Tommy James Interview II: Why The ’60s Are Still So Powerful And Making “Crystal Blue Persuasion”

When you talk to a music legend like Tommy James, you tend to cover a lot of topics. Thankfully James was as gracious as he was entertaining and let me ask questions about everything from his career. In this installment James talks a bit about what makes the ’60s a decade that just won’t quit.

Image,

(Photo by Jennifer Dodge)

 

Me: I was born in 1975 but I thankfully had parents who had sense enough to play good music in the house growing up, so I love that generation of music especially. I’ve asked people before and I asked Gene [Cornish from The Rascals] this morning, actually, but that decade…what is it about it that, that music is still popular and its still garnering new fans and new generations?

 

James: From a marketing standpoint, 1965 was the biggest class to ever graduate from high schools across the country, the baby boomers. You suddenly had 30 million 18-year olds with money in their pocket fueling the whole thing. Not that there wasn’t stuff going on before, but 1964 and 1965 and on, the graduating classes were humungous, and so there was this tremendous feeling of optimism in the country. We were number one at anything and suddenly the music business exploded, and every week somebody new was coming out, and all the ducks were in a row. Radio and TV were all waiting for the next big act. That all changed later, but at that moment, everybody was on the same page and everybody was hearing the same music. Top 40 radio and AM radio had a huge reach. With the tremendous listening audience of AM radio, you could pretty much cover the whole country with a dozen stations, so everybody is hearing the same songs, at the same time.  It was really an incredible moment in that respect, and then you had this incredible explosion of creativity that’s never happened before. Every artist was listening to every other artist. Everybody was stealing from everybody. Everybody was just comparing notes with everybody else, and those of us who were lucky enough to be a part of music at that moment really saw some history. I’m very, very glad to be a part of my generation like that.

 

Me: It’s interesting, too, because you mentioned a couple of the songs you’ve done, and I was talking to Gene and I mentioned that I’d seen “Once Upon a Dream” [The Rascals’ comeback tour and multimedia show, 2013] when it came around.

 

James: Wasn’t that a good show?

 

Me: Yeah!  It was my first time seeing The Rascals and I wanted to see them because as Gene pointed out, they’re really one of the only ‘60s bands that has all of the original members.

 

James: That’s right.

 

Me: And they’re still at the top of their game.

 

James: Correct.

 

Me: What I noticed as the show progressed, it was really done and just incredible, but, I know about “Good Lovin’” and songs like that, but as the show progressed, I was like, “I forgot they did that one, and that one!”

 

James: Yes. It’s easy to do that. One of the things that is so great that, The Rascals included, is we had the attention of the public long enough to morph into new things. In other words, we weren’t pigeon-holed. The Beach Boys, The Rascals, us, we were so lucky to have, to be able to have gone through all those music styles. It’s like a mannequin changing clothes.

 

Me: (laughing) That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. As I was getting ready for this interview, I’m reading information about you, obviously, and I was like, “I forgot he did this song, or that song.”

 

James: My wife actually said that to me for about the first six months we were together.

 

Me: (laughing)

 

James: (imitating his wife) “Oh, you did that too?” (laughing)

 

Me: (laughing) I felt a little bit ignorant because I love these songs, but I forgot that you did these songs.  If you had to really pick which song or which album of yours that you’re the most proud to have done, are you able to actually do that?

 

James: It’s hard because these songs become like your children. They’re the family jewels. Well, honestly of the older stuff, I’d have to say probably “Crystal Blue Persuasion” is the song that I like to play the most. It just has…it just feels good to me. It was in that magic moment of 1969. The Summer of ’69 was so great. I always remember “Crystal Blue” was also one of the hardest records we ever did because…it was from the Crimson and Clover album. I guess I should say that whole album, really, was my favorite because it was the moment when we really began selling albums.  We also started producing ourselves with that album, without any outside interference, and doing all of the writing and performing all of the music, and involved in the album cover. It was the beginning of our really getting into the retail aspects of the music business and really knowing our craft. I look at the whole Crimson and Clover album…”Crystal Blue Persuasion,” I was going to say, was one of the hardest records we ever produced because we completely over-produced it at first. We had too many guitars, a full set of drums, and gradually we realized that this just wasn’t the song we wrote so we started…I always said, “The first four weeks we produced it, and the second four weeks we un-produced it.” We started pulling things out and all that was left was a conga drum, a tambourine…

 

Me: (laughing)

 

James: …a flamenco guitar, and a few little things. It took us a long time to make that record until it actually became the song we wrote.

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~ by Jennifer Dodge on March 2, 2014.

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