If there is one artist in Rock and Roll that I feel is criminally overlooked by the so called “Rock Intelligencia”, it is Mr. Tommy James. This man is such a talented singer and creative source that it is shocking to me the depth he has musically. The level he has achieved and maintained to this day is unequaled by any artist, save for bands like the Rolling Stones or the Who. Now, in the furtherance of full and open disclosure, I have to say the company I represent, Select-o-Hits, distributes this record I chose. That being said, I think that knowing an artist beyond just his work adds insight and perspective that most regular music fans may not have.
I find it interesting that this collection spans the years 1966-2006. I was born in 1966. That means I have heard Tommy James’s music, whether by accident or on purpose, my whole life. He was one of those artists that I had heard from singles. A lot of the time when I was young I did not know who the artists were. I thought they were different performers. I did not realize that the guy who did “Draggin The Line” was the same guy that did “Hanky Panky”. When I did get my first Tommy James “Best Of” collection my young mind was blown. All these gems of songs I had heard on AM radio were all by this same guy. I thought buying a Tommy James collection was some of the best value for the money a music fan could ever get. All the songs were great; no filler – all killer.
If I am completely honest the way I got into Tommy James was through Joan Jett. In 1982, she had an album out called “I Love Rock and Roll”. On it was a cover of “Crimson and Clover”. There is something magical about the way that song was written. The melody creates the perfect balance of being wistful, vulnerable, and having complete confidence in yourself as a person at the same time. I will never get tired of that tune. It is rock and roll perfection on every level. That is why any artist can do it, and if they stay true to the songs intent they could have a hit today with it. I had to find who the original artist was. One of the joys in my life is looking back as well as forward. A wise man said that life, when examined at the time at the time, seems like a combination of chaos, worry, a slight fear and a lot of confusion. But life when looked at in hindsight seems like a finely crafted novel. I would have never known that I would be in a band called the Thrill Cycle, with the front man extraordinaire Sir Carlton J. Smith, and that the guy that played guitar on Joan Jett’s record, Mr. Ricky Byrd, would be sitting in with us occasionally at NYC nightclubs. Or that I would be doing in-store promotions with him, or selling Tommy James’ music to NY accounts, like J&R music, Virgin Megastores and Tower Records. That is the magic to me of knowing when I was 13, I was going to do something with music, for everyday of the rest of my life. It turned out that listening to my inner calling was the correct thing to do for this boy, though it was never easy at the time.
Tommy’s life in music is just as interesting as the tunes themselves. If you have not read his autobiography, “Me, The Mob and Music”, you must get it. He has had a front row seat to so much of the history of the music business. It is worth getting just to hear his accounts of his dealings with the infamous music biz legend Morris Levy. I would have loved to been able to get an audience with Morris when he was still alive. I would have gladly paid him to tell me stories about the music biz. Tommy’s book is the next best thing. I have even heard it rumored that it may get turned into a movie by Martin Scorsese at some point.
Anyway, the music on this collection tells a real story too using 48 tracks. From the opening first single that Tommy ever charted, “Hanky Panky” (1966), to the sublime vocal that Tommy delivers on the 2006 single “Hold the Fire”. The man has not lost a step. He makes music that is still worth listening to today. He is completely unique. One of the many idiosyncratic elements of Tommy’s music is his own guitar playing. I have seen him dismiss his own playing in many interviews. He plays guitar in an open tuning on a Fender Jazzmaster (mostly an E tuning I think) and he uses one finger to make chords. (Note to self…buy a Fender Jazzmaster soon.) To him, he seems to think of it as simplistic. To me, it is sublime and adds such a wonderful feel to his music. I can also say I saw Tommy last year in concert. I have seen him many times for work. He is amazing. His voice is unbelievable and when you sit back and listen to him in concert and every song is a chart hit. It becomes very impressive very quickly. So, if you do not own a Tommy James record you cannot do better than this 2 CD collection that goes from the beginning until 2006. It all sounds great and it is really fun to explore his music. Just go and buy it today, and then you can thank me Later. ;o)