Monday, October 27, 2014

Tommy James

Ron Onesti absolutely got the party started Saturday Night at The Arcada Theatre ... and it didn't take ANY type of persuasion (crystal blue or otherwise) to fill the place up (and then some!) to see Tommy James and the Shondells.

Tommy was in GREAT voice and played nothing but the hits for an EXCELLENT 90 minute show.  As noted in his introduction, you hear Tommy James music every single day around the world on the radio ... and his hits have been covered by numerous artists along the way ... everyone from Joan Jett to Tiffany to Billy Idol to The Boston Pops Orchestra!  At 67 years of age, he still sounds EXACTLY like the records (although I think even Tommy would admit that it's getting just a little bit tougher to hit some of those high notes these days!)  I can't imagine in his wildest dreams that when he first recorded "Hanky Panky" as a sixteen year old kid in 1963 he could have EVER possibly imagined that he'd still be up there performing this tune ... along with 23 OTHER Top 40 Hits some 50 years later to sold out crowds all over the country.

In addition to the obvious hits ... "Draggin' The Line" (with which he opened the show), "Hanky Panky", "Crimson And Clover" and "Crystal Blue Persuasion" ... all of which were placed sporadically throughout his set ... Tommy also featured a potpourri of Forgotten Hits along the way ... HUGE hits from the '60's that just don't garner much airplay anymore ... including favorites like "Gettin' Together", "It's Only Love", "Ball Of Fire", "Say I Am" and "Do Something To Me", songs that I played the heck out of back in the day when 45's ruled the universe!    

NOTE TO TOMMY:  PLEASE have your drummer reinstate that incredible high-hat fill on "Gettin' Together" ... not only is that the signature sound of the record, but its uniqueness is absolutely what is most recognizable about that track ... without question that little hi-high shuffle helped to sell that record and pushed it over the top!  It just doesn't sound right without it!

There wasn't a lot of banter between songs ... he pretty much just kept feeding us the hits ... but the one longer, extended rap that he DID do (elongated even further due to technical difficulties hooking up his acoustic guitar to the amplifier) surrounded the editing of the brand new movie based on his best-selling book "Me, The Mob And The Music" in which the dream sequence ending (leading into the closing credits) features Morris Levy dying and James (with his new band) performing a slow-downed, acoustic version of one of Tommy's biggest hits, "I Think We're Alone Now".  James also performed the full rock and roll version at its normal tempo later in the show.   

Tommy was clearly having fun on stage and closed the show with a rousing version of "Mony Mony", which turned into a 15 minute jam session as Tommy left the stage and came out into the audience to shake hands with literally HUNDREDS of fans in attendance that night, thanking each and every one of them for coming out to see his show.  (He signed autographs in the lobby afterwards as well ... and we were treated to a special "Meet and Greet" backstage before the show started, too.)

Me, Tommy, Frannie and our host Ron Onesti, backstage before the show ... 
photo by Luciano Bilotti (as are ALL of the pictures featured here today!)
Thanks, Lou!

After a standing ovation, Tommy came back to perform an encore of "Sweet Cherry Wine" and "Mirage", followed by a very brief resurrection of "Mony Mony" (cause as we all know, fifteen minutes simply wasn't enough!), to which he left the stage.
All in all, a GREAT show start to finish, performed to a capacity crowd that loved every minute.   

(Tommy James LOVES Chicago ... some of his biggest concerts were held here back in the day ... and WLS Radio was a HUGE supporter of his music.  I can only tell you that the feeling was reciprocal ... Tommy's records performed consistently better on the charts here in Chicago than they did anywhere else in the country!  James hit #1 with "Hanky Panky", "I Think We're Alone Now", "Mirage", "Mony Mony", "Crimson And Clover", "Crystal Blue Persuasion" and "Draggin' The Line" ... that's SEVEN #1 Records here in Chi-Town compared to FOUR on the national charts!)  Based on Saturday Night's show, I can assure you that that feeling hasn't waned at all ... Chicago STILL loves Tommy James!!!

More great shows coming up at The Arcada Theatre in November ... 
Kansas  on November 1st
B.J. Thomas (with Exile) on November 7th
Burton Cummings on November 14th
America on November 15th
The Little River Band on November 16th
and The Spinners (with Ray Parker, Jr.) on November 22nd
Complete ticket information at ... but order quickly ... these shows are selling out like crazy.  The Arcada Theatre is THE place to see classic music in the Chicagoland area!

If you're one of the eight people left on the planet who hasn't read Tommy's book "Me, The Mob And The Music", you've just GOT to pick up a copy.  It's reading that you can't put down ... and soon to be both a major motion picture AND a Broadway Musical.  Order your copy here: Click here: Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & The Shondells: Tommy James, Martin Fitzpatrick: 97
And for all the latest Tommy James news (and upcoming tour dates) be sure to check out his website here:   Click here: Tommy James and the Shondells Official Website and Online Store  
(You can also pick up Tommy's book here, along with brand new CD releases and other merchandise)   

One favorite I missed hearing Saturday Night was Tommy's 1970 Hit "She" ... a BEAUTIFUL song that climbed as high as #18 nationally.  (Frannie would have loved to hear him do "Sugar On Sunday", too ... he DID do a nice arrangement of the Alive and Kicking record he wrote and produced, "Tighter, Tighter", a #3 smash in its own right.) Tommy didn't do any new material (not even his most recent major hit "Three Times In Love") ... and that's a shame ... because the music he's recording today is every bit as good as the music he was laying down 40+ years ago.  ALL of Tommy's recent CD's are immaculately produced and really showcase his voice and writing, singing and arranging talents.  This guy has not lost a beat in the past 50 years!  (We ran into several Forgotten Hits Readers at the show, ALL of whom were blown away by how rich and pure Tommy's voice still is after all these years.  Also in the audience that night ... Jimy Sohns of The Shadows of Knight and Dave Zane of The Buckinghams and Jay and the Americans, both there as spectators and fans of Tommy's music.)

I've seen Tommy perform live four or five times prior to Saturday Night and I can say that hands down this was one of his best performances ever.  (James went through a bit of a "reinvention process" several years ago where he felt a need to change the arrangement and overall sound of virtually every hit record ... do it up in more of a hard rock / punk rock fashion ... and it simply didn't work.  The fact that he has returned all of his music to its original state ... and performs it with the passion and enjoyment that he does ... is a true testament to his talent.)   

With the new movie coming out, Tommy James music will be all over the radio again ... meaning that new fans will be discovering these great sounds every single day ... feel good, timeless music that they will gleefully embrace.  We are fortunate to have lived through it the first time around ... and can attest that it still holds up every bit as well today as it did then.  Thank you, Tommy, for a GREAT night of entertainment ... and for staying true to the artist that we all know and love.  I think YOU had nearly as much fun Saturday night as WE did!!!  (kk)