Often artists will gloss over how they actually “made it,” but Tommy gives you the full story from the first note he played thru his glory years and beyond.It’s an engaging tale.What emerges between the lines is that while Tommy most certainly got some breaks, it was thru his talent, intelligence, and adaptability that he was able to convert himself into such a huge success.
At center stage throughout is Tommy’s love-hate relationship with Morris Levy, the legendary godfather of rock-and-roll.How deeply “the mob” was involved with Roulette Records is revealed, and given the setting, it’s truly remarkable how Tommy was able to not only survive but actually thrive, even while being denied access to about $30 million (Tommy’s figure) in royalties over the course of his Roulette career.
Especially enjoyable were the side stories Tommy told, e.g., how “Hanky Panky,” “Mony Mony,” and other songs were created; the way band members came and went, and why; Tommy’s reaction to the JFK and RFK assassinations; and how he later became involved in the Hubert Humphrey 1968 presidential campaign, which Tommy reveals included a secret plan to have a referendum to get the U.S. out of Vietnam.
On the negative side, since Tommy was admittedly a big Buddy Holly fan, I was surprised that he did not mention the 1959 plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and others, and how that event impacted him (if at all, perhaps it had no impact).And while Tommy says he made up the name “The Shondells,” he does not say where he got the inspiration, leaving the reader to wonder if it was “borrowed” from recording star Troy Shondell, as urban legend holds.Also, the story that Tommy tells in the book about Morris Levy and John Lennon varies significantly from the account he gave during a 2010 radio interview, so one is left wondering how much of each story is actually true.
Most disappointing was that Tommy took the word of some stage manager to label jazz drumming great Gene Krupa as a heroin addict.In the context of the book (on page 107), the stage manager’s accusation seems to have been based purely on his observation that Mr. Krupa (at the time pushing 60, and in ill health) took naps in between sets.Tommy blindly accepts the accusation as true, calls Mr. Krupa a “fallen hero,” and unfairly characterizes him within the jazz musician stereotype.While Mr. Krupa’s arrest and conviction for marijuana possession is well documented (as is the government’s obsession with persecuting Mr. Krupa), “the man who made drums a solo instrument” had never before been linked heroin.Sad and ultimately undermining of himself for Tommy to malign Mr. Krupa in this way.
Nevertheless, on balance, the positive very much outweighs the negative in this Tommy James autobiography, and I would recommend the book to any rock-and-roll fan interested in seeing what the music business was all about during the magnificent career of one highly talented star, Tommy James.
Tags: download, tommy james, ebook, pdf, me, the mob and the music
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