Tommy James: Michigan's Favorite Son

The state of Michigan, which has done very little over the years to give recognition to its rich Rock and Roll heritage, is honoring Michigan Rock and Roll Legend Tommy James as a “Michigan Favorite Son” in a ceremony to be held in the Michigan Senate Chamber at the State Capitol Building in Lansing, Michigan on Tuesday, May 25th.

 Although James was born in Ohio, he moved with his family to Niles, Michigan where he grew up and started his Rock and Roll career. His first # 1 hit, “Hanky Panky”, was recorded with his group, The Shondells, in the studio of radio station WNIL in Southwest Michigan. The song was a regional hit in 1964, but Snap’s limited distribution prevented the song from going much beyond the Midwest.

By the end of 1965, the original Shondells had broken up. Tommy James was living in Niles and was considering giving up music when he received a phone call that changed his life.

The storybook series of events began when a Pittsburgh DJ found a copy of “Hanky Panky” in a pile of used records. When he played it at his next dance, the crowd went wild. Pittsburgh teens began calling their radio stations to request the song, and that led an enterprising bootlegger to press several thousand illegal copies of “Hanky Panky” on the Red Fox label. By the time James got the phone call, “Hanky Panky” had become the # 1 song in Pittsburgh.

When none of the original Shondells expressed interest in getting back together, James traveled alone to make some promotional appearances on radio and television in Pittsburgh. There he found a band who agreed to become the “new” Shondells.

James then took the master of “Hanky Panky” to New York and signed with Roulette Records. By June 1966, almost two and a half years after it was first recorded, “Hanky Panky” became the # 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100.

That was the first of a string of 19 charting hits for Tommy James and The Shondells on Roulette including; “I Think We’re Alone Now”, “Mony Mony”, “Crimson & Clover”, “Crystal Blue Persuasion”, “Mirage”, and “Sweet Cherry Wine”.

In 1970, James went solo and charted 13 more songs, the biggest of which was “Draggin’ The Line” in 1971. Tommy James has sold over 100 million records worldwide, and his songs have been covered by over three hundred artists.

James has recently published his autobiography, Me, The Mob And The Music. There are plans for the book to be made into a Broadway play in 2011 with a major motion picture to follow in 2012.