January 31, 2010

Book Beat: Me, The Mob And The Music: One Helluva Ride With Tommy James & The Shondells

Book Beat by Anne M. Raso

Me, The Mob And The Music: One Helluva Ride With Tommy James & The Shondells

by Tommy James With Martin Fitzpatrick (Simon & Schuster)

I enjoyed this book and devoured it in one night. Everyone in the music biz circa the early 60s to early 70s knew that Morris Levy and his company was corrupt but via his new book, Tommy James brings us the day-to-day affairs of the label and openly discusses the mobsters who would be hanging out on a regular basis inside the Roulette offices. Also, he discusses in depth how he made about $30 million for the label but somehow only seems to make his monthly expenses and pocket just a little extra bread for a nice meal here and there! Guess for a "boy next tour" raised in Dayton, Ohio and Niles, Michigan, he was just happy to get a record deal. Well, let's clarify that--when "Hanky Panky," a song made in a local studio unexpectedly received national airplay, James was quickly shipped to New York by his manager where every major label offered him a deal--but Levy somehow made all the other labels withdraw their offers thanks to his connections and possible threats. James really had no choice but to go with Levy and his corrupt crew of characters.
    I find it fascinating that James admits that the Hesh character on The Sopranos is based on the quirky Levy, whom, oddly enough, James seemed to have a surrogate father relationship with and spent a lot of time in his upstate New York farm. He even had property nearby himself at some point in the 70s.
         There is not a lot of depth here on James' well-publicized abuse of pills or his romantic relationships. He seemed to be leading a rock and roll lifestyle for sure, but this self-described devout Christian not exactly Motley Crue style debauchery. He seemed to relatively have his head on straight throughout the entire height of his career even if he was "speeding" through life on a number of different levels. He was married three times but does not give intimate details except that he cheated on his first two wives and he had to get married the first time since he got his high school girlfriend pregnant when he was a Niles, MI high school senior. But once his career suddenly took off, the marriage was doomed. (The singer-songwriter has always taken care of his son and maintained a relationship with him, we are quick to point out, and he has been married to his third wife, Lynda, a school teacher, for nearly 30 years.)
  It might sounds weird, but I wish I knew if James were ever hung out of a skyscraper window feet first by members of the Costra Nostra (a la Frankie Valli back in is early days)--but maybe I will get up my nerve and ask James about that when I get to interview him before his Borders appearance at New York's Columbus Circle on February 25th.
    James' lawyer actually got him out of his Roulette contract in 1974. This book ends in 1989 when Levy dies of cancer, and maybe Part 2 of this hitmaker's life will be made into a future tome! James is a very friendly guy who loves to share interesting stories of his career, so be sure to catch one of his upcoming signings! There should be quite a few in the NYC tristate area since he has lived in northern NJ for the past 25 or 30 years.


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