Sunday, March 20, 2016

Forgotten Hits Interviews Tommy Roe (Part 3)

Today we wrap things up with our Tommy Roe interview ...

Kent Kotal / Forgotten Hits:  So you got out of it for awhile, right? … Got out of the music biz?  

Tommy Roe:  I did … in the '70's.  I had a lot of conflict in the '70's … personal problems … plus the music changed drastically with the disco and all that … and so I stopped touring during the '70's from like '72 on up to the latter part of the decade.  Then, in '78, '79 I started getting calls about doing nostalgia shows, oldies shows, so I started doing those thru the '80's and I did a lot of those with Bobby Vee … we worked together a lot … and all the guys from that era.  And then even thru the '90's I worked quite a bit and then in the early 2000's I just got tired of all the traveling and after 9/11 it got REAL difficult to travel and I think around 2005 - 2006 I started slowin' down and then Rick, my guitar player ... we were old friends and we worked together for years before I retired ... and then he would call occasionally and say, "Hey they want to book ya here" and I said, "Rick, I'm retired, man, I've had it" … and then finally he talked me into doing three dates up in Canada … we did three casinos up there and I had a great time with him … and the whole band … I'd worked with them before for years before I retired and I had a good time with them and so we decided we'd try and do some things  but I wanted to just do like "An Evening With Tommy Roe" where I could do some of my new music and it worked for awhile … we started back in 2012 and it worked great but now I think I'm getting' ready to retire again.  You know, it runs in cycles like that.  I miss performing … I mean being on stage is just … I love it … I love playing to an audience and I love the fans … the fans are just great … the feedback from the fans and all of that … but I'm going to be 74 in May and I'm still healthy but you know you just get tired of traveling.  Even a short trip up from Atlanta to here and I'm thinking "Oh shit … back on the road again!" 

kk:  Well, I'm glad that I finally get to see you!  As you know,  I've been trying to get you out to Chicago for a few years now, especially after the release of the new album and it being such a strong album.  I wonder how long it's been since you played here in Chicago … I've gotta think the early '70's at best.  

TR:  It was.  McCormick's Place … I believe it was McCormick's Place … do you remember that?  Probably about 1972.    
[Actually McCormick Place, a very big convention center and home to The Arie Crown Theatre, which burned down in 1967 but was rebuilt in 1971, evidently right before Tommy's final show in Chicago. -kk]   

kk:  I was talking to Frank Jeckell, one of the original members of the 1910 Fruitgum Company, when they played here last year and I remember asking him afterwards "When was the last time you performed in Chicago?" and he said "1969" … and that was their peak and that was it and they've never been back since.   
They were part of a big show here last year that had a whole bubblegum flavor to it and I remember going to Ron Onesti and telling him, "This is the time … this is the time to bring Tommy out here", and Ron said, "Tommy Roe?  He's not bubblegum!"  And I said, "Are you kidding me?  Tommy Roe is like the KING of Bubble Gum!  If you're going to do THIS kind of a show and you're going to have The 1910 Fruit Gum Company and Ohio Express and one of the guys who was, I guess, like a 17th generation Bay City Roller … and they had all these different guys together … they had the guy from Looking Glass, who was FANTASTIC by the way … sounded JUST like the record all these years later … and I said THIS is the guy who should be headlining this show … this show was MADE for Tommy Roe!   
I know Rick Levy [Tommy's Musical Director and Guitarist], who I talk to all the time … and he plays with SO many different bands … has been pushing for it, too, but he always wanted to do it as "An Evening With …", which may have been a tough sell after not performing here in so long … and I said "If I can't get you 'An Evening With …' what about Tommy just coming out here with some of your other artists and just headlining the show?  Because he's going to blow these people away, especially with the new album and everything because obviously he's still doin' it and the music is great and it'll speak for itself."  And then I met one of the women who runs Dennis Tufano's Facebook page … and I guess she also does Chris Montez's Facebook page … so together we kinda started pushing to have you and Chris here and now it's finally all worked out ... plus we get to enjoy The Beatles anniversary show in the process!  

TR:  I like doing the "An Evening With" shows because it allows me to go a little deeper with the audience … tell a few more stories and talk about the music and the times.  Plus I always do a Q&A with the audience, which goes over very well because you never know what they're going to ask you.  There are some VERY knowledgeable people out there who know some of my records better than I do!  I've had people at shows ask me about a particular song that I don't even remember recording … or find out that it was something that I cut that only came out in England … or maybe I recorded it over there and it never came out here in The States … so it's always fun because it's a learning experience for both of us and really let's your personality come through. 

