'Everybody (Still) Likes Tommy Roe!’
Thomas David "Tommy" Roe is an American pop music singer-songwriter. Best-remembered for his #1 Billboard chart hits 'Sheila' (1962) and 'Dizzy' (1969), Roe was even championed as one of the archetypal "bubblegum artists" of the late 1960s.
The year after 'Sheila' topped the charts, Roe scored a Top 10 hit with 'Everybody,' which reached US #3 and UK #9, and the critically acclaimed 'The Folk Singer' (#4 UK) written by Merle Kilgore was also popular.
In 1965, he and Jerry Lee Lewis combined with Roy Orbison to create an album for the Pickwick International label. During the 1960s, he had several more Top 40 hits, including 1966's #8 'Sweet Pea' (also #1 Canada) and #6 'Hooray for Hazel' (also #2 Canada).
Four years later and his song 'Dizzy' went to #1 on the UK Singles Chart, #1 in Canada, as well as to Billboard's #1 in the U.S. This transatlantic chart-topper sold two million copies by mid-April 1969, giving him his third gold disc award.
His final Top 10 single, a track co-written with Freddy Weller, 'Jam Up and Jelly Tight,' was his fourth gold record, peaking at #8 in the U.S. and #5 in Canada.
In 1986, he was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and his pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Although, sadly, Roe's style of music declined in popularity with the 1970s mass market, he maintained a following and continued to perform at a variety of concert venues. Indeed, since the '70s he has released seven albums, including his just-released Devil's Soul Pile, out now in the stores.
Exclusive Magazine recently sat down with Tommy Roe and we chatted about his very first band, how he dealt with fame as a teenager, his new album, and yes ... even Penguins!
From the off, and as stated in the intro, you have quite the musical heritage - you wrote, co-wrote and recorded six top ten hits between 1962 and 1969, more than any single artist/songwriter during this period of the '60s! You were certainly riding a wave back then, but in reflection, did you make the most of it? "That is an interesting question. Probably not. A young man in his twenties living a Rock'N'Roll life style in the 60's, faced with the daily distractions that come with the gig was, I am sure, cause for some bad choices. However, it is never too late to reinvent ones self, and that is why I recorded this new CD, Devil's Soul Pile."
Tommy Roe sings 'Sheila'
It was actually in '62 that, along with Felton Jarvis and Bill Lowery you drove from Atlanta to Nashville, recorded two songs, and suddenly one of them, 'Sheila' became the #1 hit around the world. What was it like at that exact moment you knew your song was #1 and suddenly all eyes were on you? "Very scary. I was totally unprepared for what was my destiny. The thing that got me through it was that I loved the idea of being a hit maker so much, I just plowed ahead, learning from my mistakes and always tying to better my performance."
Indeed, both 'Sheila' and 'Dizzy' topped the Billboard top 100 chart at #1, so, for the record, can you please tell us what inspired you to write them both? "I wrote a poem when I was fourteen about my first girl friend Freda," and after learning three chords on the guitar from my Dad, I turned "Freda" into my first hit song "Sheila." I wrote "Dizzy" with my old pal from Atlanta, Freddy Weller, as we toured on Dick Clarks caravan of stars tour. I guess we were just dizzy from all the bus tours," he laughs.
In total, you amounted eleven records that reached the Billboard top forty, and an amazing 23 Billboard top 100 chart records too! With similar success in England, throughout Europe, Asia, and Australia, it's been said that you are considered one of the early pioneers of American pop culture! How does that sit with you today and do you believe it to be true also? "It sits fine with me, and because I was called the "King of Bubblegum," it must be true since bubble gum music is alive and well with the likes of Michael Jackson, and Justin Bieber. The genre has certainly survived, and because of the recording technology it has improved as well."
Taking you further back, one of your first bands was The Satins. Formed in High School, you played various venues/events, but to this day is there one truly memorable event you played? "Well, the first gig we played together as The Satins was in 1959 at the opening of a record store in our neighborhood in the west end of Atlanta. On my website, www.TommyRoe.com I have pictures of us from the news paper promoting the event. Classic. We just set up on the sidewalk and played for the fans all afternoon, and I think we made about 15 bucks each. Today, I'm not sure you could do that as simply as we did way back then. It is a different world."
