May 20, 2011
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When I agreed to review the Tommy Roe concert on May 20th 2011 here at Casino Regina, Saskatchewan, I will admit I had to head straight to YouTube. I quickly learned what kind of Rock n’ Roll Legend I would soon be in the presence of. Tommy is an international artist who wrote, co-wrote and recorded, six top ten hits between 1962, and 1968, more than any other single artist/writer during that period in the 60’s. He had a total of eleven records reach the Billboard top forty, and twenty three Billboard top 100 chart records, including 15 records reach the Canadian top forty. He had similar success in England, and around the world including Europe, Asia and Australia. Tommy is regarded as one of the early pioneers of American pop culture and the founder of bubble-gum pop music.
Upon arriving, the energy was contagious. There were a lot of white and grey heads of hair excited to relive their days of jukeboxes and malt shops. Tommy’s opening words confirmed this, “We all made it, survivors of the 60’s”. He began with telling us about his high school sweetheart named Frieda and he played the first few notes and the crowd went wild recognizing the song instantly. In 1962 he auditioned for a record producer who hated the name of the song and it became his first #1 hit “Sheila”. Right off the hop the crowd was clapping and bobbing their heads and Tommy sure knew how to work a crowd.
You couldn’t help but tap your foot and have an overwhelming desire to get up and start doing the Jive. He followed this with “Susie Darling” and “Everybody” which was inspired while touring with the Beatles in 1963. Tommy’s voice was just as strong as it was in 1963 and the man still has his moves and an incredible debonair stage presence.
Tommy’s cover of the Chuck Berry song “Carol” was next. He then said “Ain’t Rock and Roll Pretty… and with the internet it’s free”. He was very happy to let us know he would be playing some less recognizable songs, perhaps “B-Side” songs or ones he never even recorded, though the honor was really ours. Tommy continued with a big hit in England “The Folksinger”. He then hoped to find some Hazel’s in the audience as he went on to play his 1966 hit “Hooray for Hazel”.
Tommy took us back with him to his youth. He was a shy boy, who always knew he wanted to write songs. He was 13 at his very first concert… no one too famous… just Elvis (Elvis was just starting out). When Elvis came on stage and Tommy could no longer see due to the wall of screaming women, he knew then and there he wanted to be a star like this new singer he was watching. He then went into the Elvis song “One Night”. Tommy then acknowledged his wonderful band of musicians, including his guitar playing Manager, Rick Levy. When introducing his next song, “Being a song writer, inspiration can come from the strangest places.” Growing up he recalled his father anytime he saw a pretty girl, “That girl is jam up and jelly tight.” “Jam Up and Jelly Tight” went on to become one of his 1969 hits. He continued with a big hit in California, “Glitter and Gleam”. Next was his 1966 hit, “Sweet Pea” which had people up dancing. He wipes his brow with a towel and I couldn’t help hear the lady in front of me say “I want that towel.” Tommy then says what we are all thinking “Not bad for an old guy hey?” He definitely has still got it. He went into the chorus of Sweet Pea one more time and had the whole crowd singing along. This was followed by “Stagger Lee”.
Next was something I really enjoyed, instead of an intermission while his band set up for an acoustic set, he came right out into the audience with a microphone for a question and answer session. We learned he is a “bull headed Taurus” and just turned 69 on May 9th 2011 (Happy Belated Birthday Mr. Roe). He has been singing for 50 years and as long as he keeps seeing fantastic groups come out he will keep going. He interacted with the audience for a good 20 minutes and returned to a stool on stage. His second set began with a Buddy Holly song, “Well Alright” and a song composed by Tim Hardin, “If I Were a Carpenter”. He then played one of his favorite songs, “Gravity”. He put his stool and acoustic away and went back to his Fender Electric Guitar and played the Beatle’s hit, “Hey Jude”.
He then played a song that appeared on his 1993 Greatest Hits album, though it was never actually released before, “Every Time a Bluebird Cries”.
Now there were no Hazel's in the crowd, but there was a Heather, which Tommy dedicated his song “Heather Honey”. Tommy then played his second Elvis song of the evening, “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy”. Mr. Roe then plugged his well deserved nomination to be inducted into the, “Hit Parade Hall Of Fame,” and you can support him, and place your vote, by clicking the following link: http://www.hitparadehalloffame.com/artistbios/2010_artistpages/TommyRoe.php.
Tommy closed the show with his hit which spent four weeks at #1, “Dizzy”. He had people up dancing and singing along. The enthusiastic crowd then brought him out for an encore. “One more for you, lets rock it out!” He went on to do a rock n’ roll montage including, “Johnny B. Goode”, “Rock n’ Roll Music” and “Bonie Moronie”.
Following his 90 minute set of toe tapping Rock and Roll hits I had the privilege of spending some one on one time with Mr. Roe. Tommy told us he has been retired for 5 years and now does this part time. His current tour isn’t really a tour at all but more of an improvised band trip to the few lucky stops along the way including only three in Canada, Edmonton, Regina, and Winnipeg in the near future. When asked if this tour feels different now that he isn’t only a hard working artist but also a Rock-a-Billy Hall of Fame Legend, you could see the joy and passion in his reply. He loves that he doesn’t have to do this anymore, there is no more pressure, and he does it because he loves it. And for that we thank you.
Going into this as a very clueless, therefore unbiased 25 year old, and having an absolute blast really shows how truly transgenerational his music really is.