by liza mitchell
Tommy Roe has been in the music business long enough to recognize a good thing when he sees it. The 60s crooner recently experienced a new level of modern technology when he recorded his new album with some of the top players in Music City without ever leaving the comforts of his California home. “It was amazing technology. I was able to do a session with these Nashville musicians and record the vocals from my house,” he says.
Roe will perform his new material and his catalog of hit singles like ‘Sweet Pea’ and ‘Sheila’ during An Evening with Tommy Roe on June 17 at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall (www.pvconcerthall.com). The evening will feature an electrifying full band performance followed by an intimate Q&A with Roe. He will close the show with an acoustic segment featuring rarities, hits and new material.
“Songwriting has always been my thing, but it comes in waves. When it happens, I’ve got to take advantage of it,” he says. “In Nashville, writers write every day. I can’t work like that. For me, it comes when it comes and I’ve got to grab it and use it.” Roe accumulated so much new material that it seemed only natural to compile and release it as his first album of the new millennium. “I have not had a CD out since the early 90s. I’m really excited about it,” he says. The album is slated for a Fall 2012 release under the working title Devil’s Soul Pile.
In addition to his touring schedule, Roe will be featured prominently in the upcoming release of The Beatles: The Lost Concert film (www.lostbeatlesconcert.com). The movie features archival footage of the Beatles’ historic 1964 performance in Washington, D.C. The film is narrated through a series of stories, vignettes, photos, interviews with concert-goers and original concert footage that has been digitally remastered after sitting in a vault for 45 years. Roe has yet to see the finished product, but he remembers that concert like it was yesterday. “It’s great to have a piece of Beatles history. I got in on the ground floor and got to know them pretty well,” Roe says. “They invited me to open a show for them, and they happened to film that show. It wasn’t big. The media was not like it is today, but they asked me to be a part of it. I’m anxious to see it.”
As an artist with six Top 10 hits, Roe was riding high in the early 60s. After penning his hit single ‘Sheila’ at age 14, he quit the first and only “real” job he ever had at General Electric to pursue music full time. He was in high school and had a hit record. Roe knew bigger things were yet to come. In 1963, the Beatles opened for Roe during his tour of the UK. In return, the Fab Four invited Roe to be on the bill for their first-ever American showcase in Washington, D.C., the following year. “During our tour, they really started building momentum with fans following them from venue to venue,” Roe says. As one of the first U.S. musicians to develop a professional relationship with the little-known group from across the pond, Roe seized the opportunity to discuss the possibility of a management relationship with his team.
The journey back to the States lasted five long days at sea aboard the Queen Mary. Roe went straight from the docks to the ABC offices with the Beatles promotional material in hand to try to get them on the label. “I showed their album to the president of ABC and the whole room got quiet,” Roe says. “After a minute, he said, ‘Tell you what. Why don’t you let us be the talent scout and you write some hit songs.’ I felt about an inch high. Needless to say, eight or nine months later, the Beatles broke big in America. The joke was that Tommy brought in the biggest act since Elvis, and the president turned him down.”
Roe may not get credit for his part in introducing the Beatles to America, but he is proud of the indelible footprint he stamped into American music. His vast song catalog is his most treasured accomplishment because he wrote every one of them—a feat that is all but unheard by today’s industry standards. “Kids don’t understand the influence that the 60s had on us as artists. The U.K. artists pushed a lot of us U.S. artists off the charts,” he says. “I survived that because of my songwriting skills. Because of that, I was able to stay on the Billboard charts and do what I love to do.”
If he has any regrets, it would be losing touch with what he calls the business side of the music industry after entering semi-retirement in the 70s. But he’s too busy to lament over what could have been. The words are coming fast and furious these days, and he’s working just as fast to keep up.
by liza mitchell