Tommy Roe - Biography
By Nick Castro
Tommy Roe was the king bubble gum music of the 60's. He is best remembered for his songs, "Sheila", and, "Dizzy", both which climbed the charts to number one. Other notable songs by Rose are "Jam Up Jelly Tight", "Everybody", "Hooray for Hazel", and the classic, "Sweet Pea". His clean image and boyish good looks served him well along with his crafty song writing and slick production. Especially in the latter part of the 60's, Roe was a household name.
Roe's career began in his native Atlanta, Georgia, where he was playing with a group called Tommy and The Satins, along with high school friends, Mike Clark and Bobby West. The band was soon gaining local popularity as they performed at dancehalls, high schools and universities in the area. But it was a fateful encounter with record producer Felton Jarvis, which would lead to his initial recordings. Roe quickly cultivated a reputation for sounding similar to Buddy Holly and this led to his being asked to fill for Holly at a gig in Atlanta.
In 1962, Roe went with Jarvis and his manager to Nashville to record the Holly-esque song, "Sheila", which sounded eerily similar to Holly's, "Peggy Sue", as well as the song, "Save Your Kisses". Though the song did not do well upon its first independent release on the Judd record label, it did manage to open doors for Roe, who kept performing and working with local artists in the Atlanta area until two years later when was signed to Paramount records.
Paramount Records rereleased the song, "Sheila", in 1962 and it quickly shot up to number one. it was also a huge hit in Australia and England. Paramount quickly released the album, Sheila (1963 - Paramount), which had a slightly ad hoc and rushed feel to it. The next year, after a few lukewarm hits, like, "Susie Darlin", and, "Piddle De Pat", Roe followed up with the song "Everybody", which again charted high for the young artist. In the Uk, Roe released the album, Everybody Likes Tommy Roe (1964 0 HMV), which housed his latest single as well as a slew of other rock and pop tunes such as Holly's, "That'll Be the Day", and, "Almost Grown", by Chuck Berry.
Roe embarked on an extensive tour of the UK, in 1963, with singer Chris Montez. They had a young British band, called the Beatles, opening the tour for them and it was quickly reported in the music papers that the show was consistently being stolen by the opening band. Roe and Montez were disappointed and boggled by the new development. They later followed up with a more successful tour of the country and Roe ended up moving to the UK to write and record, some say through the influence of his friend, Roy Orbison, who Roe ended up recording a record with, along with Jerry Lee Lewis, in 1965, called Roy Orbison Sings (1965 - Allegro).
Roe served for a short time, after his success with "Everybody", in the military and this kept him from dedicating himself to his music fulltime, but upon his discharge he scored a huge number 8 hit with the nearly instrumental song, "Sweet Pea", in 1966, and which was constantly being played on the radio, and again reached the top ten in the US, finally attaining gold record status, one of four in his career. Roe followed up the song with, "Hooray for Hazel", which climbed up to number 6.
In 1967, Roe released the album, It's Now Winters Day (1967 - ABC), which was produced by legendary producer Curt Boettcher, of the bands the Association and Millenium. The album sees Roes trying to get with the times, even going as far as growing his hair an extra inch. The album has Boettcher's signature lush production sound, with tinges of reverb laden psychedelia for good measure, as well as the think vocal harmonies he often incorporated into his own work. Many people, including those who are not otherwise Roe fans, often consider this to be his artistic highlight, in no small part due to Boettcher's influence on the album. The highlight of the album is the title track, "It's Now Winter's Day", which features beautiful heavy string arrangements and psychedelic studio trickery along with lovely minor chord changes. Although this album may have been a masterpiece in its own right, it failed to garner his the attention and success of his previous efforts. Roe though, made another go at the psych pop genre when he released the album, Phantasy (1967 - ABC), which was again produced by Boettcher. Unfortunately, due to the lukewarm reactions of the previous effort, Roe and the record label made the decision to back off of Boettcher's heavy handed production techniques and the album fails to capture the groundbreaking spirit of It's Now Winter's Day. Roe penned most of the songs on the two albums, but the latter of the two sounds forced, probably due to the lack of time needed to develop songs into their fullest potentials. Phantasy sold even worse than it's predecessor. Afterwards, Roe quickly went back to his old formula of straight ahead, and often saccharine, pop tunes.
in 1969, Roe released the song "Dizzy", which went up to number 1 in the US, ultimately went gold, and was one of his last to reach the top ten. Later that year he released the songs "Heather Honey", which had reasonable success, and the song "Jam Up Jelly Tight", which went to number 8 in the US and later also attained gold status, his last song to do so.
Although Roe found steady work throughout the 70's, he never again attained the status he had in the 60's, except for his top 40 hit, "Stagger Lee", in 1971. By the late 70's, Roe was known for touring the revival circuit, often performing only his top 40 hits, of which he had 11 of them.
In the 90's, Roe recorded a series of albums, which featured new recordings of his 60's hits.