Tommy James tells a rockin’ story about his life in rock ‘n’ roll

January 15, 2011

Bobz Book Reviews

As you’ve bounced up and down on the dance floor at your cousin’s wedding, admit it, you’ve always wondered who was “Mony,” the inspiration behind the monster rock ‘n’ roll classic that gets even Uncle Clem to loosen his inhibitions and boogie down.

Tommy James  lets us all in on the secret in “Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and the Shondells.”

This may be the best semi-autobiography I’ve ever read. It’s a page-turner right from the start, close to drama, overbrimming with nostalgia for boomers.  Writer Martin Fitzpatrick has crafted taped interviews with the hit-making guitar player into a 225-page Scribner hardback that reads as if Tommy James is sitting in your living room telling you about his life.

How so many of the Shondells’ hits came to be and how they came to climb the charts pulled me back to those heady days of the sixties and seventies when I first heard “Hanky Panky” and “I Think We’re Alone Now” pouring out of the radio. If you were a teenager then, I’ll bet you still know all the lyrics.

Backstage in the music industry

But as interesting as the making of the songs are, it’s the back story of the music business that adds a fullness to the story of this kid from Niles, Mich., whose songs got played every 20 minutes on Top 40 radio.

New York mob connected Roulette Records and its president Morris Levy share the Tommy James story right from the start, and it maybe because the principals are dead — some violently — that James can publish this tell-all.

James himself is probably lucky to be alive, lucky the mob didn’t turn on him but even more fortunate the pills and alcohol life of a rocker didn’t kill him as it did his contemporaries like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

In those No. 1-record years, James admits to doing everything but what is expected of the Christian he eventually becomes. The drugs, the booze and jumping into bed with whomever was convenient play no small part in two divorces.

James credits the Betty Ford Clinic with sobering him up, and says it was there that he turned back to Christianity.

It makes for a feel-good ending, but then feel-good songs by Tommy James and the Shondells have pumped life into dance floors everywhere for more than 40 years now. — bz

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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

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