Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and The Shondells

( 18 )

Overview

Everyone knows the hits: "Mony Mony," "I Think We're Alone Now," "Crimson and Clover," "Crystal Blue Persuasion." They are nuggets of rock and pop history. However, few know the unlikely story of how these hits came to be. Tommy James had been performing in rock bands in the Michigan area since the age of twelve. Prompted to record a few songs by a local disc jockey in 1964, Tommy chose an obscurity titled "Hanky Panky," which became a minor local hit that came and went.

Then, ...

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Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and The Shondells

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Overview

Everyone knows the hits: "Mony Mony," "I Think We're Alone Now," "Crimson and Clover," "Crystal Blue Persuasion." They are nuggets of rock and pop history. However, few know the unlikely story of how these hits came to be. Tommy James had been performing in rock bands in the Michigan area since the age of twelve. Prompted to record a few songs by a local disc jockey in 1964, Tommy chose an obscurity titled "Hanky Panky," which became a minor local hit that came and went.

Then, in 1966, the record was rediscovered by a Pittsburgh DJ who started playing it on heavy rotation, prompting a tremendous response. Soon every record mogul in New York was pursuing Tommy and the band. Then an even odder thing happened: every offer except one disappeared, and Tommy found himself in the office of Morris Levy at Roulette Records, where he was handed a pen and ominously promised "one helluva ride." Morris Levy, the legendary "godfather" of the music business, needed a hit, and "Hanky Panky" would be his. The song went to number one; Tommy went on to do much more; and Levy continued to reign.

Me, the Mob, and the Music tells the intimate story of the complex and sometimes terrifying relationship between the bright-eyed, sweet-faced blonde musician from the heartland and the big, bombastic, brutal bully from the Bronx, who hustled, cheated, and swindled his way to the top of the music industry. It is also the story of this swaggering, wildly creative era of rock 'n' roll—when the hits kept coming and payola and the strong arm tactics of the mob were the norm—and what it was like, for better or worse, to be in the middle of it.

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Editorial Reviews

Justin Moyer
Though not well-positioned to pen a true-crime tell-all—James was the drug-addled victim of Levy's machinations, not a sinister goodfella—the songwriter shows how bare-knuckled mafia operators made money from rock-and-roll's turbulent adolescence.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
"Colacci's delivery of this musical biography of the sixties is crisp and well paced, and he brings a necessary degree of professionalism to James's narrative." —-AudioFile
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439172889
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 2/15/2011
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 283,330
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 8.42 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Tommy James

Martin Fitzpatrick is coauthor, with Paul Colby, of The Bitter End: Hanging Out at America's Nightclub.

Tommy James, best known as the leader of Tommy James and the Shondells, has sold over 100 million records, has been awarded twenty-three gold singles, and has earned nine gold and platinum albums.

David Colacci has worked as a narrator for over fifteen years, during which time he has won AudioFile Earphones Awards, earned Audie nominations, and been included on Best of Year lists by such publications as Publishers Weekly, AudioFile magazine, and Library Journal.

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Read an Excerpt

Me, the Mob, and the Music

One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & The Shondells
By Tommy James

Scribner

Copyright © 2011 Tommy James
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781439172889

PROLOGUE

May 21, 1990.

The day began with me rushing off to Chicago to do a concert promoting the release of my new album Hi-Fi and the single “Go.” It was my first studio album in nearly ten years. I was to meet Ron Alexenburg, the head of Aegis Records, and my manager, Carol Ross, at Newark Airport to catch a flight to Chicago. The band had already gone ahead, and we were all pretty excited about starting the nineties off with a new project. A host of radio stations and press were going to be there. Because Chicago had launched so many of our past successes, it seemed the perfect city to begin our tour. As my wife, Lynda, and I were about to leave, the phone suddenly rang. I was in a rush and kind of annoyed when I answered. It was my accountant, Howard Comart. In a very subdued voice he said, “Morris is asking for you. If you want to see him you’d better get up here right away.”

“Oh my God, Howard, I’m dashing out the door to do a show in Chicago. I’ll be back first thing tomorrow morning and I’ll come right up.” There was a pause. Howard said, “Well, okay.” But there was a tremor in his voice. I gave him my hotel number in Chicago and told him to keep me posted.

When I got to the airport, I told Ron and Carol the situation, and it cast a shadow over our otherwise joyful morning. The Godfather of the music business, Morris Levy, was dying of cancer. We all had a feeling of disbelief because none of us had ever thought of Morris as anything but invincible. In his sixty-two years, he had created and controlled one of the biggest independent music publishing companies; managed and was partners with the most famous rock and roll disc jockey, Alan Freed; owned the most famous jazz club in history, Birdland; and owned one of the most successful independent record labels of the fifties and sixties, Roulette Records, which also was my record label for eight years.

Morris and I had been exchanging messages through Howard, our mutual accountant, for several weeks, almost like two kids passing notes back and forth in school. I knew he understood how saddened I was by the whole thing and that despite everything, I genuinely cared about him.

