Transcript: Transcript Tommy James (and the Shondells): Chart-Topping Secrets

Welcome to A Breath of French Air with Sandy Kaye. Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of A Breath of French Air. Before I introduce you to today’s guest, I’ll call out to see if you have a favourite star from the 60s, 70s or 80s that you might like to hear from.

Just send me a message through the website and I’ll try and make it happen for you. Now, very few stars have had a better run up the 60s pop charts than my special guest today, Tommy James. Tommy led his group The Shondells through a whole host of upbeat pop tunes.

Tunes like Hanky Panky, I Think We’re Alone Now and Mony Mony. He managed to survive The Mob and The Mafia. And today, some 50 years later, Tommy James’s popularity just continues to grow.

Let’s meet him, shall we? Tommy James, you’ve been around for such a long time. You’re a person that’s had hit after hit after hit. Can we head right on back to where it all began for you? Let’s do it.

Well, basically, my very first hit record was Hanky Panky back in 1966. I had just graduated from high school a year before that in 65. And so Hanky Panky was actually recorded in a radio studio in my hometown of Niles, Michigan.

It did OK. We got on all the jukeboxes and stuff within about a 50 mile radius, but we had no distribution. So the record just died.

So we kind of forgot about the record. And a year or so later, I graduated from high school, took my band on the road, and we played throughout the Midwest and up through Chicago and Illinois and Michigan and all over. And we’re playing a little dumpy club in Wisconsin.

And right in the middle of my two weeks, the guy gets shut down by the IRS for not paying his taxes. So we got sent home back to Niles feeling like real losers. But that’s how the good Lord works, because as soon as I got home, I got the call that changed my life.

Record distributor in Pittsburgh tracked me down, informed me that this record Hanky Panky that I had recorded two years before was sitting at number one in the city of Pittsburgh. Some local entrepreneur had bootlegged 80,000 records and sold them in 10 days. And it was the biggest record Pittsburgh had ever had up to that point.

And we were sitting at number one. Pittsburgh was a major market. So it was a big deal.

And they asked me if I would come to Pittsburgh and do some shows and TV. So I did. And we drove to Pittsburgh.

And sure enough, as soon as I got over the city limits, I’m a rock star on the other side of the sign. I’m nobody. So I couldn’t put the original band back together.


So I did some local television by myself, a local radio and sort of grabbed the first band I could grab out of a club. And they became the Shondells. And a week later, I got my first manager then in Pittsburgh.

And a week later, we were in New York to sell the master of Hanky Panky to a major label and take it national. So we did. And we went to New York and we got a yes from everybody.

And the last place we took the record to was Roulette. So I went to bed that night thinking, oh, this is so great. I’ll probably be with Columbia in the morning.

It’s just great. So the next day, about 10 o’clock in the morning, we start getting calls from all the record companies that had said yes the day before. And they said, listen, I’m sorry, Tom, we got a pass.

And I mean, what do you mean we got a pass? I thought we had a deal. So finally, Jerry Wexler up at Atlantic told me the truth that Morris Levy, the head of Roulette Records, had called all the other record companies and backed them down. He threatened them, basically said, this is my record.

Back off. And that’s how we talked to Central Academy. So we basically were apparently going to be on Roulette Records.

So anyway, we signed with Roulette. And little by little, we learned that Roulette, in addition to being a functioning independent record label, was also a front for the Genovese crime family in New York City. We had no idea.

And of course, we learned this incrementally. You know, we’d meet somebody up at Morris Levy’s office. And a week later, we’d see him on TV, you know, in handcuffs, you know, doing the perp walk, being taken out of a warehouse in New Jersey or something.

So you just signed with them all? That’s exactly right. And but I must say, if we had gone with one of the other labels, one of the big corporate labels, I can tell you right now, we would have never had the kind of success that we had. Why is that? Because the competition would have been horrific.

