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Tommy James & The Shondells

Singer Tommy Jackson was in a number of Midwest bands that just couldn't bust out of the region. A '64 recording of "Hanky Panky" released on a small regional label came and went with little notice.

A year later, a Pittsburgh dance promoter played "Hanky Panky" at dance parties and got it on local radio stations. Jackson got a call from a Steel Town DJ asking him to perform the song at local venues. Since the band that had recorded "Hanky Panky" was long gone - members had left the business and/or gotten married - Jackson ventured to Pittsburgh on his own. At a local club he recruited a band known as the Raconteurs and they became the Shondells.

Two things happened when the group played New York City. Tommy Jackson became Tommy James and he sold the master of "Hanky Panky" to Roulette Records head honcho Morris Levy.

Billboard once diplomatically described Levy as "controversial and flamboyant." Allmusic was more blunt stating Levy was "a notorious crook." Levy, said to have mob connections, was known for strong-arm tactics, not paying his acts the royalties that were due and of using payola to get his records played on the radio.

Decades later, Levy was convicted as a conspirator in the extortion of a music wholesaler, and was sentenced to a ten-year jail sentence. He died of liver cancer in '92 at the age of 62 while awaiting an appeal.

Rereleased by Roulette, "Hanky Panky" had a two week stand at #1 in '66.

"I Think We're Alone Now" went to #4 and "Mony Mony" peaked at #3 in the U.S. but went to #1 in the U.K. The song, co-written by James, Ritchie Cordell, Bo Gentry, and Bobby Bloom," was inspired by a Mutual Of New York sign that hung outside James' apartment window.

To that point, Tommy James and his gang had a good, if not spectacular, run. Changing tastes and the coming social revolution were making groups with "& The" in their name passť.

Though regularly dismissed as a mid-decade relic, James drove to escape that categorization.

In '68, Tommy James & The Shondells issued "Crimson And Clover." Written by James and drummer Peter Lucia, the song's title was repeated in a breathy voice that went through a vocoder. The instruments were phased and echoed which made the whole thing sound trippy. Of course, "Crimson And Clover" was a huge hit going to #1 and eventually selling over 5 million copies.

Less psychedelic, though in the same vein, "Sweet Cherry Wine" and "Crystal Blue Persuasion" were '69 hits.

After a concert in Birmingham, AL, James collapsed from a reaction to drugs and was actually pronounced dead - as Mark Twain once said "rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated." But James bailed on the music business to recover.

He returned as a solo in '71 and had a Top 10 hit with "Draggin' The Line," which didn't sound appreciably different from his group's recent material.

While James was traveling the oldies circuit in the '80s a handful of acts had hits with Tommy James & The Shondells' songs: Joan Jett & The Blackhearts ("Crimson And Clover" - #7 in '82), Tiffany ("I Think We're Alone Now" - #1 in '87) and Billy Idol ("Mony Mony" - also #1 in '87).

Tommy James & The Shondells Discography


1966 Hanky Panky
1966 It's Only Love
1967 I Think We're Alone Now
1967 Something Special!:The Best Of Tommy James & the Shondells
1967 Gettin' Together
1968 Mony Mony
1968 Crimson & Clover
1969 Cellophane Symphony
1969 The Best Of Tommy James And The Shondells
1970 Travelin'
1983 Short Sharp Shots

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