News Column

All about the music, singer says

August 23, 2014

By Candy DenOuden, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.

Aug. 23--Tommy James' career has taken him all over, but not the Corn Palace.

That will change this weekend, when Tommy James and the Shondells perform Sunday as the final concert of the Corn Palace Festival.

"I'm looking forward to that," James told The Daily Republic recently, adding that he loves visiting small-town venues. "The Upper Midwest has really been a great supporter of ours all these years."

Tommy James and the Shondells will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Corn Palace. Tickets are $35, and are available at 995-8430, or at the Corn Palace box office.

Corn Palace box office employee Janelle Thiesse said the concert had sold 1,507 tickets by late Thursday afternoon, out of about a 2,700-seat capacity. It's the best-selling concert so far for the Corn Palace Festival series of shows, and Thiesse expects it to keep selling.

"I think it's a really good number, and we continue to have people calling," she said. "I think our numbers will probably go up a little bit more."

Known for hits like "Crimson & Clover," "Hanky Panky" and "Mony, Mony," the pop-rock musician has 23 gold singles and has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, according to press materials.

Along with the success, James said his career had the occasional dark side -- the band's record label for a time, Roulette Records, had known mob ties. He describes his book, "Me, the Mob and the Music," as a detailed look at his band's "crazy and tumultuous and sometimes really scary relationship with Roulette Records."

"People had been after me for a long time to write my memoirs, but I just kind of blew it off," James said.

Once he started writing, he and co-author, Martin Fitzpatrick, realized they couldn't stick with the initial plan to just write about hit songs. If they didn't include the story of Roulette's criminal ties, James said, they were cheating themselves and everyone else. The problem with telling the story of Roulette Record's known mob connections, however, is that some of the people involved didn't want their story told.

"I was very nervous finishing the book, because some of these guys are still walking around," James said.

After enough time passed, James and his co-author released the book in 2010, which is being adapted into a movie and a Broadway show. Heavily involved in the screenplay adaptation process, James said he's gotten a crash course on how to make movies.

"I'm getting a he-- of an education," he said with a chuckle. "It really is interesting."

James, 67, lives in New Jersey, and said even though he's excited and flattered about the buzz his book has generated, movies were never his goal. He got his first guitar at the age of 9, and has been making music ever since.

"It was always about music," James said. "My first love was being a musician and singing. It's what I wanted to do. I really never thought about doing anything else."

Even after nearly 50 years in the business, James still feels that way. He loves getting up on stage, and described the relationship between the artist and fans as an amazing experience.

"I look out at our concert crowd now, and I literally see three generations of people. The fans have almost become like extended family to me," he said. "There's that magic relationship between the artist and the fans that never gets burdensome to me. I guess you could say it's as close to a spiritual experience as you can get in rock 'n' roll."

His Corn Palace show will include the hits fans love, as well as some new pieces. James said he's found a happy balance, still actively performing but not maintaining the grueling tour schedule many musicians undertake.

"I don't stay out on the road -- I learned my lesson about doing that," he said. "That really takes a toll."

He still keeps busy. He plans to return to the studio at the end of the year to record an "unplugged" -- all acoustic instruments -- album, which will include his hits and new songs. His Christmas album was released on vinyl last year, and will be re-released on vinyl this year. James also has his own YouTube channel, "Inside Tracks with Tommy James," at

"We're keeping very busy and we're very excited about coming out and playing," James said. "It's going to be a fun night."


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