And, you know, with a fluky little record like Hanky Panky, we would have been lucky to have been one hit wonders. At Roulette, they actually needed us. We were, in one way, very lucky to sign with Roulette Records.

Of course, getting paid was a whole other story. I heard about that. That took a while, didn’t it? Oh, a long time.

Yeah. But anyway, so my point is that that is they took the record to number one. And not only the United States, but all over the world.


It was the biggest single of the summer of 66. So we were blessed and cursed to be on Roulette Records. Tommy James, how did that feel for you? You were hardly out of your teens and all of a sudden you’re a global superstar.

What changes did that bring about in your life? Well, it brought all kinds of changes, but mainly Roulette. Morris Levy allowed us to run our own career, which was astonishing because we knew nothing. I mean, but I was allowed to put a production team together.

I was allowed to spend endless hours in the studio. We weren’t going to get paid anyway, so what the hell? And what I’m saying is that creatively, we couldn’t have been in better shape. Also, I guess you could say that the biggest challenge to me personally was learning my craft that I would never have been allowed to do on any other label.

I got to learn all about the record business. I learned songwriting. I learned production.

I’ve learned album covers, you name it. So my biggest challenge was to keep outdoing myself. That really was it, to get the next record in the can and to come up with new music constantly.

So I was very fortunate that I could put a production team together with more songwriters because we were constantly songwriting. That’s like all we did. So I was so fortunate, so blessed that we had the kind of longevity we did and that we had the attention of radio for so long.

We were a radio band. They were the big radio days, weren’t they? You couldn’t sell a thing if you weren’t being played on radio. Was the pressure to keep coming up with new singles, one that you put on yourself or one that the record company put on you, or one that the radio stations demanded from you, or a combination of all of that? All of them.

Because in the 60s, everything was moving so fast that it was just a constant challenge to come up with the next record. As a matter of fact, nobody was comfortable until we had the next one in the can. Roulette was big on selling singles, much bigger than albums.

And so coming up with the next hit single was so important. And keeping our relationship with radio was everything. And we were so lucky to be able to do that, honestly.

Radio was so good to us and we were allowed to just keep going and keep going and keep going. They played everything we put out. We were so very fortunate to have radio on our side.

When did you change your name to Tommy James? Was that around this time? It was right at the beginning. My real name is Thomas Jackson. And when we sold Hanky Panky, it just said the Shondells.


And so Roulette wanted me to be up front. So they wanted me to, you know, do you want to change your name? Do you want to, you know, Tony Jones, do you want to change it? Do you want anything you want to do? So I wanted to keep my initials and I wanted to still be Tommy. And I just thought about it for about 10 seconds.

And the first name that came to mind was James. I thought Tommy James. So that’s what it’s going to be.

Tommy James and the Shondells. So that’s it. So in the time it took me to light a cigarette, my name changed forever.

Wow. I don’t think that there was anything wrong with Tommy Jackson. It doesn’t, Tommy James is not so much.

Well, I wanted a one syllable last name so it’d be easier to remember. That was the only thing. And remember it.

They certainly have done, haven’t they, the last 60 years. No one’s forgotten that name at all at any time. That next single that you followed up with then, if you were working so hard in 1967, was another blockbuster.

And that was, I think, We’re Alone Now. Right. Well, we actually had two singles in between Hanky Panky and I think We’re Alone Now that were, you know, top 15.

But the next major record was our number four. The fourth song that we released, I think, We’re Alone Now. And that came by way of Bo Gentry and Richie Cordell, who were staff writers at Kama Sutra that I brought over to Roulette.

And they came to me with this song. And the way they did it, it was a ballad. It was sort of a mid-tempo ballad.

And they played it for me, banged it out on the piano, and I could hear immediately that it was a hit. As soon as they got to the hook, as soon as they got to the chorus line and the title, you just knew it was a hit record. I was very excited about it.

And we went into the studio and did a demo. And I said, we’ve got to speed this thing up. You know, it’s too slow.

