Tommy James at Woodstock? Coulda Been…

Talked with Tommy James today; This is a guy who not only churned out hits in the 60s for a mobbed up Roulette Records but is now an author with his fine book, Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & The Shondells (Simon & Schuster, 2010), which came out in paperback last month.
He told me a good story today, and although the interview was for the book, Detroit Rock City, I had some room to move.
Stuck between the age of writing songs just for hit single potential and the FM-heavy underground sounds, James had an idea.
“I was already in love with tremolo, it was built in to all the amps but very few people used it,” James says. “I think the last record before I used it was “Harlem Nocturne.” And that was using the effect on the guitar.“
That would have been 1959, the Viscounts version. Now it was 1968 and after a stunning string of hit singles, James had to come up with something that would appease the more refined ears of a public that was digging longer songs, more drama and maybe a little heaviness to stoke their weed buzz.
And “Crimson and Clover” was born, with its tremolo caressing the vocal, not the guitar. James and drummer Peter Lucia Jr. wrote the song up. James took his love for the tremolo and sang through a guitar amp.
“Then we had not only a version for the single, but we also had to make it longer, because this is how the radio formats were going,” James says. “We had to loop and run things around in the studio, which took some time, to get the album version. This was not like today, when it would take no time at all.”
The single hit No. 1 on the charts in the U.S. in December.
The following summer, 1969, he found himself on the bill of the Atlanta International Pop Festival, where he met Janis Joplin and played alongside some rock heavyweights including Led Zeppelin and a band out of Flint called Grand Funk Railroad, who were playing the show for free, just to get a shot at the big time. They were introduced as “Grand Frank Trailway.”
James was also invited to play Woodstock the following month and a couple years later, Watkins Glen. They turned them both down; “Yes, Woodstock was presented as this big concert on a pig farm,” James says. “And we were just getting done playing in Hawaii.”
Still, its the thought that counts. Funny what a little psychedelic chart topping can do. But we’d love to see it; Tommy James and the Shondells doing “Hanky Panky” in the Woodstock movie. Combined with the brown acid, that would would have about done the trick.

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