kk:  You should really talk to Ron about that because he's real big on the Q&A shows … he's put on quite a few of them … and they don't necessarily draw the big crowds … but the bring out the die-hard fans ... and it makes for a much more intimate performance.  Do something like that where you just sit on a sofa … have your guitar there on the side so if you feel like playing a little bit of a song to illustrate a point, you can … because really then the sky's the limit … if something comes up, YOU can do it because you're not confined by the band who aren't going to know every single song, because they can't … they have to concentrate on the hits and the set list … but on your own you can tell a story, play a little something and pretty soon it's like the whole audience is just sitting there in your living room … very intimate and informal … very relaxed.  [I've since heard that Ron Onesti has already talked to Rick Levy about bringing the show back to The Arcada … but this might make for an interesting "side feature" … or follow up show like he sometimes does.  Stay tuned to Forgotten Hits for more details as this develops.]


kk:  We tend to get a lot of the same acts again and again in the city and one thing I really like about Ron and this theater is that he loves this music just as much as we do … and he'll experiment a little bit and bring out some people that you just don’t get to see all the time and as such, we're treated to just this HUGE, wide variety of music and talent and it truly comes down to something for everybody. 

TR:  I see he's got Paul Anka coming … this guy is a Vegas act!  

kk:  Yes but he'll be playing in a 900 seat theater doing a real intimate show with the fans.   

TR:  And I LOVE that!!! You know the intimacy of working with an audience like that is exactly the kind of thing entertainers love … and yeah, he's a Vegas kind of guy so that'll be great. 

kk:  There are some great places around town to play but I don't know that you'll ever get treated better than you do right here … it's a very loyal audience that makes the acts feel welcome.  

TR:  I think that's why Ron kind of experiments … because he LOVES the whole music thing and he loves the oldies and an old theater like this has such an incredible sound because it dates back to when all of this started … and there just aren’t that many of them left.  Unfortunately this is true of some of the artists lately, too.  

kk:  This has been a VERY rough year … we have lost some great artists recently.  

TR:  My friend Joe South just passed away … and Billy Joe Royal … we used to tour together and I've lost quite a few friends.  Paul Revere. 

kk:  Paul was here several times and I got to know him a little bit … and he was just the nicest guy you could ever wanna know … a GREAT guy.  So sad.  It's almost like a reality jolt that just sort of hits you and reminds you that we've all got this limited time here to enjoy life.  We're all getting older, every one of us ... and, unfortunately, there IS an expiration date for each and every one of us.   

TR:  Yeah, well, it's life. 
I never will forget when I moved from New York to Los Angeles … and Dick Clark invited me to come to Los Angeles … he said "Tommy, I have this new TV show and I'd like for you to come out and be a regular on it … and it'll only last for about six months … and it was called "Where The Action Is".  And I was living in New York at the time and I thought "Well, I was only 21, 22 years old at the time … what am I gonna lose by giving it a try?"  
And so I didn't move … but I went to LA to do the show … and then ended up living there from like 1966 till now!  So I can thank Dick Clark for that!  
And I never will forget the first day I was on the show … and Paul Revere and the Raiders were already regulars on the show and, ya know, I was a little nervous … I'd never really done TV before … and Paul came over and just made me feel so at home, like welcomed me into the group … I want you to feel comfortable, we're all here to have a good time … and he just calmed my nerves completely and he was great at that … he was  a real leader, Paul … he was very good at that.  And then him and Mark had this big falling out … I never quite understood the whole thing .. but boy, when you get on Paul's bad list, there's no going back.  I mean they never made up … they were mortal enemies right up until Paul passed away.    

kk:  You know it's funny, and I see that SO much with so many of these artists … it's like 40 year old wounds … isn't it time to just put it behind you and move on?  You all achieved what you achieved together ... as a direct result of working together ... doesn't that outweigh anything and everything else?  Why do they tend to single out the unpleasant memories rather than the favorable ones?  It just doesn't make sense to me.


kk:  You mentioned the camaraderie of yourself and Paul Revere and the Raiders ... in fact, you ended up writing several songs with Freddy Weller of The Raiders, including your biggest hit "Dizzy".  How did that partnership come about?  And what was that like after writing solo for so long?      

TR:  Right after I joined Paul Revere and The Raiders as a regular on Dick Clark's “Where the Action Is,” Paul lost his guitar player and asked me if I knew any guitar players he could audition for the gig. Freddy Weller was a good friend of mine and at the time was playing guitar for another friend of mine, Billy Joe Royal. I put Paul in contact with Freddy and Freddy got the gig. For awhile Billy Joe was upset with me and every time I would see him he would jokingly accuse me of stealing his guitar player. I would always reply; "I was only the intermediary, Paul is the thief!”   
The Raiders and I started touring together on Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars and this brought Freddy and me together as song writers, and it turned out to be very productive for both of us.  During this time Freddy and I wrote “Dizzy,” “Jam Up and Jelly Tight,” and “Pearl,” along with many other country songs which Freddy would record. 

kk:  For the most part, though, you always wrote a lot of your own material … certainly all of the biggest hits yourself. 