And that’s where we came up with the eighth note staccato, eighth notes on the guitar. Which really became the signature sound of the song. So we took it back to Roulette and Morris flipped.

The funny thing about Morris Levy, he was every bit a gangster, but he had great ears. He could hear hits. He really was a great record man.

I mean, it was amazing. And he heard I Think We’re Low Now right off the bat. And he said, that’s your next record.


So we went in the studio and recorded it. I did the lead vocal the afternoon of Christmas Eve 1966. And what a Christmas present that was.

Did he give you free reign to choose whatever song you wanted to record? Or did he have a say in that? I was so fortunate, honestly, because like I said, if we’d have been with Columbia or Atlantic or something, you know, I would have never been in charge of my own career. I got to really learn the music business, the record business. Morris Levy sounds like it’s a Jewish name.

What was a good Jewish boy doing in the Italian mafia? That’s a great question. He couldn’t be a made man because he was Jewish, but he was not Italian. But he was what they called a mobbist associate.

He associated, believe me, all these guys, you know, these we’d meet people in Morris office that we recognized from TV, from, you know, the news on TV. And these wise guys would come up and hang out in Morris’s office because they loved the action. You know, they love being around the music and they treated it like a social club.

And it was it was amazing. But what can I say? It worked, I guess. And of course, New York City was the headquarters for the mob in those days, wasn’t it? Certainly was.

And for the Genovese crime family, it certainly was. They were one of the major families. Keep on singing, but the words are wrong.

And you can’t stop laughing, baby, what’s going on? It’s only love, trying to get through. It’s only love, trying to get through. It’s only love, trying to get through.

You can’t run. You can’t hide. No matter what you do, you’re on a ten cent ride.

Going up, down, baby, and it’s so much fun. And your heart beats like a big bass drum. And the beat’s getting stronger and it just won’t quit.

Better hold on, baby, cause you know that it’s only love, trying to get through. It’s only love, trying to get through. It’s only love, trying to get through.

It’s only love, trying to get through. Boris Levy had a keen sense of where the business was headed, and he capitalised on it. He always remained a shadowy figure, even decades after his death.

This is A Breath of Fresh Air with Sandy Kaye. It’s a beautiful day. Maurice Levy evolved from a poor, uneducated cloakroom clerk to a record business mogul as he managed, manipulated and levered his way to power.

He always saw innovative ways to capitalise on radio play as a promotional tool beyond conventional payola. He created live rock and roll events that were aimed at the new, younger market and he quickly learned that owning song copyrights was a powerful mechanism to getting rich. We constantly had to pretend we didn’t see things that we saw and pretend we didn’t hear things that we heard.

So, you know, while we were moaning and moaning and hanky-panky, there was this very dark and sinister story going on behind us that we couldn’t talk about. In the spring of 68 came Mony Mony. Here she comes now Well, shoot her down, turn around, come on, hold it I feel alright, I say yeah Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah That was an interesting record for us because, not only because it was a huge hit, but because it was so different.

I had always loved party rock, you know, the throwback records back to Mitch Ryder and Gary US Bonds and, you know, those kind of records, you know, that just had that live sound to them that put everybody on the dance floor, you know, Louie Louie, those kind of records. So I wanted to make one, but in 1968 people weren’t making that kind of record anymore. Nobody was making dance records anymore.

Everybody was too stoned to dance anyway, so basically we were on our own. The famous engineer Brooks Arthur was our engineer on Moany Moany and we just started putting a lot of old rock and roll riffs together, one chord here, a chord there, and we glued it all together, literally. And we finally came up with a music track that we liked and then we wrote this sort of silly song, this nonsensical song about a girl.

It sounded like old rock and roll. So then we added, you know, the sound effects and stuff, but the bottom line was the night before I was supposed to do the lead vocal, we still had no title. And it was driving us nuts because we had all the lyrics to the song done and no title.

