The music of Tommy James and The Shondells has been featured in TV shows such as “Sons of Anarchy,” “Veronica Mars “ and, even “The Simpsons,” as well as numerous films. Who could forget the iconic meth-making montage in “Breaking Bad” set to the James’ song “Crystal Blue Persuasion” or when John Goodman played “I Think We’re Alone Now” on the jukebox in “10 Cloverfield Lane?”
And then there are the cover versions of the songs — James thinks the songs have been covered by about 300 people, including Joan Jett (“Crimson and Clover”), Tiffany (“I Think We’re Alone Now”), Billy Idol (his signature “Mony Mony”) and Prince (“Crimson and Clover”).
Tommy James and The Shondells return to Biloxi at 8 p.m. on Saturday for a show at the IP Casino Resort, bringing with them a catalog of hit songs that includes “Crimson and Clover,” “Hanky Panky” and “Draggin’ the Line.”
James is also a best-selling author. His book, “Me, The Mob and Music’ was released in 2010. An autobiography, the book tells the tale of James’ complicated relationship with Morris Levy and Roulette Records and Levy’s ties to the mob. To this day, James said he feels that he was robbed of about “$30 to $40 million” in royalties from Roulette. The book has been optioned as a film by Martin Scorsese’s former wife, Barbara De Fina (“Goodfellas”).
Q: You’re no stranger to Biloxi. It seems you get down here about once a year.
A: I love Biloxi and that area. I’ve seriously been thinking about moving to Biloxi. I love it.
Q: In my late teens and early 20s, I was turned on to records like the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” and The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul.” One of those albums was “Crimson and Clover.” How did you make the move from your sort of “garage band” rock to a more textural album like “Crimson and Clover?”
A: We were very lucky to have the public’s attention for a lot of years, so we were able to morph into whatever we wanted to become. One of the things I loved about Roulette — and there were many things I didn’t love — was that we had as much creative freedom as we wanted. If we had been on one of the big labels, we would have been handed over to an A&R guy in-house and that probably would have been the last time you heard from us.
I put a really great production team together, and we ended up doing a lot of writing and a lot of recording and we were given the budget we needed to do it.
In late 1968, we were out on the Hubert Humphrey campaign, and we decided we were going to do all of our writing and really get into what we were capable of doing. It was at the same moment that all of the new technology ended up in the recording studios. We literally went from four track to 24 tracks in about eight months and FM radio was coming into its own and so were stereo recordings — it all sounded good.
It was also the end of the “singles acts.” When we left for the campaign, the big acts were The Rascals and The Buckinghams, bands like that. When we got back, it was all album acts — Led Zeppelin, Crosby Stills and Nash, Joe Cocker, Neil Young — the industry had turned upside down, and we knew we had to start selling albums at Roulette.
“Crimson and Clover” was the very first single that allowed us to make that jump from AM pop to FM progressive album rock. The entire album became terribly important, because it allowed us to have the second half of our career.
Q: How did your fans react at the time? For me, I saw the progression of U2 from “The Joshua Tree” to “Achtung Baby” and I felt like I was growing with the band.
A: We got a great response. As an artist, I always felt your primary job was to feed your fans new material — really new material to take them on the journey with you. I don’t think you can remain an artist and make the same record over and over again.
Q: The single “Crimson and Clover” was pretty far out for you guys with the oscillating vocals and the pedal steel guitar. It was pretty risky. Were you worried about the risk?
A: The funny part about it is that I never had any doubt the fans would be with us. It was just the way the times were at that moment.
What was kind of scary is that we recorded “Crimson Clover” in about five-and-a-half hours. I had done a rough mix, a work tape, that I took with me. I happened to take it to Chicago where I was playing that weekend, I played it at WLS, which was the biggest radio station in the country at that time. The DJ flipped out, and he asked me to play it again. Unbeknownst to me, he taped my rough mix.
As I’m getting back into the car, I have the radio on and I hear “World exclusive on WLS” and the rough mix of the record came on. I never got a chance to mix it. We had to release the rough mix. The record you know as “Crimson and Clover” is the rough mix.
I’m still proud of that record. It turned a page for us.
Q: “Crimson and Clover” has been covered by so many people. Do you have a favorite version?
A: I think the Prince version, to me, was the most futuristic sounding. Joan Jett did it, Kelly Clarkson did it, and I even did a duet on it with Dolly Parton. But Prince really nailed it. It was the first single from his digital album. I remember he performed it on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” and it was really amazing what he did with it. He really took it to a new level.
Q: What’s the process with the film version of your book? Is that coming to fruition?
A: We are moving forward with it. Barbara De Fina is going to produce it. I think all of the financing is in place and shooting should start in about 24 months. We’re working on a new album that will be coming out this year and we’ve recorded a couple of songs for the movie.
If you go
Tommy James and The Shondells
IP Casino Resort at 850 Bayview Ave. in Biloxi
8 p.m. on Saturday
Tickets start at $25 and are available at Ticketmaster.com.