Book review: 'Me, the Mob, and the Music,' by Tommy James

Sunday, March 7, 2010


One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and the Shondells

By Tommy James with Martin Fitzpatrick

Scribner. 227 pp. $25

In 1966, on the strength of his hit "Hanky Panky," 19-year-old singer Tommy James was rescued from an Indiana dive bar by mafia-connected Roulette Records founder Morris Levy. Heavily promoted by Levy's label, James and his Shondells became stars, manufacturing bubblegum-pop touchstones like "I Think We're Alone Now" and "Crimson and Clover." But Levy, as much a con man as an impresario, was so busy pressing records that he failed to pay James the millions due him in royalties.

By 1974, the historic partnership was over. "The walks home after my confrontations with Morris were a shrink's dream," James writes in "Me, the Mob, and the Music," a requiem for his flawed mentor. "I'd usually walk out feeling grateful for having money in my pocket . . . until I realized how much the son of a bitch really owed me." Though not well-positioned to pen a true-crime tell-all -- James was the drug-addled victim of Levy's machinations, not a sinister goodfella -- the songwriter shows how bare-knuckled mafia operators made money from rock-and-roll's turbulent adolescence.

-- Justin Moyer

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