Singer-songwriter-producer-musician Thomas Gregory Jackson was born April 29, 1947 in Dayton, Ohio. In 1958, his family moved to Niles. Michigan, where Tommy formed his first band, Tom & the Tornadoes. In 1963, they were renamed The Shondells in honor of one of Tommy’s musical idols, Troy Shondell (of “This Time” fame). That same year, the group recorded their first single, “Hanky Panky,” in the studios of WNIL radio in Niles. Thirteen year old Tommy the Shondells’ single sold fairly well but was soon forgotten. Then, two years later, a Pittsburgh DJ found a copy and played it as a “station exclusive.” A bootlegger taped “Hanky Panky” off the air and reissued it on the Red Fox label. Tommy didn’t know about that until after the Red Fox single had already hit #1 in Pittsburgh and sold 80,000 copies! After he found out, Tommy sold the only copy he had to Roulette Records in New York, which took the track to #1 in the country in the summer of 1966.
Eighteen more hits rolled out over the next four years, from “Crimson and Clover” and “Sweet Cherry Wine” to “Ball Of Fire” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.“ Few fans caught on that “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Mirage” had the same chord structure, except reversed. “Mirage” had been inspired when “I Think We’re Alone Now” was accidentally played backwards!
Song ideas came from all places — even a peek outside Tommy’s apartment window at a Mutual of New York billboard that kept flashing “Mony, Mony” in 1968. Aside from writing the million-selling “Mony Mony,” James also became quite the studio wiz — a pioneer in the use of phasers, vocorders and other electronic gadgetry.
Writing and producing the group’s records as well as “Sugar On Sunday” for The Clique and “Tighter, Tighter” for Alive & Kicking in 1971 as a solo artist Tommy struck gold again with “Draggin’ The Line.” During the 1980s, Tommy James and the Shondells hits were successful for a Joan Jett & the Blackhearts version of “Crimson And Clover,” Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” and Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony.”
Tommy James and the Shondells were inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2008.
Visit the official Tommy James & the Shondells website here.