So Richie Cordell, my song partner, and I were up at my apartment in New York trying to come up with a title, and everything we came up with sounded so stupid. So we threw our guitars and walked out on my terrace, and we’re in midtown Manhattan, and we look up and the first thing our eyes fall on is the Mutual of New York Insurance Company. M-O-N-Y.

And it was flashing, Mony, Mony, Moany, Mony. And it had a clock in the middle of the O and gave you the weather and the time and everything. So we just started laughing because that was the perfect name.

If we had been looking in the other direction, we were so desperate that it could very easily have been called Hotel Taft or YMCA. So anyway, that’s a true story. Sounds like it was made up by a press agent, but it’s a true story, and that became the title of the song.


Amazing. Amazing. You had produced seven back-to-back smash singles until Moany, Moany, but then you became in 68 one of the first artists ever to experiment with music videos and created a bit of a mini film around Mony, Mony, and that was some 13 years before MTV even hit the airwaves.

Well, that’s true. It had always made a lot of sense to make a film of your hit record. It hadn’t been done, really, in the 60s.

At very rare occasions, sometimes they’d be in a movie or something. But the idea of making a film, a video of your hit single, made all the sense in the world to me, but we couldn’t get it played anywhere on American television. We did a video of Moany, Moany, and by today’s standards, it looks like it was made by a caveman, but it was a video, and the only place we could get Moany, Moany the video played was in European movie theatres in between double features.

Oh, wow. So it was me and Daffy Duck for a long time, you know what I’m saying? So you were pretty much… And Daffy wanted to close. You were pretty much ahead of your time in a lot of ways but particularly in that way, you wouldn’t have been at all surprised then when MTV started up a decade or more later.

They saved the music business. They really did. And then Top of the Pops in London, the TV show, started playing the video of Mony, Mony because Mony, Mony went number one in England, was one of the biggest records they ever had.

It actually was bigger in England than it was in the United States. So they began playing it and then they shifted back over here and MTV and VH1 then started playing the old 68 video of Moany, Moany, and that was kind of funny. I’d imagine your entire time would have been spent writing songs, in the studio recording songs, touring radio stations, promoting songs.

Did you have any time for you outside of music then or was that your entire life? Well, it pretty much was our whole life right then because we couldn’t vacation. You know, you couldn’t take a month off because you had to get the next single out. But it was what I loved doing.

I always wanted to do rock and roll. There’s never a time in my life I didn’t want to be a rock and roll guy. So, I mean, God gave me the desire in my heart and so I wasn’t going to blow it by taking time off.

I really was very dedicated to what I was doing but it was a real grind. I can’t tell you, it was a real grind. We’re all popping pills and staying awake.

We didn’t do much partying. Rock and roll guys get credited with doing a lot of partying and carrying on. We didn’t have time for that.


We really didn’t. We were really very dedicated to what we were doing. Was it that era that dictated that you were putting out single after single rather than working on an album? Well, yes.

I mean, we did albums but at Roulette, basically from 66 to 68, everything was about singles. And the album was whatever wasn’t a single. In 68, that all changed because the Beatles had come out with Sergeant Pepper and showed the industry how much money they weren’t making, how much money they were losing by not making albums the priority.

But AM radio was devoted to singles. So that year, some interesting things happened. FM radio started playing rock and roll for the first time up until 68.

The FM was playing jazz and classical. All of a sudden, starting with K-Earth in San Francisco, KRLA in Los Angeles and WOR in New York, where suddenly the big three FM stations were playing rock and roll. That had never happened.

Also, a whole lot of technology was coming down from the space program. Everything was being miniaturized. And we had like the first synthesizers and we had the very first digital stuff.

That was brand new. Also, I was asked by the vice president, Hubert Humphrey, if we would go on the road and play some rallies with him, which we did. And the most amazing thing happened.

We got on the road. He asked us if we would do the whole campaign. So we did it.

