earl and Men Of A Certain Age, “Mony Mony” on Boston Legal, “Sweet Cherry Wine” in Life On Mars, and “I’m Alive” on Criminal Minds. TV viewers and Tommy’s fans got a further treat when Kohl's chose “Tighter, Tighter” and Mitsubishi used “Draggin’ The Line” in major ad campaigns.
In 2008, Tommy marked the start of his fifth decade as a recording artist with the release of the I Love Christmas CD. Along with the title track – a holiday favorite with radio programmers everywhere since its 2005 release – another instant TJ classic, “It’s Christmas Again,” reunited Tommy with original Shondells (Mike Vale, Eddie Gray, and Ronnie Rossman) on vocals.
Tommy also put out a career-spanning retrospective for his fans, 40 Years: The Complete Singles Collection (1966-2006), which included all 48 of his singles. In 2010 and 2011 UK-based Angel Air Records released Tommy’s post-Roulette music internationally in Europe, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and other countries.
In 2010, he headlined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s annual benefit gala, which raised a record-breaking two-hundred thousand-plus dollars for the Hall’s educational and community activities. While in Cleveland Tommy was the featured speaker at the Rock Hall’s Legends Series, fielding questions from the audience as he has done during his ongoing series of special music seminars at colleges and universities, including Rutgers University and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts/The Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music.
Last year Tommy’s autobiography – Me, The Mob and The Music – became a bestseller for Simon & Schuster and garnered rave reviews from Rolling Stone and Mojo magazine as well as Howard Stern, Don Imus, Andrew Loog Oldham, and Dave Marsh.
This thrilling tale of Tommy’s career and his tumultuous relationship with the “Godfather” of the music industry, Morris Levy, will be brought to life on the Broadway stage with a script penned by director, writer, and Oscar-nominated actor, Chazz Palminteri. The production will feature some exciting new Tommy James songs that will showcase yet another facet of his composing talents.
Me, the Mob and the Music is also in development as a major motion picture to be produced by Barbara De Fina of Casino, Goodfellas, and The Age of Innocence fame.
Recently Lyric Culture, a music-inspired lifestyle brand specializing in designer clothing and jewelry, created a tank top highlighting the lyrics for “Crimson and Clover” with more TJ-inspired offerings planned for the future. And…as if that weren’t enough…the Michigan State legislature named Tommy a “Favorite Son” with a special presentation honoring him on the senate floor.
Today, Tommy is busier than ever: performing to sell out crowds across the country, working on his Broadway and Hollywood ventures, and developing new business opportunities through his artist-based Aura Entertainment Group.