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Tommy James Recalls Music's Slimy Mob Underbelly

tommyjamesSinger Tommy James holds special significance in the annals of pop music. James and his group, The Shondells, were a major, major force in modern, coming-of-age music in the ’60s. But he also saw the seamy side of the music industry.

Their hits, including “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Hanky Panky” and “Mony Mony” were signature songs of a generation finding their way and their voice. In all, James had 24 gold singles and nine platinum albums.

A new book, authored by James, with Martin Fitzpatrick, “Me, The Mob, and the Music, One Helluva Ride With Tommy James and the Shondells” (Simon and Schuster), is nothing short of drop-dead startling and revealing.

James, born Thomas Gregory Jackson on April 29, 1948 in Dayton, Ohio, was without doubt a musical prodigy, writing and performing music with the ease of someone walking down a street.


One connection led to another and he was soon ensconced in the tentacles of one Morris Levy and his Roulette Records.

Mobbed-up and crawling deeper and deeper into the abyss, James is quoted many times in the book as saying, “Morris is the best … if you don’t mind NOT getting paid.”

As a sometime observer of the slimy underbelly of the entertainment business, the book is simply fascinating.

Personally, I loved James’ more psychedelic song endeavors, including his songs “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “Crimson and Clover.”

In fact, during my first summer away from home, working in the Catskills, “Persuasion” was the song of the summer.

CoverArt-book[1]

There was no question that the James gang was at the top of the heap in those heady days, yet, as with so many artists entangled in an inescapable web, James knew it was about to crash.

Whenever he decided to tempt fate and rock the boat, a crisis would ensue. The wives, girlfriends, nameless associates and questionable ways of doing business are all terrifically explored here.

His stories are, at first, hard to believe, then, hard not to believe.

Once you hit the top, there’s only one way to go. James has sold more than 100 million records.

His songs continue to be widely used in TV and film and have been covered by the likes of Joan Jett, Billy idol, Tiffany, Tom Jones, Prince and R.E.M.

I think my favorite story in the book is when James finally decided (again) to confront Morris about unpaid royalties and at first thought to bring in his own accountant.

When he finally confronted Levy and told him he owed him between $30 million and $40 million, Morris almost choked. You will too reading this thrilling, sad, captivating and true story.

Law and Dis-Order:Canceled, But Maybe Not

Sam Waterson as Jack McCoy on Law & Order

Sam Waterson as Jack McCoy on Law & Order

Hard to believe that TV’s “Law And Order” has been canceled. Or has it?

As of this writing Dick Wolff is negotiating to bring the show to cable-net TNT.

When the news first broke last week, Wolff was almost apoplectic and denied anything had happened. Wolff’s usual attitude “never complain, never explain” seemed somewhat at odds with this dire situation.

However, Wolff still controlled all the L&O spinoffs, including “SUV” and an intended “Law And Order, L.A.”

To this writer, that seems totally absurd, as well as using the famous Hollywood sign as the logo for the new show. Of course, the title replaces the current wording.

As a watcher for all these years, I have grown to love the show and actually found the current cast to be among the strongest ever.

How can you not enjoy Sam Waterson’s antics, as the grizzly and seasoned Jack McCoy and Linus Roache (Mike Cutter) proving himself a really superb actor.

S. Epatha Merkerson’s turn this year, as the cancer-ravaged Lt. Anita Van Buren has been exceptionally compelling, what a terrific actress.

My favorite was always the late Jerry Orbach (Lennie Briscoe), and when he passed, many viewers tuned out never to return.

I hope the show rebounds for one more go-around, although, how could you really ever end it?

Names in the News

Bill Schill & The Schill-tones, Carol Ross Dubrow, Tom Cuddy, Mitch Dolan, Mark Strickland, James Edstrom, Roy Trakin, l Bud Scoppa, Brian Lowry, Deb Caponetta, Chip, Steve Valentine, Bruce Bozzi, Jr., Chris Gilman, Joel Diamond.