Hitting the Silver Screen: Tommy James to share his label’s shady past on film

Tommy James’ autobiography “Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & the Shondells” is being made into a movie. (Submitted)

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

After 51 years in music, Tommy James has seen everything. Now, he’s preparing to share everything with the movie based on his autobiography, “Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & the Shondells.”

“The film is basically the story of our crazy and tumultuous and dangerous relationship with Roulette Records,” James says. 

“The reason it was dangerous and tumultuous and crazy was because, unbeknownst to us, when signed to Roulette Records, we thought it was a functioning indie label. But it was a front for the Genovese crime family in New York. It made life very interesting for us.”

While he and the Shondells were finding success with “Mony, Mony,” “Hanky Panky,” “this dark and sinister story was happening behind us” that they couldn’t reveal. 

“When the Roulette regulars passed on, I felt I could write the book and tell the story,” James says. 

Barbara De Fina (“Casino,” “Good Fellas,” “The Color of Money”) is producing the film, which started before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Everything was going great and then Hollywood was shut down because of COVID,” he says. “Hollywood is waking up again. We’re looking at another 18 months to 24 months before casting. I’m very flattered and honored that it’s being made. We’re going to get a chance to tell people exactly what was going on with Roulette.

“Casting is the last thing they do before they shoot. The first part is getting the whole tech crew together. I’m getting a hell of an education.”

James will offer a retrospective of his hits and the occasional story during an 8 p.m. Friday, February 3, show at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix. 

“It’s a beautiful place to see shows,” he says. “It’s one of the last places in the United States to see a show in the round. You’d better be good, because if you bomb, there’s nowhere to run. You can’t get out of there quickly.” 

His set will feature hits like “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” “Crimson & Clover,” “Mony Mony,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Draggin’ the Line,” “Hanky Panky,” “Sweet Cherry Wine,” “Three Times in Love” and “Mirage.” 

James will offer a new version of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which will be featured in the film.

“The song we’re going to do in the show at the Celebrity Theatre is very different from the record,” he says. “It’s slow and acoustic and very beautiful. It takes place in the very last scene of the movie when Morris (Levy, president) of Roulette dies. It’s a very touching moment in the film. It’s the closing credits of the movie. We’ll do the original version, too.”

James says he feels fortunate about his success. “Crimson & Clover” has been covered more than 300 times by artists ranging from Prince to Dolly Parton to the Boston Pops. 

“It’s been really remarkable,” he says. “I’m so flattered and honored when another artist does our song. I’m interested to see how another artist interprets the music.”

What stands out to him is R.E.M.’s version of “Draggin’ the Line” from “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” and Parton’s cover of “Crimson & Clover.”

“She really did a great job and made it country,” he adds. “Prince did an amazing job on ‘Crimson & Clover,’ a very futuristic version not too long before he died. During COVID, Billie Joe Armstrong did a cover of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ that went Top 10.” 

Positive energy surrounds his music, James explains, which is what keeps it relevant. He has two other reasons as well. 

“I just thank the good Lord and the fans for the longevity we’ve had,” he adds. “I’ve had an amazing ride. Never, in a million years, did I think we’d be doing this so long. I’m just amazed. I look at our concert crowd now and I see three generations of fans.

“The fans have always stuck with us and whatever projects we’re in.”

That includes his SiriusXM radio show “Getting’ Together with Tommy James” on channel 73 (’60s Gold) from 3 to 6 p.m. Mountain Time Sundays.

“The listeners are just amazing,” he says. “It’s been a great way to stay in touch with the fans during COVID. I’m just so happy to be touring and doing all this. I love doing it. I always have. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I’ve been making records since I was 14 and having hits since I was 19. I’ve just been so fortunate to be able to do this my whole adult life.”

Tommy James and The Shondells

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, February 3

WHERE: Celebrity Theatre, 440 N. 32nd Street, Phoenix

COST: Tickets start at $35

INFO: 602-267-1600, celebritytheatre.com, tommyjames.com