Tommy James talks the 1960s, The Beatles, and Saturday’s landmark show in NYC

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This Saturday, February 8th, The Town Hall in NYC is going to play host to an incredible and unique collection of celebrities and musicians. Tommy James is just one of the many must-see acts that will be performing Beatle songs and one of his own classics. He will be joined by Gene Cornish (The Rascals) for a once-in-a-lifetime acoustic set.

James is perhaps best known for his work with The Shondells and iconic albums such as Crimson & Clover, but he’s also remained in the public eye and on the charts with covers of his songs that have become as popular, in a different decade, as the original versions. Who can forget Billy Idol’s cover of “Mony Mony,” which was joined on the charts by Tiffany’s cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now”?

I was able to talk to James about his thoughts about the 50th anniversary of The Beatles coming to America, as well as what he is looking forward to at Saturday’s NYC:Fab 50 show, “America Salutes The Beatles.” The show will start at 7:30 p.m. at the historic Town Hall. 100% of ticket proceeds will be donated to The Food Bank of New Jersey, and also The Comprehensive Autism Medical Assessment and Treatment Center of New Jersey.  

For more information about the concert and tickets, please visit: http://www.nycfab50.com/TownHall.htm

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Me: Starting with the event, how did you wind up getting involved?

 

James: It’s funny. They simply called, and I have been a big Beatles fan my whole adult life and career, but they called just kind of out of nowhere and asked if I would participate in this.  It’s the 50 year celebration since The Beatles came to New York and did The Ed Sullivan Show. I actually saw that show live and I was playing with my band at the time. I was like 16 years old. I’m going to basically take my acoustic guitar. I’m not even taking the electric, and I’m taking Gene Cornish with me, from The Rascals.

 

Me: I just spoke to him this morning, what a great guy!

 

James: He’s going to play acoustic with me, and Jonathan Ashe, who is a great jazz guitarist is bringing his acoustic guitar, and the three of us are going to play a couple of Beatles songs and a couple of our songs. We’re going to do “All My Loving” and maybe “A Hard Day’s Night.”  We’ll see if there’s time for it. Then “Crystal Blue Persuasion” on acoustic guitars is going to be interesting. I’ve never done this before!  Then “Crystal Blue” will morph into “Groovin’”. They’re the same chord progression. Gene is bringing his harmonica like he did on the record, so it’s going to be a neat little thing. There’s going to be a lot of celebs there and a lot of very fun people.

 

Me: Talking to Charles Rosenay a couple of days ago about this, I was referring to it as a dream concert for a music fan.

 

James: Dick Cavett’s going to be there, people who totally are out of the blue.

 

Me: I called it a grouping of people you would never see in the same room at the same time, basically.

 

James: They would never be together for just about any reason. (laughing)

 

Me: It’s a wonderful conglomeration of people. Basically if you’re a fan of music and especially of that era, this is where you want to be that night.

 

James: It’s funny, but when I was 16 years old I worked in a record shop. I was selling records and after school I’d do the record shop, and on the weekends. The Beatles were just coming out, and this is November and December of 1963, and Capital had put on one of the most incredible campaigns where they would put up these tripod pictures of these four guys turned backwards with floppy hair, and week by week they would start turning to their right until they were finally exposed, and it turned out to be the album cover to Meet The Beatles, their first album. It was brilliant. Right in the middle of that promotion was the Kennedy assassination right in the middle of all that, so forever in my mind the two events are linked. The Beatles coming out and the Kennedy assassination. I’ve often said that the only thing that made 1964 bearable was The Beatles.

     When The Shondells would play in my hometown of Niles, Michigan for a teen dance or something, we would, after The Beatles came out, our 3rd set was all Beatles. We would actually do the Beatle boots, they had Beatle wigs that they were selling and we’d put on the Beatle wigs and sharkskin jackets and we’d go out and play an hour of Beatle music. What was so incredible is before we went on, before we’d put on the Beatle wigs it was like, “Yeah, okay,” you’d kind of hear a clap in the background, and all of a sudden we’d put on the Beatle wigs and there were screams. Our whole 3rd set was The Beatles and we’d start off the 3rd set with “All My Loving,” so that’s what I’m going to do at the NYC:Fab 50 show this Saturday.

