When Joan Jett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a 2015 ceremony in Cleveland, Tommy James sang “Crimson and Clover” with her. And on June 2, when the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel hosted a show celebrating James’ career, Jett returned the favor.
She duetted with James on the same song (see video below), a 1968 hit for James and his band The Shondells that Jett also made the charts with, in 1982. Jett’s manager, Kenny Laguna, also took the stage and played keyboards on the song — which may have seemed odd except that, as James explained, Laguna was once a Shondell for about a year and a half, and played on one of the band’s biggest hits, “Mony Mony.”
The show was one of the free concerts, geared to older audiences, that the Garden State Arts Foundation presents, without much publicity, each year. It was conceived as a celebration of James’ 50 years in rock, though he actually began performing all the way back in 1960, and had his first hit in 1966.
DJ Cousin Brucie, a faithful James supporter through the years, served as the host for the show, which also featured a strong opening set of Rascals songs by the band’s guitarist, Gene Cornish, with Bobby Bandiera expertly handling the lead vocals.
Other guests for James’ set included Gary U.S. Bonds on “Hanky Panky,” Pepe Cardona of Alive N Kickin’ on “Tighter, Tighter,” and three members of The Cowsills, plus Kate Taylor, on “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” Cornish and Larry Chance and the Earls helped out on the grand finale, a reprise of “Mony Mony.”
Bobby Rydell had been planning to attend as well, but had to cancel at the last minute due to an illness in his family. Among those not attending but sending video or written messages of support, played for or read to the crowd, were Steven Van Zandt, Dolly Parton, Micky Dolenz and Peter Noone.
James’ voice has held up well over the years, and he retains a boyish, eager quality, even at 70. It’s a good time for him, with his 2010 memoir, “Me, The Mob, and The Music,” being made into a movie, and his induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame last month. (Though he was born in Ohio and raised in Michigan, he has lived in the Garden State since the ’70s.)
The show served, among other things, as a reminder that James did not just have a few megahits, but he was prolific: All 13 songs in the setlist made the Top 40 for James and the Shondells, James as a solo act (“Draggin’ the Line”), or Alive N’ Kickin’ (who had their only major hit in 1970 with “Tighter, Tighter,” which James co-wrote and co-produced).
Here is the show’s setlist, plus some videos, below it:
“Draggin’ the Line”
“Crystal Blue Persuasion” (with Bob, Susan and Paul Cowsill, and Kate Taylor)
“Say I Am (What I Am)”
“I Think We’re Alone Now” (unplugged)
“Ball of Fire”
“Tighter, Tighter” (with Pepe Cardona of Alive N Kickin’)
“Crimson and Clover” (with Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna)
“Hanky Panky” (with Gary U.S. Bonds)
“I Think We’re Alone Now” (rock version)
“Do Something to Me”
“Sweet Cherry Wine”
“Mony Mony” (reprise, with ensemble plus Gene Cornish and Larry Chance and the Earls)