Tommy James looks back at a busy 2023, and forward to a busy 2024

Tommy James interview


The year 2024 will mark the 60th anniversary of the formation of Tommy James’ band, the Shondells, as well as the release of their first single, the garage-rock classic “Hanky Panky.” Though not an immediate hit, “Hanky Panky” did go all the way to No. 1 in 1966, and was followed by many more huge Shondells successes, including “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Mony Mony,” “Crimson and Clover,” “Sweet Cherry Wine” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”

There are few ’60s superstars who remain as active as James, who grew up in Ohio and Michigan but has lived in New Jersey for the last 50 years (a Cedar Grove resident, he was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2016).

He still tours frequently: His 2024 itinerary includes a show at BergenPAC in Englewood, Jan. 27. His “Gettin’ Together With Tommy James” radio show can be heard Sundays from 5 to 8 p.m. on SiriusXM satellite radio’s “’60s Gold” channel (channel 73). He also has a new recording project, and his excellent 2010 memoir “Me, The Mob, and The Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and The Shondells” — which touches on his relationship with the mafia-connected record company executive Morris Levy, among other things — is being made into a movie.

We talked about all of this and other things, including his 2008 album I Love Christmas (you can listen to the title track, below), in a Dec. 21 phone interview.

The cover of Tommy James’ 2008 album, “I Love Christmas.”

Q: It’s been a number of years since you released the Christmas album, but do you find that that’s something that people are still rediscovering?

A: Well, the good thing about doing a Christmas album is that every year is like a brand new release. We’ve released it now both in CD and in vinyl. It’s amazing: Vinyl is making such a big comeback now. Vinyl is starting to outsell CDs. And the whole idea of giving a gift … somehow, the vinyl seems more appropriate at Christmastime. That’s just me.

Q: Do you think the vinyl surge has helped people rediscover some of your older albums, too?

A: I’m sure that’s true because they’re all being re-released now. Places like Walmart … Walmart kind of became the biggest distributor in the world of physical product and their vinyl department — and even at Barnes and Noble, too — is larger than their CD department. And the ones who are buying most of the vinyl are the kids. That really is incredible.

Q: I understand that Sony Music Publishing has asked you to go into the studio and do some tracks for films. Can you tell me if that’s true?

A: That’s true. Sony represents me in films and commercials and TV shows. And Sony Publishing has become the biggest publisher in the world now. They bought EMI … they had a big company to start with, but they just have been buying all the other companies. And they’re doing really a marvelous job with my catalog. They’ve gotten me over 70 movies over the years. And they recently purchased the entire Beatles catalog of music. In addition to that, they have purchased Motown and that whole catalog. So they asked me if I would consider going in and doing some covers, my way, of some of this stuff. I said, “Yeah, I’d be honored.”

So I’m going in and doing a song from each catalog. I’m in right now doing a Beatles cover: The song that I chose from The Beatles was a song that has never been released as a single and yet everybody knows it: “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” The original recording by The Beatles sounded very much like a demo. It was not a big production. It was basically John playing guitar and singing. But everybody knows the song. Particularly the hook, the chorus: “Hey, you’ve got to hide your love away.” But the lyrics to the song are beautiful, and very few people really know what the words are. It’s the hook that everybody remembers.

So Sony asked me if I would go in and do two covers for films. So I’m doing “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away'” and then I’m going to do a cover of The Supremes’ very first hit, “Where Did Our Love Go.” I’m going to do them very differently, of course, than the original record. And I hope everybody likes it.

Q: And the idea is not to release them on their own, but in a movie?

A: Yeah. That’s what Sony wants to do with this stuff. I mean, they may release it as a single, too, but it’s really meant for films and probably a soundtrack album.

The cover of Tommy James’ album, “Alive.”

Q: Are you working on another album of your own, too?

A: The last album we did was the Alive album, in 2019. It went Top 20 adult contemporary for us and both the singles from that album also went Top 20 adult contemporary. It was the first time that I was on the charts in a long time, and it was great to be back on the Billboard charts. But I have not done another album since then.

You know, most of the songs now that are being purchased online and streamed and downloaded are singles. If you’re going to do an album, it’s a little more involved nowadays. So I have not released another album since Alive. I may want to do an album in a couple of years; maybe that would be fun to do, But right now I’m concentrating on singles and the digital aspect of music.

Q: A Tommy James Does the Beatles album would be great, I think.

A: Yeah! Well, you never know. The thing of it is with Sony and their activity in films, and films being so hot now because all the premium TV stations are all doing their own movies, too … everybody’s making movies now. So that’s what I’m going to be concentrating on, for the next year or so.