So, from the young boy that played in that band, to the man that is answering these questions today, in all those years in-between, what have been some of your stand-out glory moments within the music business? "It is hard for me to suggest any stand out moments, because the whole notion of me coming off the streets of Atlanta and having a lifetime of success in the entertainment business, even with the ups and downs that came with that success, is altogether part of the magic of my life, therefore, the stand out is the total."
And what has been the biggest lesson learnt for you along the way? "Never take success for granted, and never forget the ones who helped you along the way."
You have been inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and just recently the Iowa Rock 'n Roll Association Hall of Fame - any of this starting to make you feel old?! "You know, Tony Bennett is a great example for any of us should we ever begin to think we are too old to enjoy our craft. I believe music, and the arts in general, is timeless, and pays no attention to age. My idea is to enjoy every moment god has given me, and to use my talent and make the most of that wonderful gift all the way to the end."
Feeling old or not, you have just released a new album, entitled Devil's Soul Pile, a REALLY great, solid, crisp collection of tracks. You sound fantastic and the musicianship is wonderful. So, just what inspired you to put this new album together? "I think the song, 'Devil's Soul Pile' was the inspiration. It's just a message we need to look at seriously in our culture, and it is a way for me to relate my thoughts on the subject. Being the king of bubblegum music was fun, and 'Sweet Pea,' 'Hooray For Hazel,' and all my other bubblegum hits have their place in my history. And hopefully the grand departure from my past success with this new song will also become a permanent part of my musical legacy."
Who would you like to mention that worked on this album that had they not, it just wouldn't have been the album it is today? "Wow! That is a long list, but here we go.. All the players on Devil's Soul Pile. Mike Franklin, Tim Franklin, Tommy Calton, Paul Parker, singer Denise Nejame and the engineer Darryl Phillips. Cliff Goldmacher, Nashville Studio Live, and the musicians he brought to the studio to record my new songs. Keio Stroud, Dave Francis, Pat Buchanan, Jeff Roach, Jim Hoke, Melissa Hooker, and engineer Jon Stinson. Without these talented musicians, and singers the CD Devil's Soul Pile could not have happened. They are all pro's and I am lucky to have them on my team."
Taking an artistic step back from the new album, today (as I know favorites can change daily) what is your favorite track to listen to? "Of course, I think 'Devil's Soul Pile' is my favorite, but I also love 'It's For You I'm Me,' and the brilliant performance of Melissa Hooker. I love to listen to 'Memphis Me,' and 'Water Underneath My Burning Bridge.' Hey man, I like the whole package, that's why I did it!"
What can you tell us about the cover art for the new album? A breeze of a photo shoot or a pain?! "Well, I must admit the cover art was a breeze. The two outside photo's were taken by my son in law, Robert Spandau, and the inside photo was shot by the famous British photographer Ian Wright. I designed the package, and it was put together by the graphic artist at Bison disc. All the folks at Bison disc are real pro's and great to work with."
In this new digital age, for you personally; a musical power player from the vibrant '60s onwards, is releasing a new album easier or harder that it used to be? "You know, it's a different business than when I started in so many ways. But I believe the artist today has the freedom, and the choices we only dreamed about in the sixties. Today, the artist is in control and I believe that is the best thing that has happened in our business. Rock on new world."
Finally, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, we here at Exclusive Magazine LOVE penguins ... do you?! "It is always good to save the best for last, and you have certainly accomplished that.. Of course I love penguins! They are always dressed in the latest formal attire, and I send you, and them my best wishes!"
Interview: Russell A. Trunk
'Devil's Soul Pile' CD Purchase Link
So, if you would like to win a SIGNED copy of Tommy Roe's new CD, just answer this easy question about the man himself: When 'Sheila' became a hit, ABC-Paramount Records asked him to go on tour to promote the hit. He was reluctant to give up his secure job though until ABC-Paramount advanced him $5,000! So, what (big-named) company did he work for at that time?!
Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these wonderful signed CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before October 1st with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: TOMMY ROE SIGNED CDs to: firstname.lastname@example.org