Me: That’s going to be incredible!

 

James: (laughing) It’s going to be fun.

 

Me: It’s going to be interesting to hear that, plus “Crystal Blue Persuasion” on acoustic guitar as well, at this event honoring The Beatles.

 

James: Yes indeed.  I was such a Beatle fan. All of us were in one way or another following The Beatles, and that’s what the ‘60s were all about. If you were a musician in the ‘60s, you listened very carefully to everything The Beatles were doing, including what studio they were in, how they were miking the drums and so forth. They really did take us on a magical mystery tour, didn’t they?  You know, what they did with the Sgt. Pepper album just from inside the industry is they changed the whole nature of the industry. Literally, we went from singles to albums that fast because as soon as the record companies saw the incredible money that could be made from really having a monster album, suddenly it went from singles to albums. There was a huge, mass extinction of singles acts right at that moment. I’ll never forget. We were on the road with Hubert Humphrey who was a vice president running for president. This is in 1968, and the Sgt. Pepper album had been out for six months at that time. When we left on the campaign in August, it was all singles acts. It was The Rascals, Gary Puckett, The Association, The Buckinghams and so forth. We got back nine weeks later and it was all album acts. It was Blood, Sweat, and Tears, it was Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Joe Cocker, and the industry changed that fast. It was just a good thing we were working on Crimson & Clover at that moment, because that allowed us to make that jump into album sales. A lot of acts didn’t, weren’t able to make that jump, so the Sgt. Pepper album was clearly the reason the industry changed like that. It’s never going to be another time like that, when all the ducks were in a row. There’s never going to be another act like The Beatles and there’s never going to be another moment in our history like that.

 

Me: It’s sometimes a good thing that that’s the case. I say this a little tongue in cheek, and I’ve said this to other interviewees too, but there’s something about the ‘60s that makes it timeless. I can’t picture Justin Bieber, for example, in 50 years having an anniversary tour.

 

James: (laughing) You’re quite right. The fact that we’re listening to ‘60s music today is like us in the ‘60s listening to music from 1910. And liking it. And buying the record. I can only tell you that it was really a very magical moment and those of us who made it in the ‘60s really were very blessed and very honored, actually.

 

Me: I wanted to ask you this question and I forgot to ask it earlier, but I was wondering what you’re most looking forward to at the event in NYC next Saturday.

 

James: I think it’s just going to be one of those shoot-from-the-hip shows. My band isn’t going to be there, it’s just going to be me and Gene and Jonathan Ashe, and we’re going to play acoustic guitars which I don’t do that often. It’s going to be fun. There’s going to be so many interesting people there from Dick Cavett to Danny Aiello to Al Jardine from The Beach Boys, Marshall Crenshaw, Melanie who used to record down in the same studio I did. People I haven’t seen in such a long time. Just the whole vibe of the night of honoring The Beatles. How much fun it’s going to be because everybody is going to be loose. Of course, all of the money goes to the New York Food Bank.  If there’s one thing to give to, it would be to feed the hungry people.

 

Me: It’s going to be a night of music, but for you guys more of a high school reunion in some ways.

 

James: It is!  It’s just going to be fun and loose. I hope the people who go there will feel the same way. I’m sure they will. Everybody is going to be singing Beatles’ songs. It’s just going to be fun.

 

Me: The “bang for your buck” is going to be impressive.

 

James: (laughing) That’s right!

 

Me: You’re never going to find this kind of a bill again

 

Come see Tommy James, and many other great and iconic musicians, at the “America Salutes The Beatles” concert on Saturday, February 8th! Also, be sure to read up on all FOUR of the NYC:Fab 50 events happening in NYC starting Thursday, February 6th, and ending Sunday, February 9th: http://www.nycfab50.com/

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~ by Jennifer Dodge on February 5, 2014.

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