And basically we left right after the convention that summer. And we didn’t come back until November after the election. And so in that 90-day period, the whole music industry turned upside down.

Everything went from singles to albums. And when I left to go with Hubert Humphrey, the big acts were us, the Rascals, Mitch Ryder, Gary Puckett, but it was all singles. When we got back, it was Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Led Zeppelin, Joe Cocker, Neil Young, all albums.

It had changed. Right. There was this massive extinction of singles acts suddenly at the end of 1968.

And we were so fortunate to be working on a little tune called Crimson & Clover at that very moment, because Crimson & Clover allowed us to make the jump from AM Top 40 singles to FM album-oriented progressive rock. There’s no other record we ever put out, I don’t think, that would have allowed us to do that in one shot like that. Ah Now I don’t hardly know her But I think I could love her Crimson & Clover Ah We should come off and over I’ve been waiting to show her Crimson & Clover Over and over I’ve been waiting to show her Yeah I wanna do everything What a beautiful feeling Crimson & Clover When you went out with Vice President Hubert Humphrey, I believe that was actually the first time that any rock artist had been asked to campaign for a presidential candidate.

Is that right? That’s right. Politicians in rock and roll were never together until we went out with Hubert Humphrey. And then everybody started doing it afterwards.

But it made a big difference, because, and I think he was right, he got the youth vote. He lost by this much in the end, but we could have done a lot worse than Hubert Humphrey, believe me. He was a good man.

But when deciding to do that and go out with him for three months, what swayed you that that would be the right way to go? Well, I just believed that it was the right thing to do, because back then with the assassinations and all of the stuff that was going on, the country was so divided, like it is now, only I think generationally much worse because of the Vietnam War. You know, I was never a protester and I was never really a hippie, but I just believed that that was the right thing to do. And we could have done a whole lot worse than Hubert Humphrey.

He told me how he was going to end the war. And he flat out told me what he was going to do. He was going to do a national referendum.

And he said, we’ll save 25,000 kids. That’s exactly what it would have been. So we gave it all we could.

But yes, it was taking time off. The Democratic Party gave us a Learjet to fly back and forth from the campaign to New York when we could do it. And so we weren’t completely out of the picture, but we really didn’t do any road dates, any touring while we were there.

But it was just so lucky that we were working on Crimson and Clover at that point. You know, Hubert Humphrey wrote the liner notes to the album. Did he? Yeah, the Crimson and Clover album.

And when we released Crimson and Clover, it turned out to be the biggest single we ever had. And Roulette then started selling albums. Just like Columbia and Reprise and RCA, they were suddenly selling albums, a lot of albums.

Crimson and Clover went number one, the album. We did five and a half million singles. We did two million albums, went platinum for us.

And that was the first platinum album that we ever had. Crimson and Clover gave us the second half of our career. It was one of the first records I ever bought.

Is that right? You may owe me some money. I don’t know. Did you pay for it? I paid for it.

I don’t know if you got paid for your end. Did you start to make some money then? That’s what I mean. Yeah, I hear you.

Well, we made a lot of money from touring and from BMI and from the publishing and stuff like that, the songwriting. But mechanical royalties at Roulette just were not going to happen. Crime doesn’t pay.

We learned that the hard way. The good day is coming People are changing Ain’t it beautiful Cost of no persuasion Gonna see the light Love, love is the answer And that’s alright So don’t you give up now It’s so easy to find Just look to yourself Look to yourself Open your mind Tommy James and the Shondells were constantly on top of the charts, but they passed on an invite to play at Woodstock. According to Tommy, his booking agent described the offer as a stupid gig on a pig farm in upstate New York.

This is A Breath of Fresh Air with Sandy Kaye. It’s a beautiful day. The godfather of music, Morris Levy, was acquiring more and more wealth as he pocketed all of those mechanical royalties.

These were the royalties earned through the reproduction of copyrighted works. In normal situations, songwriters are paid royalties per song sold, downloaded or streamed. At any rate, we were just told outright that we were not going to get mechanical royalties.

