Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
JAMES, Tommy, and the Shondells
US pop group originally formed in 1960 in Niles, Michigan by Tommy James (b Thomas Jackson, 29 April 1947, Dayton OH). It began as a high school hobby; they made a cover of the Raindrops' 'Hanky Panky' (written by Barry/Greenwich) for the local Snap label, then split. A Pittsburgh disc jockey turned up a copy '66; his plays created local demand, and licensed to Roulette it went to no. 1. James hired the Raconteurs in Pittsburgh and changed their name, with Ronnie Rosman on keyboards, Mike Vale on bass, Joseph Kessler on guitar, Vince Pietropaoli on drums, George Magura on sax; the last three soon left replaced by Eddie Gray on guitar and Peter Lucia on drums.
A safe follow-up to 'Hanky Panky' was similarly R&B-inflected 'Say I Am (What I Am)'; it made only no. 21, so Roulette put them in the hands of songwriters/producers Bo Gentry and Richie Cordell: the result was brilliantly commercial bubblegum, banal but successful hook-laden pop aimed at the feet. Fourteen top 40 hits altogether '66-70 included top tens 'I Think We're Alone Now', 'Mirage', 'Mony Mony', 'Crimson And Clover', 'Sweet Cherry Wine', 'Crystal Blue Persuasion'. 'Hanky Panky' made top 40 UK; only 'Mony Mony' of the other hits scored there, but at no. 1, perhaps because it was heavier, more R&B than the others. 'Mony Mony' was co-written by James, Gentry, Cordell and Bobby 'Montego Bay' Bloom; at that point the group wrested control from Gentry and Cordell; 'Crimson And Clover' epitomized their effective later vocal and instrumental layering: the single was edited from an album track more than five minutes long.
James was ill in 1970; the Shondells split to become unsuccessful Hog Heaven; he worked solo through the '70s and had 13 Hot 100 entries '70-81 but only three in top 40: 'Draggin' The Line' (no. 7) and 'I'm Comin' Home' (40; both '71), and 'Three Times In Love' (no. 19 '81, on Millennium label). He covered Gary Glitter songs (Glitter being his UK heir) while own hits were covered in a variety of styles: Joan Jett had USA no. 7 with 'Crimson And Clover' '82 (followed it with a Glitter song); others covered by Lene Lovich, Rubinoos, Billy Idol, reggae vocal group the Heptones.
Me, The Mob And The Music 2010 by Tommy James with Martin Fitzpatrick is a book which is frank about the Roulette label, a mob front which happened to be successful commercially.