When we got off the plane at O’Hare, I was suddenly filled with the old excitement; a sold-out show, in Chicago, to promote a new record. It felt good to feel this again twenty-four years after first signing with Morris and Roulette. Our road manager met us at baggage claim, a limo was waiting outside, and we loaded up and headed for the hotel. The rest of the day went pretty smoothly, the sound check and all the backstage stuff. But all I kept thinking about was Morris. Lynda kept checking our messages at the hotel hourly.

The show went great; the audience went crazy, dancing in the aisles, standing on their seats screaming for more. We played a combination of the hits and the new stuff, but even on stage I was preoccupied. We ended the show with “Mony Mony,” like we had done ten thousand times, and did the usual encore. Like always I was hot, sweaty, and out of breath when I came off stage. Carol and Ron met me by the stage door and we all walked back to the dressing room. I had an interview to do with a young radio guy from a local pop station. There was a lot of whooping and hollering around me as I sat down to catch my breath in front of the dressing room mirror. The DJ started asking me questions and I could see the cassette player rolling. The interview had begun. I started off with how great it was to be back in Chicago, then Lynda suddenly came into the room holding a piece of paper. She said, “I’m sorry to interrupt, Tommy, but Morris Levy died.”

There was just silence. All day long I had been thinking about what I was going to say to him, and now I’d never get the chance. I’d heard stories of how emaciated he had become and had imagined what I would feel seeing him like that, but it didn’t matter now because I would never see him again.

At that point my interviewer said, “Excuse me, Tommy, can I ask you a question?” I nodded and he said, “Who is Morris Levy?”

Wow, who is Morris Levy? I looked at him in astonishment and realized this kid couldn’t be more than twenty-one or twenty-two years old.

“How much time do we have?”

“As much time as you want. I came for an in-depth interview.”

“Well, you’re going to get one. Is that tape recorder still running?”

© 2010 Tommy James

Continues...


Excerpted from Me, the Mob, and the Music by Tommy James Copyright © 2011 by Tommy James. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Chapter 1 Tuning Up 5

Chapter 2 Hanky Panky 39

Chapter 3 Say I Am 63

Chapter 4 I Think We're Alone Now 85

Chapter 5 Gettin' Together 105

Chapter 6 Mony Mony 133

Chapter 7 Crimson and Clover 149

Chapter 8 Crystal Blue Persuasion 163

Chapter 9 Ball of Fire 183

Chapter 10 Draggin' the Line 209

Acknowledgments 227

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 18 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2010

    Great to Reminisce!

    As a child of the 60's, this book really took me back. The story behind Hanky Panky and Mony Mony were phenomenal to learn. This is the story of how Tommy Jackson became Tommy James. A good friend of mine signed with the same record company and he said the details of Tommy going to Morris Levy to get an advance was exactly like his experience. He was shaking in his boots. When he recommended the book, I had to buy it. "I Think We're Alone Now" was me and my first girlfriends favorite song. My kids rocked to Billy Idol's version of Mony Mony. Tommy James lived the rock n roll life that all of us kids dreamed of. He transcended so many changes in the music business (from 45s to LPs), changes in sound (bubble gum to psychedelic) and concert venues (he passed on Woodstock). And he got political in a totally unpredictable way. I loved the read. This book isn't great literature. It is just a great story of a rock n roll odyssey during a time of great growth and change in our world. Read it and have some fun.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly recommmended. The best.

    This was one of the most interesting books I have ever read. ***** Brings back memories of great songs and good times.

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  • Posted December 28, 2010

    Could not put it Down

    Having met Tommy many times through the years one can attest to the fact he is a nice person. Tommy is a great singer, writer and all rounded musician. The book is aboslutly riviting.
    Once you start it you will find it difficult to put down. Begin reading it when you have time because you will not want to stop. Entertaining and serious at the same time.
    Try it, you will like it.

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  • Posted July 6, 2010

    The Devil and Tommy Jackson

    Tommy Jackson (James) made a deal with the devil, personified by the head of Roulette Records Morris Levy. This book is mostly about that association. Parents, friends, musical collaborators, lovers, wives, his child, and even his music seem to be mentioned just to establish a chronology of the one relationship in his life that seems to have made an impression. I went into this book not knowing much about Tommy James. What I came out with is I don't especially care for him as a person. It's an interesting story and I still love the music. But man, for an autobiography he sure comes off shallow.

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  • Posted April 10, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Music and the mob - and rock and roll

    When one says "music and the mob," one usually expects Vegas and the Rat Pack to be the subjects. Not here. Tommy James goes from his Michigan home to Pittsburgh to be a star -- by the happenstance of his group the Shondells' record being picked up by a DJ there long after its release -- and the wheels turn from there (including the need to create a whole new set of Shondells). The story is full of twists and turns that lead to a deeply mob-connected recording executive and eventually gets us to John Lennon. How? I'm not going to spoil the twisted path for the reader who doesn't know it already.

    You won't necessarily like Tommy James after you read the book. While he doesn't spill all the beans, there's enough here to know that there are pieces to his character that many would find troublesome. Also, the writing is occasionally stilted. Nonetheless, the book's narrative is a great tale -- connecting to the greats of the rock era in many ways -- that is stranger than fiction in many ways. It's thus recommended without hesitation.

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