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The week before Tommy James and the Shondells’ biggest career moment, the pop-rock singer and his backup singers sat in a Los Angeles hotel room in 1969 with the Beach Boys watching the top-rated “Ed Sullivan Show.”
The Beach Boys did their best to prepare James for his appearance the following week on the show, which they already had done several times. But then at the end of the broadcast, the famous host proudly announced his featured act for the following Sunday: Tony Jones and the Spondells.
“If I wasn’t nervous about the appearance before then, I sure was afterward,” said James, laughing as he spoke recently by phone from his New York City home.
The 66-year-old James, who will headline the Our Hospice of South Central Indiana concert Aug. 31 in Columbus, can afford to laugh at the memory.
Turning back the clock
Who: Tommy James and the Shondells headlining Our Hospice of South Central Indiana concert. Groove Essentials will open the show.
When: 6:30 p.m. Aug. 31
Where: Mill Race Park, Fifth and Lindsey streets. Organizers suggest concertgoers bring folding chairs or blankets.
Admission: Free. No ticket required.
Restrooms: At the park
Food and drinks: A variety will be sold with proceeds benefiting hospice’s help with terminally ill patients and their families. T-shirts and glow necklaces also will be sold.
After the show: James is willing to meet fans and sign autographs.
Closing the show: Fireworks
Parking: Cummins Inc. lot on Lindsey Street and other locations downtown
Information: 314-8053 or ourhospice.org
In the 40-plus years since, his music has sold 100 million records and was featured on the final episode of “Breaking Bad.” It also has been a part of TV shows such as “Criminal Minds,” “Men of a Certain Age,” “In Plain Sight” and “The Simpsons.”
The man who appears in a psychedelic shirt on the cover of his 2010 autobiography, “Me, the Mob and the Music,” can pinpoint only one element that kept him from fading forever as so many Sixties’ pop-rock groups have.
“The truth is that, because of classic rock stations, the songs never really came off radio play,” said James, who was born as Tommy Jackson in Dayton, Ohio, and spent part of his childhood in Niles, Mich., and South Bend.
“And since we really were a creation of radio, I think that always kept us closer to the people.”
He aims to include all his 1960s and 1970s hits, including “Hanky Panky,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Mony Mony,” “Crimson and Clover,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “Draggin’ the Line” during the 70-minute performance at Mill Race Park at Fifth and Lindsey streets.
He acknowledged he has been around a while. In fact, his current Shondells have been with him more than 30 years.
“If someone would have told me I’d still be in music today, I would have said they were nuts,” James said. “You just didn’t think about things like that back then.”
Our Hospice President Sandy Carmichael mentioned that James’ name had been suggested several times for the oldies gathering that highlights hospice’s work to help the terminally ill and their families.
“This year, it worked out that he was available,” Carmichael said.
James said he performs about 20 concerts each summer and still enjoys meeting “three generations of fans.”
Sheryl Tracey, Hospice manager of special events, said interest in James’ Columbus show has come from far and wide — including out-of-state fan requests for concert information.
The singer loves to tell the story about his original small-label, first single in 1964, “Hanky Panky.”
The song went nowhere, until it was found two years later in a record bin by a Pittsburgh radio disc jockey who made it into a hit in that city. Eventually, “Hanky Panky” rocketed nationally.
In the months before that happened, the Shondells had disbanded and James was trying to finish high school.
“Only in America,” James remarked.
Over the years, his music has been included in 27 films. It also has been recorded by some of the music world’s biggest names: Bruce Springsteen, Carlos Santana, Prince, REM, Dolly Parton and Kelly Clarkson.
The singer said his favorite cover versions are Prince’s “Crimson and Clover” and REM’s “Draggin’ the Line.”
He recently looked over the final screenplay for a movie about his life and work with Roulette Records. Producer Barbara De Fina (“Good Fellas,” “Hugo,” “Casino,” and “Cape Fear”) already is on board for the project.
James also has signed an administration deal with Sony that will help him collect royalties on his music.
“Without someone like them,” he asked, “how are you going to collect on a Japanese toilet bowl cleaner commercial using, ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’?”
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