Tommy James and the Shondells
Tommy James and the Shondells
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Tommy James Website Bio Revised and Updated 2/28/14
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"Hanky Panky," "Mony Mony," "I Think We're Alone Now," "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 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 recorded four sides on them, including 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 was so overwhelmingly positive 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 hired a hot P-burgh R&B bar band to become the Shondells. Two weeks later he and this 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 summer smash 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.

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 that year with Vice President Hubert Humphrey's presidential campaign, TJ and company took over the creative reins of their career 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.

Alone among his 1960s contemporaries, Tommy had successfully made the transition from a Top 40 pop singer to a respected classic rock album artist.

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 1960s 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 scored three Top 5 AC hits from his Hold The Fire 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.

The trends continue today with over 300 artists having 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 The Killers).

Tommy's music has also graced countless movies, television shows, and advertisements. Notable appearances on the big screen include spots in Forrest Gump, Moneyball, The Italian Job, Cape Fear, We Are Marshall, Pirate Radio, and 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.

Not to be outdone, "Crystal Blue Persuasion" scored big-time on the 2013 season finale of Breaking Bad and The Simpsons BB parody episode.

In 2008, Tommy marked the start of his fifth decade as a recording artist with the release of the I Love Christmas album and a fan-pleasing, career-spanning retrospective 40 Years: The Complete Singles Collection (1966-2006), which included all 48 of his singles.

His recent autobiography – Me, The Mob and The Music – became a bestseller for Simon & Schuster, garnered rave reviews from critics and industry insiders, and was chosen by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 25 greatest rock 'n' roll memoirs of all time (#12).

This thrilling tale of Tommy's career and his tumultuous relationship with the "Godfather" of the music industry, Morris Levy, is in development as a major motion picture. The project is being helmed by Barbara De Fina who's production credits include Hugo, Casino, The Age of Innocence, The Grifters, and Goodfellas. She and Tommy are now negotiating with an A-level Hollywood screenwriter, a critical step in the always-lengthy film development process.

Today, Tommy's career is still in high gear. With the signing of a new distribution deal with Allegro, his entire recorded catalog will be available around the world. First up in the re-release program is hi-fi to be followed by A Night In Big City.

Tommy has also signed an agreement with Sony/ATV to represent Tommy's self-published songs and the accompanying masters. This move means that all of Tommy's songs from 1962 onward are now being pitched for film, television, advertising and other uses by the world's largest music publishing house.

Airplay on terrestrial, satellite, and internet outlets is strong: a fact acknowledged by BMI this year when it presented Tommy with five "Million Air" awards for 22 million plays of his songs.

Tommy recently increased his visibility and reach via social media with the launching of his Inside Tracks YouTube channel on which he takes fans on a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at various aspects of creating, recording and working in the music business.

On the road, he and his Shondells are still rockin', performing their many timeless hits to sellout crowds across the country. When not on the road, Tommy continues to craft new music geared toward film and television, and develop new business opportunities for his company Aura Entertainment Group.


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