PART TWO…TOMMY JAMES “ME, THE MOB, AND THE MUSIC”, AND OF COURSE, MORRIS LEVY!
February 12, 2010
Here is part two of my exclusive interview with Tommy James (“I Think We’re Alone Now” , “Mony, Mony”) about his controversial new book, “Me, the Mob, and the Music”…and the owner of Roulette Records Morris Levy! the story starts back in 1967.
“Although I was apprehensive about having a label with Morris and being an artist for the notorious Roulette records as “Shadow” Mann, I felt somewhat safe because my silent partner in my publishing company was Irving Green (who owned Mercury and Smash Records), who was not only my partner Kelli Ross’ father, but also Morris Levy’s best friend.
I always considered Tommy James, Roulette’s top artist, and his records to be ahead of their time, but I wonder how many people know that he was a major creative influence on the Beatles. How many people are aware that George Harrison even wrote a few songs for him (which were eventually passed on because they too much in the vein of “Mony, Mony”).
Now I had a chance not only to see how the infamous but charming, Morris Levy and Roulette promoted records, but also how Tommy James made them! One day I was up at the label walking past Morris’ office and I heard some great music coming out. I couldn’t help but stop and put my ear a little closer to the door. SUDDENLY…the door swings open and I’m a bit scared to see a startled, serious looking Morris less than a foot away from me!
Then a smile sweeps across his face as he grabs my arm and says, “Shadow…I want you to meet somebody.” Then he introduces me to Tommy James, who brought by a test pressing of his next single, “Crimson and Clover”. From the beginning it sounds like a hit, but when it reaches the end and goes into an electronic chant “Crimson and Clover…over and over”, it sounds like a classic!
(Here’s the original clip of “CRIMSON AND CLOVER” 1969) http://www.faniq.com/video/Tommy-James–the-Shondells-Crimson-in-Clover-YouTube-38590
When my pals at Spectropop and Forgotten Hits, the ‘60s and ‘70s music forums, heard I was interviewing Tommy they submitted six pages of questions. Two of those pages were filled with questions that basically asked, “How did you get that sound on “Crimson and Clover”?
Tommy said, “We had done the record with tremolo on the guitar. It’s just a built-in sound on guitar amplifiers. When I played the guitar, we recorded it with tremolo pretty much in synch with the music. In other words, we tried to make it so that it was vibrating at the same speed that the drums were playing. So we made the whole record that way. And then at the end, it was like one of those whimsical ideas, we said, “Why don’t we put it on the voice?” So that’s what we did, we ran the vocal mike through an Ampeg guitar amp, turned on the tremolo and miked it, and ran it back through the board. It was just that simple. What was so amazing, back then, if you wanted to make a sound wiggle, you had to basically do it yourself. There was no button you could push on a synthesizer, you basically had to build the circuits yourself and everything else. So that’s what we did, we just ran the vocal mike through the guitar amp, and then miked the amp and ran it back through the board.”
“Crimson and Clover” was not only a major point in their career turning them overnight from AM singles artists into FM album artists; it was also the first of the hits that Tommy James and the Shondells created themselves. After working with producers Ritchie Cordell and Bo Gentry on his earlier records, “I Think We’re Alone Now”, and “Mony, Mony”. ” Tommy says, “Those guys were the best and we learned a lot about producing and getting new sounds from them!”
I then I told him that Forgotten Hit’s Kent Kotal, wanted to know if there are any stories about “Crystal Blue Persuasion”. Tommy said, “That’s from the Crimson and Cover” album. At that point we had drastically changed our style. It was a difficult record to make. We completely over produced it, so gradually we started pulling instruments out, guitars, congas, percussion, etc. until it became as you know it.”
Artie – “So basically you let it breathe”
Tommy – “Yeah, we let it breathe…and it came to life!”
Artie- “There has been a lot of speculation about the meaning of “Crystal Blue Persuasion”. I always thought you were writing about Crystal Meth.”
Tommy – (smiles) “No. It’s about my conversion to Christianity…just listen to the lyric.”
The more time I spend up at Roulette I start to believe more and more of the stories I’ve heard about Morris. One day I see him and Nate McCalla, his friend and partner in Calla Records getting off the back elevator with a dozen hot TV sets…giving me the pick of the litter!
Although I was honored to sit in on some of Morris’ meetings there were times when I’d leave the room for fear of hearing too much…especially when the conversation would turn to Morris’ favorite forms of promotion…payola and intimidation.
Tommy told me about his first day up at Roulette, when he overheard Morris and some of his pals, talking about beating up some guy for bootlegging his records, then resumed the conversation as if nothing happened.
Tommy actually tells dozens of compelling stories in his book, “Me, the Mob, and the Music”, which made my hair stand on end…or laugh, sometimes both at the same time!
I told him how my producer Ron Haffkine and I would sit in Morris’ office while he was on the phone “encouraging” disc jockeys to play my records. “You play the Shadow’s records…or I’ll break your legs!”… Then Tommy told me something that made my mouth drop open!
(To Be Continued)
From my forthcoming book, “I Did It For A Song” Copyright 2010 by Artie Wayne http://artiewayne.wordpress.com/about-artie-wayne/
YOU CAN ORDER TOMMY JAMES’ “ME, THE MOB, AND THE MUSIC” ON HIS WEBSITE http://www.tommyjames.com/
Thanks to members of Spectropop , Forgotten hits, Alan O’Day, “Country” Paul Payton, Brooks Arthur, Ed Salamon, Alan Karr, Jim Cassidy, Kent Kotal, Dee Trane, Patti Dahlstrom, Ayrton Mugnaini, Robby Leff, Art Munson, AJC, and Matthew David, for the questions this article is based on..
IF YOU MISSED PART ONE AND PART THREE CLICK ONTO
To reach Spectropop http://spectropop.com
Forgotten Hits http://forgottenhits.com
Special Thanks to Carol Ross – Durborow and Ed Osborne for their assistance in putting this article together.
BACK TO ARTIE WAYNE ON THE WEB http://artiewayne.wordpress.com