Thursday, April 29, 2010
The Ages of Tommy James
Happy birthday to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame snubbee Tommy James, who turns 63 today. That's right, this man who was on the charts consistently starting in the mid-1960s isn't even retirement age yet. Here are some crucial points in the Shondellography:
When he was twelve, Tommy James, born Thomas Jackson, formed his first band, the Tornadoes, who would later change their name to the Shondells.
At sixteen, Tommy recorded his version of "Hanky Panky" at a radio station in Niles, Michigan, which was released on the tiny Snap label.
When he was eighteen, a Pittsburgh DJ somehow came across a copy of "Hanky Panky" and made it into a local hit.
When Tommy was nineteen, "Hanky Panky" went to Number One nationwide. He also wrote and recorded the big hit "Say I Am," and cut the classic "I Think We're Alone Now," which was in the Top Five when Tommy turned twenty.
When Tommy was twenty, he wrote and recorded "Mony Mony."
When Tommy was twenty-one, he spent three months on the road with Hubert Humphrey's presidential campaign, then made the amazing Crimson and Clover LP (with not just the title track but "Crystal Blue Persuasion" as well). Hubert Humphrey wrote the liner notes. No, I am not kidding.
At the age of twenty-two, Tommy made the somewhat less amazing LP Cellophane Symphony, featuring the brand-new Moog synthesizer. Tommy got his synth from the great Yankee lefthander Whitey Ford. You think I am kidding, but I'm not.
When he was twenty-three, Tommy collapsed at a concert, apparently drug-induced, then woke up and broke up the Shondells. He also wrote and produced "Tighter, Tighter" for the group Alive and Kicking.
At twenty-four, Tommy had his only real solo hit, "Draggin' the Line."
Actually, when Tommy was thirty-two, he hit Number One on the Adult Contemporary charts with "Three Times in Love." That remains his only achievement of any real significance since he turned twenty-five. At the same time, most people don't do much of anything till they turn twenty-five - or much of anything after they turn twenty-five, either.