This week, Ira Sternberg spoke with Tommy James.
Tommy James, performing with the Shondells at the Golden Nugget July 31, started his road to stardom when a nightclub DJ in Pittsburgh discovered a two-year-old record by “The Shondells” and played it at his weekend dances. The crowd response was so overwhelmingly positive that radio deejays started spinning it and an enterprising record distributor bootlegged it, selling 80,000 copies in ten days. By May of 1966 “Hanky Panky” was the number one record in Pittsburgh and James was a sensation.
A Pittsburgh promoter tracked James down at his home in Niles, told him of the success tale of “Hanky Panky,” and urged him to “come on down!” Unable to put the original group back together, Tommy hired a hot P-burgh R&B bar band to become the Shondells. Two weeks later he and this new group signed a record deal with Roulette Records in New York. The label, in turn, put their promotion team to work on “Hanky Panky” and made it the summer smash of ’66. Thus, began one of the longest strings of nonstop hits in recording industry history.
Tommy James and the Shondells’ number one singles included “Hanky Panky” and “Crimson and Clover.” They also charted twelve other Top 40 hits, including “I Think Were Alone Now,” “Mirage,” “Mony Mony,” “Sweet Cherry Wine” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”