But we constantly had to decide if we going to stay there or leave, try to leave, because we were having such amazing success with record sales that we figured it was worth it to stay. And it was, because now I get to tell the story. You do, and having written the book as well, which tells the same story too.

Well, you were having amazing record sales, apparently sales of your four 1969 hits topped those of the Beatles that year. Well, it’s just in singles, just in singles. In 68 and 69, our single sales topped them, but not the album sales.

I like the way you call my name It sounds so nice I could never explain I like the way you hold my hand It lets me know that you understand I like the way you want to kiss me And I like the way you always miss me I like the way you always miss me The second volume of Greatest Hits, The Best of Tommy James and the Shondells, also ultimately sold over 10 million copies. You were on fire. Yeah, it was amazing.

And that album has been re-released now and it’s selling again. So go figure. Well, they say everything old is new again, don’t they? You’re brand shiny new again, Tommy James.

Well, you know, it’s so great. I have a show every week on radio. It’s such a marvelous audience.

Sirius XM, of course, is satellite. It’s all over the world. I must say, I’ve been really blessed to have all this stuff going at once.

And now the movie is going to be made of Me, the Mob and the Music, our book. And it’s being produced by Barbara De Fina, who produced Goodfellas and Casino and Hugo a few years ago with Mark Scorsese and just a string of wonderful movies. How long is that likely to take until it comes out? Well, we’re probably looking, you know, during COVID, Hollywood was shut down for two and a half years.

So now it’s up and running again. And so we’re probably looking at another 18 months, two years. I love watching all this come together.

And it’s so amazing. Who would you pick to play you? I have no idea. The two essential characters are Morris Levy, who’s really the star of the show because everybody’s kind of revolved around him and myself.


So I have some very definite ideas who I’d like to see play Morris Levy. Now, as far as I’m concerned, these young casting directors are so hip. There’s so many young actors.

And what I’m amazed about is that almost all of them started out in rock bands. So you can’t get away with lip syncs and stuff anymore. Morris Levy is the guy, though, the character that we really got to get a handle on because it’s got to be somebody that’s scary because he was in every way.

And it’s got to be someone that talks like him, looks like him, behaves like him, a New York guy. I’m very much looking forward to that. Let’s just go back to after Crimson and Clover.

You mentioned you did Cellophane Symphony and you used on that one the newly developed Moog synthesizer. That’s right. Why did you decide to adopt that then? Well, it was new at the time, the very first analogue synthesizer that was commercially out there.

And we went in the studio and the thing was so big. It looked like an old 1920s switchboard, you know what I mean, with the number plays and the jack plugs going in. That’s what it looked like.

I love that. And it could sound like anything from wind to a trumpet to a drum to a bass guitar. It was a fascinating new instrument and we just wanted to play with it.

And we started doing it and we couldn’t stop. So the album was called Cellophane Symphony, meaning plastic music. The funny part is it didn’t sell all that great back then, but suddenly in the late 70s, we did over 2 million albums.

It just came back and that’s been the story of my life. Listen now, we ain’t a-marching anymore Who’s to live for sweet cherry wine So very fine We’ll drink it right down Pass it all around So stimulating, so intoxicating Sweet cherry wine So very fine Everybody’s gonna feel so fine Drinking sweet cherry wine You must pinch yourself often going, is this for real? All these twists and turns that you couldn’t have possibly expected. Well, you’re quite right.

I’ve also been very honoured and flattered that we’ve had so many cover versions of our songs. We’ve had over 300 major cover versions of our songs done from artists as diverse as Prince doing Crimson and Clover and so did Dolly Parton doing Crimson and Clover. You couldn’t get two more different artists doing the same song, not to mention Joan Jett.