TR:  All of the big hits I wrote except for "The Folk Singer" … and I know that was a big hit in Europe.  And the follow up to "Sheila" was "Susie Darlin'", which was a remake of a Robin Luke song. 

kk:  I talked to Robin not all that long ago … and I don't know if you know this or not, but he recently retired after an entire career after music as a college professor … and he told me that the one thing he was hoping to do now that he had the time was to maybe be able to go out and do a few shows and get back up on the stage again!  Even after all this time the bug was still with him!  

TR:  Yes, it never really leaves you.  Even when I was retired I still kept up with the music.  I've never stopped loving the music and the fans ... it's just the traveling and the time on the road.     

kk:  And I've got to tell you that I've ALWAYS enjoyed your version of "Stagger Lee" … I thought that was a GREAT version … and that wasn't a song you expected to hear in '72 and yet you still made it sound like it BELONGED in '72, and I always liked that one … but pretty much everything else you wrote or at least had a hand in writing it.

TR:  I think that was really my secret to survival of The British Invasion because in '64 I had to go in the Army so I was kind of out of the loop for a whole year in '64, so I had "Sheila" and "Everybody" was a hit … and then I redid "Carol", the old Chuck Berry hit "Carol", which was a pretty big chart record … and those were all cut in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and then while I was in the Army all I heard on the radio was the Beatles and British stuff and I was thinking, "Holy shit, when I get out of here what am I gonna do?  I mean, how do I fight this?  They're not playing any American artists anymore." All the American acts were being pushed aside for all this British stuff. 

kk:  In hindsight you might say that you went into the army at the most opportune time - by 1964-1965 you virtually couldn't get any airplay at all unless you were part of the British Invasion - but your comeback was timed perfectly / by 1966 the mania had died down some and you were able to come back with a bunch of hits that took us thru the rest of the 60s. The musical tapestry had changed drastically in two short years - yet pure and simple feel good music has never gone out of style.   

TR:  It was because of that that I consciously came up with the idea of doing what I called soft-rock and that became what they called bubblegum later on.  When I first wrote "Sweet Pea", I thought to myself "I'm going to do something that's soft-rock" … I mean, they're doing rock and hard rock and acid rock and pop, so I'm going to do soft-rock.  So when I got out of the service I cut "Sweet Pea" and it was a hit and there I was, back on the charts again.  And if I hadn't been a songwriter, I don't think I would have survived that because most of the artists that were pushed off the charts, they were not writers … they depended on The Brill Building in New York for their material.  

kk:  But really you wrote some catchy music … and "Sweet Pea"'s a perfect example … I mean you hear it and it just sticks in your head.

TR:  Well, that was the whole point, really … I did that … keep it simple … I was always trying to write a melody under three minutes and if you had a song over three minutes you could forget about it because it wasn't going to get played … in fact "Everybody" was less than TWO minutes … it was like 1:59!  And I never will forget Bill Iris saying, "Write a song like two minutes" … and I said "Bill, that's not even long enough to get into a song" and he said "Yeah but radio stations LOVE songs like that 'cause they can come out of the news with it" … and that was the thinking back then … they were trying to think of ways to get deejays interested in playing your record, not just for the music but so it worked in their programming, you know.  

kk:  (laughing) That's how a lot of the instrumentals got played back then … they would play the instrumental running into the newscast and then just cut it off or fade it out right at the newscast.     

TR:  Yeah, it's amazing.  What a funny process.  

kk:  Funny thing, too, you mentioned a record having to be under three minutes in order to get played and I'll never forget Simon and Garfunkel put out a record in '67 called "Fakin' It" and it ran just a little over three minutes … but they had the labels printed to say something like 2:74 and they actually pressed the record that way … because if the radio station had seen three minutes, they might not have played it!

TR:  (both laughing) Shows you how much attention they paid to the seconds, right?  That's funny.  It's interesting stuff to be part of … you know, the history of the music business … it's quite a trip.  

kk:  Well, I hope you're able to stick with it, at least on your own terms 'cause it's good to know that you're back out there and doing some stuff … recording some new material … when you record an album as strong as what you just did it shows that there's still a passion and a certain amount of enjoyment that comes with performing.  

TR:  There is … it's just the travel that's so tough.  I keep thinking that I'm about to retire for the fifth time and time now!  

kk:  I mean, looking back you had a gap there of almost 40 years between releases … were you writing during all that time?  

TR:  I've always been writing … there was just no reason to record .. and I have my book coming out this year …  

kk:  Oh, I didn't know that.  Not THAT'S something I'll have to pick up!  

