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The Shondells


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The band initially formed in 1959 as Tom and the Tornadoes, with the then only 12-year-old Tommy James as lead singer. In 1963, he re-named the band The Shondells after one of James’ idols, guitarist Troy Shondell. The same year, they recorded the Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich song, “Hanky Panky” (originally a B-side by The Raindrops) [1]. James’ version sold respectably in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, but the record label, Snap Records, had no national distribution. The single failed to chart, and the Shondells disbanded.

Two years later, a Pittsburgh radio station unearthed the forgotten single and touted it as an “exclusive.” Listener response encouraged the station to play it regularly. Another Pittsburgh disc jockey played his copy of the single at various dance parties, and demand soared. Bootleggers responded by printing up 80,000 bootlegged copies of the recording, which were sold in Pennsylvania stores.
James first learned of all this activity after getting a telephone call in December 1965 from Pittsburgh disc jockey “Mad Mike” Metro, to come and perform the song. James contacted his fellow Shondells, but they had moved past their musical ambitions and did not want to travel to Pittsburgh.
In 1966, James went by himself and made promotional appearances at the Pittsburgh radio station, in nightclubs and on local television. “I had no group, and I had to put one together really fast,” recalled James. “I was in a Pittsburgh club one night, and I walked up to a group that was playing that I thought was pretty good, and asked them if they wanted to be the Shondells. They said yes, and off we went.”

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