And of course, Moni Moni’s been done a thousand times by so many different people. R.E.M. did an amazing job on Dragging the Line from the Austin Powers movie. Making a living the old hard way Taking and giving my day by day I dig snow and rain and bright sunshine Dragging the line My dark sand meets purple flowers Ain’t got much but what we’ve got’s ours We dig snow and rain and bright sunshine Dragging the line Dragging the line I feel fine I’m talking about peace of mind I’m gonna take my time I’m taking my time Billy Idol and Tiffany did Moni Moni and I Think We’re Alone Now the same week and they went up the charts and they both went number one, back to back.

Never happened before. Then Billy Joe Armstrong from Green Day did an incredible version of I Think We’re Alone Now during COVID and went top ten out of the blue, clear blue. So we’ve been so very lucky to have all the covers and, you know, it just keeps on going.

So I don’t need to worry about you. What Morris Levy didn’t pay you, you’re certainly making up for these days. You know, you’re right.

I am so fortunate because we’ve made a big chunk of our money back and I’m grateful for that. What happened in 74 when you finally decided to leave Roulette? Well, that was a whole scene. Wow, I don’t even know where to begin on this.

Back in 71, there was a very serious gang war going on in New York City between the Gambino people and all the other families. The Gambinos were taking over New York and Morris, of course, was on the wrong side. I was told in no uncertain terms that it would be a good idea if I left town because if they couldn’t get Morris, they were going to go after whatever was making Morris money and my lawyer said, that’s you.

So I had to go to Nashville. That’s where I did my Nashville album and basically just stay there until the thing blew over, and I did. When the bells are ringing How am I gonna sing I’m a mama, don’t you, mama, don’t you, mama, don’t you We both know I know where I’m going Got no home, no world Nothing to hide When I lay me down to rest When I know I’ve done my best When my day is over, I’ll be coming over I’m a mama, don’t you, mama, don’t you, mama, don’t you We both know I know where I’m going Got no home, no world Nothing to hide It was then, after several years of constant recording and live work that Tommy and his band decided to take a break.

Tommy went it alone, and after the Nashville album it was another five years before he would record again. By the late 80s, Morris Levy was found guilty of extortion, and in 1990, he passed away. Did you attend Morris’ funeral? I did not, but he asked for me when he was dying, and I tried to get back because I owe Morris a whole lot.

Even though he took a lot from us, I owe him all the success that I’ve had. That would have never happened anywhere else. And Morris and I had great respect for each other in a left-handed kind of way.

It was an abusive father-son relationship where he slaps the kid around, but he sends him to college. You know what I mean? That was the relationship. No, I didn’t get a chance to go, but I miss the guy terribly.

What can I say? A huge figure in your life. Tommy James, what an absolute treat to speak to you and to recount some of the milestones of your career. It’s been absolutely huge.

You’ve sold over 100 million records right around the world and more than 22 million broadcast spins of your songs. Today you’re still out there. I see that you’re about to head out on tour again.

Fifty years. Yes. Amazing.

Fifty years in the music industry and still going strong. Well, it’s been wonderful talking to you and thanks for letting me ramble on. I got long-winded there with a lot of your questions, but I appreciate you letting me tell the whole story.

It’s great. That’s why I called on you, to hear your story. Thanks for your time.

Thank you so much, my dear. Thank you. It’s a game where everybody’s free.

Time to learn to… Morris Levy’s music empire was sold to Rhino Records. Unlike Morris, the management at Rhino were happy to pay their artists and Tommy James began regularly receiving royalty checks for the first time in his career. You can read more about his story in his autobiography Me, the Mob and the Music, book chosen by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 25 greatest rock and roll memoirs of all time.

Thanks for being with me today. I hope you’ve enjoyed Tommy James’ story. Can I count on you again same time next week? I hope so.

I’ll see you then. Bye now. It’s just a beautiful day.

You’ve been listening to A Breath of Fresh Air with Sandy Kaye. Beautiful day. Oh, baby, any day that you’re gone away It’s a beautiful day.