Q: I know you’ve got a fair amount of shows already booked up for next year. So I assume you’re going to be doing a lot of touring.

A: Yes, we’re all over. And of course I’ve got the radio show every week on Sirius. So I’m pretty busy right now.

Q: Has that been an interesting experience for you, in terms of discovering music, or rediscovering things?

A: It’s been a gas. I love doing it. This is our sixth year. When they came to me originally to do the radio show … to be honest with you, I was a little scared. I had never worked that side of the microphone before. I didn’t know, frankly, if I could do it, because we’re talking about three hours every Sunday on international radio. It’s a huge audience: You’re talking about the satellite covering all of North America and then the app is covering the rest of the world. And I was a little worried about being able to fill three hours a week.

They said, “Go ahead and play whatever you want to play.” And they wanted me to play my own music, too. I said, “Can’t I go to jail for that? (laughs) I don’t think the artist is supposed to go on national radio and play his own stuff.” “No, no, you play it.” So I play a bit of my own music at the top of the hours and stuff. But the bottom line is that I’m having a ball doing this show and I get to not only play anything I want but then I research it as well and talk about the music. So much of this music — and the people who made it, the artists — I know personally because I’ve worked with them over the years. So I’m having a ball doing this show. And the people up at Sirius have been so good to me.

A vintage photo of Tommy James, center, and the Shondells.

Q: Did you ever, when you were younger, have dreams about being a DJ?

A: A little bit, I guess. My whole life has been about pop music. You know, I worked in a record store when I was a kid, selling records. I had a cover band all through high school and then a hit record right out of high school, “Hanky Panky.” It’s like I’ve had the same job since I was 13 years old.! That’s like being a 76-year-old paperboy, you know what I mean?

Radio has always been a main part of my life. I’m a fan before I’m anything else. And the radio was so important to me, growing up. And still is.

The cover of the book “Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and The Shondells,” co-written by James and Martin Fitzpatrick.

Q: I’ve heard talk, over the years, about maybe a movie coming out, at some point, based on your book. Do you think that will ever happen?

A: Yes indeed. You know, Hollywood was shut down for three years because of COVID and then for another year or year and a half because of the writers’ strike. So now they’re up and running again and we are in the casting phase of the movie. Barbara De Fina is producing the film and it’s going to be called “Me, the Mob, and the Music,” like the book. Barbara produced “Goodfellas.” She produced “Casino.” She produced “Hugo” with Martin Scorsese. She produced “The Color of Money” back in the ’80s with Paul Newman. “The Grifters.” She’s just had so many great films, and I’m really honored that she’s doing this. And the screenplay has been written by Matthew Stone. So we’re moving forward.

It’s amazing watching it all come together, because it’s so difficult, a producer’s job. Getting all these technical people, you know, cinematographers and grips and sound people … because they’re all stars in their own right, and so getting them all together, making sure everybody’s available at the same time, is really an amazing job. There are so many moving parts to a movie. It’s amazing any movie ever gets made.

Q: Do you have any idea when it will all be done?

A: We’re probably looking at another 18 months to two years. It’s funny because the shortest thing they do is the actual shooting of the movie. They do that in just a few weeks. But all this pre-production and getting the technical crew together, and the screenplay, and the actors who are going to play the characters … it’s quite remarkable how it all comes together. I’m a spectator in so much of this.

Q: Several years ago, you entered the New Jersey Hall of Fame

A: You know, I’m very honored, and I’ve lived in New Jersey, wow, since, ’73. I lived in Manhattan before that. So I’ve been here a long time. I’m kind of adopted. So when I was entered into the hall, it was a big night.

There are some wonderful people in the New Jersey Hall of Fame. A lot of celebs. Pound for pound, I think Jersey has more than just about anybody.

Q: In the entertainment world … people who grew up in New Jersey stay here, because it’s close to New York, and people who grew up elsewhere come here to be close to New York …

A: And they live here because they can have sort of a normal life, being in show business … you can have a squirrel and a tree and a house and a yard, that you can’t have in New York City.

Q: And for artists who are haven’t really made it yet, it’s affordable, where in the city, it’s rough.

A: And you’re close enough to the city where you can get back and forth. You’ve got the airports, you’ve got New York television. It’s New York’s backyard, but it’s also a really nice place to live.

Tommy James & the Shondells will perform at BergenPAC in Englewood, Jan. 27 at 8 p.m.; visit

For more on James, visit


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