TR:  Yeah, I've been working on this for like the past three or four years now and it's gonna be out before the end of the year … we're in editing now so I'll have it out before the end of the year for sure.  And it kinda tells the story of why I backed off and the whole thing and it's a little different than a regular rock and roll book because what I've done is I've tried to parallel what was happening in our society with what was happening with music at the same time … and I talk about the politics of the time along with the music relating to the politics … so it's a different take … not your typical tell-all rock and roll book … so hopefully it'll work … but even if it DOESN'T work, it's MY story … and I wanted to get it out there.  I talk about a lot of the ups and downs in my career and the reasons behind it and it's quite interesting … I think it's really good.  

kk:  What about writing for other people?  Have you ever thought about writing music for other artists?  

TR:  I haven't … I've had my songs covered by different people … "Dizzy" mostly … 'Everybody" was covered by Brinsley Schwarz, a big heavy metal band … you ever heard of that band?   They did a GREAT version of "Everybody".  "Sheila"'s been done by a lot of people … in fact this French singer, Sheila … she took the name Sheila from the record … her version of "Sheila" in France was a big hit and it was sung in French.   [Rick Levy even sent us a special version of "Dizzy" sung in Chinese!]

TRI haven't written for a specific artist … just sit down and say "OK, I'm gonna write this for so and so".  Writing for me is funny … I'll get in a mood to write and I'll turn out a dozen or more songs within a year period and then I may not write anything again for four years, five years.  It's not like the Nashville writers … they go into the office everyday and force themselves to write and I can't do that.    

kk:  Let me ask you about this 'cause I know we did the whole "California Chrome" thing together … we were the ones that sorta launched that whole thing … did a sneak peek of your new song …

TR:  Oh yes, that horse … I guess I was one year early, right … this past year it was American Pharaoh that won the Triple Crown … the following year!  If that horse California Chrome had won the Triple Crown, that song would have got played a lot.   

kk:  Well, I played it … I definitely played it! [Tommy even sent us an exclusive recording of the follow-up song that was to be released AFTER California Chrome won The Triple Crown ... if he did ... which he didn't ... which means Forgotten Hits is likely the ONLY place the "winners" song was ever played!!!]

I like a lot of the new stuff … "Devil's Soul Pile" is a VERY strong album … and it got some really great reviews … anything new that you're working on?

TR:  I don't have anything new.  I've put out "Devil's Soul Pile Revisited" … I've changed the order of the songs and added some new songs to it and that's on my website or you can download it on iTunes and Amazon and the regular thing and, of course, streaming because you knows streaming is now what's going on.

kk:  I've got more and more artists telling me that they're not even making physical CD's anymore because that's not the market anymore … but I LOVE the idea of having the CD in my hand, and holding it and reading the liner notes …

TR:  A lot of people do … well, that's how we grew up.  I used read all the liner notes on the albums and it drew you into the music.

kk:  Exactly … I mean that's how people knew who Felton Jarvis is!  (lol)

TR:  You're right 'cause otherwise you wouldn't know … you'd never know.  The CD's are almost obsolete now … I mean, we sell 'em at the show … I think most acts now, that's how they make their money, thru merchandising and live shows.  You know digital airplay now is so ridiculous, you don't get paid anything for it.  The streaming … I got a statement the other day and it was something like 600 and some thousand plays on "Dizzy" and I think it made fifty bucks.  I read a thing where Billy Joel was talking about he had over two million airplays on one of his songs and he made less than a thousand bucks so you know, how do you fight that?  The only way you can make money in the business now is by performing.   

kk:  Which, as you said, gets harder and harder with all the travel.   

TR:  Yeah.   

kk:  What do you listen to nowadays?  What kind of music do you like?   

TR:  I still listen to the oldies stations … in traffic I listen to classical music … but I listen to a lot of college radio … I enjoy that … you can hear some really good stuff on college radio because they don't necessarily have to follow a set list of music … they're able to play more of what they want to play and I like that freedom and exposure to new sounds.  I don't like country music much anymore … I think country music has gotten into a real rut … and I know it's popular and everybody likes it …  

 kk:  Well, it is … country has become kind of the new "pop". 

TR:  Actually it's more rock and roll in a way … I mean, it's not country at all to me … it's real slick rock and roll.  

kk:  Lots more glitz and glamour these days.   

TR:  Which is cool … I mean, it sells … but country to me is Merle Haggard and George Jones … and I LOVE listening to those old country records.  They're really classics … great melodies and great lyrics. 

kk:  Thanks again, Tommy, for taking the time to visit with us today ... I really appreciate it.  And all I can tell everybody who wasn't there Sunday Night is that you missed a really good show … you can read our whole review of the concert here …

L-R:  Guitarist / Musical Director / Tour Manager Rick Levy - 
Chris Montez / Drummer Mike Campbell  / 
and Tommy Roe, 
live on stage at The Arcada Theatre, Sunday, March 13th.  
Photo courtesy of Luciano Bilotti

And be sure to check out all the latest news and information on Tommy Roe's website here: