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Tommy James’ Real-Life Story Makes “Vinyl” Look Tame

How would you feel if a mobster cheated you out of $30 million, and threatened your life in the process? “Grateful” might not be your top answer, but that’s how 60’s/70’s hitmaker Tommy James really feels. James enjoyed a career most anyone would envy. With his band, The Shondells, Tommy sold over 100 million records worldwide and enjoyed 32 Billboard Hot 100 charting hits, 23 gold singles and 9 platinum albums. His hits include “Crystal Blue Persuasion”; “Mony, Mony”; “I Think We’re Alone Now”; “Hanky Panky”; “Draggin’ The Line”; and “Sweet Cherry Wine.” His songs have been covered by major artists including Prince, Joan Jett, Billy Idol, Bruce Springsteen, Carlos Santana, REM, Kelly Clarkson, Dolly Parton, Boyz ll Men and even the Boston Pops.

But before all of that, there was Morris Levy and Roulette Records.

Roulette was famously controlled by the mob, where the label served to launder money — and artists were there to generate cash, not to get paid. If you saw the HBO series Vinyl, you got a small sense of how that worked. But truth is indeed stranger than fiction…

Strong-arm tactics and intimidation were just part of the Roulette playbook, which — on the bright side — helped turn Tommy into a star. Tommy is suitably grateful for that part of the story. He’s even more grateful to be here to tell the rest to host Valerie Smaldone in the latest episode of the podcast series, “Light from the Black Box,” from NYC’s Sheen Center for Thought and Culture.

Just click below to listen. And you don’t even need to join the Witness Protection Program to get the inside scoop.

(photo: WikiCommons)


7 thoughts on “Tommy James’ Real-Life Story Makes “Vinyl” Look Tame”

  1. Iron Dan says:

    When they were working on “Crimson and Clover”, their regular rehearsal space was being overrun by fans. So they practiced at the drummer’s cousin’s house in Connellsville, Pa. They were my neighbors. I was playing with Matchbox cars with my neighbor while they were working on the song. 19 years later, my guitar teacher’s band was recording a demo in the Shondells’ lead guitarist’s basement studio, and I was sitting at the board next to him, in front of the gold record. Nice guy.

  2. Victor M Lowry says:

    That is so cool Iron Dan..love to hear those stories!

  3. Satch Romano says:

    We booed them of the stage in 1972 when they opened for The J. Geils Band in Boston. Don’t think they finished three songs.

    1. Richard valleau says:

      Tommy James could blow j geils away on their worst day

      1. Alan Day says:

        Pop and Rock don’t mix. j. geils is a great rock band while tommy james did theirs for the pop world.

  4. Ray says:

    That’s not even close to being true. J. Geils band was a much less polished but in your face bunch of Blues-Rock Jammers, totally great shows too. Shondel had more hits and a lot of talent but the styles were so different as to make it comparing apples to oranges. On the other hand, being proud to have booed them off the stage? That’s so not cool. Rick Nelson made a ton of money after being booed off a stage, off a song called “Garden Party”. A terrific album by the way.

    1. alex says:

      Rick sang Honky Tonk Women and got booed.
      The N.Y. fans wanted to only hear the oldies. Thanks the story behind Garden Party.

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