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INTERVIEW: TOMMY ROE – November 2014

| 11 November 2014 | Reply

I love getting a few minutes with any musician, but when that musician carries a legendary status, it is all that much better.  Recently it was announced that two of Tommy Roe’s singles, “Sheila” and Dizzy,” were being recognized for having two million spins each on radio.  We were lucky enough to grab a bit of Tommy’s time to talk about this achievement, the songs, and his upcoming shows in Las Vegas.


Toddstar: Well we have–

Tommy: I love your last name.

Toddstar: Oh do you?

Tommy: I want to see if I can pronounce it correctly. [He pronounces my last name – Jolicoeur]?

Toddstar: Perfect.

Tommy: Is that right?

Toddstar: It is.

Tommy: Oh, I’m proud of myself! I’m married to a French lady, so I was guessing.

Toddstar: (laughs) Nope, nope. Perfect. Listen, we’ve got music legend Tommy Roe on the line. Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule for us today, Tommy, we appreciate it.

Tommy: It’s my pleasure!

Toddstar: Well, let’s talk about the big news, man. Last week you were awarded special honors in Nashville from the office of BMI for two million spins each of “Sheila” and “Dizzy.” How does it feel to know that you’ve done that?

Tommy: That’s really fantastic. That’s a plateau that isn’t reached by a lot of song writers, so I’m very proud of that, and even though it took a long time to get there, the way it was explained to me was very interesting. David Preston at BMI said if you played the song every hour continuously for twelve years, that’s two million air plays.

Toddstar: That’s a lot of air play.

Tommy: So when you put it in that perspective, it’s pretty amazing, really. I’m very proud of it; thank you.

Toddstar: It’s great to see legends like yourself still receiving honors and awards that are truly due you. Let’s talk about these two songs for a minute and then we’ll get into what you’re doing now, but let’s talk about “Sheila.” It was a song that didn’t rate so well for you when you first recorded it. You re-recorded it and it just became a smash. What made you think, “If I redo this it might work out.”

Tommy: Well, the interesting thing is when I first recorded I was still in high school with Atlanta and I put it together with my band that I put together in school. It got a lot of play in the southeast but it never took off nationally. So the song was familiar to a few DJs around the south, so when I got an opportunity to go to Nashville and to record, Felton Jarvis, who was my producer at the time, he wanted to re-record “Sheila,” but he wanted to put the drums on it. Like the “Peggy Sue” drums like Buddy Holly, and we’d call it kind of like a tribute to Buddy Holly kind of thing. That idea is what I think made the song click, because when we released it, it was actually the B-side of the records. “Save Your Kisses” was the A-side, and “Save Your Kisses” got played a few times and didn’t really do anything. There was a DJ in Baltimore, Maryland named Buddy Dean who had an afternoon dance show – kind of like Dick Clark, but he was local in Baltimore – and he flipped the record over and started playing “Sheila,” and as we used to say in the old days, ‘the phones lit up.’ The request for the song was so huge it just became an instant hit. It’s hard to figure. Sometimes the song, if it’s recorded a little differently – maybe add a little taste to it musically – it can make a world of difference, and I think that’s what happened with “Sheila.”


Toddstar: Did Frieda ever know?

Tommy: Poor Frieda. It’s kind of an interesting story; I wrote the song originally when I was 14 years old. I wrote this poem about a little girl I had a crush on in school. Her name was Frieda, it was: sweet little Frieda, you know if you see her blue eyes and her ponytail. About the same time, my dad taught me three chords on the guitar, and I thought, “Well, if I can put some music to my silly little poems I’m writing here, maybe I could become a song writer.” So I put a melody to it and I wrote the song and originally it was called Frieda. I auditioned for a record producer in Atlanta and I played some of my songs for him, and he said, “You know, I really like that song Frieda, but I’m not too keen on the title, so we need to come up with a different title,” so we changed it to Sheila. And your question was: does Frieda know? The interesting thing is, she moved out of town, I never had a chance to give her the poem. She doesn’t have a clue, whoever she is in the world – hopefully she’s okay and alive – but she doesn’t have a clue that she started the whole thing with me with Frieda.

Toddstar: Missed opportunity.

Tommy: Yeah, amazing.

Toddstar: And you go from something as electric as “Sheila,” and then you got “Dizzy “that was recorded a few years later. As big as both songs were, it has a totally different sound to it. How did you approach a song like “Dizzy?”

Tommy: The interesting thing, when I first started out, I was considered a rockabilly artist, and “Sheila,” then “Everybody” was the follow-up to “Sheila” which did very well for me, which was really kind of a Rockabilly song. I did the “Sheila” in Washington DC, I opened for the Beatles in 1964 on their first American concert, and right after that show in 64′ I went into the army, and I was in the army while I was watching this British invasion. The Beatles were not the only act that was making it over here. After the Beatles did click, all of the British acts started hitting the charts here in America, and they were pushing the American artists off the charts. The billboard charts were just filled with British acts. I’m thinking while I’m in the service, “What am I going to do to survive this onslaught of all these British acts?” I thought, “Well, I can’t really do my original style because that’s kind of what they’re doing and I have to do something different.” I wrote “Sweet Pea” and I called it ‘soft rock’, I said, “What I will do, I will do soft rock.” Very simple, melodic, happy-go-lucky kind of songs. When I got out of the service, I recorded “Sweet Pea” and that started that trend for me which the DJs later on tagged me with the King of Bubblegum, which at first I was a little annoyed, but later on I said, “What’s wrong with making people smile and have a good time?” So I kind of took the title as Bubblegum Artist real. I accepted it. I think that’s how I survived and had hits during the 60s because I was able to change my style and I was doing something totally different than everybody else and I was writing my own material. If I hadn’t been able to write my songs, I don’t think I could have endured, but that was kind of the plan and it worked out. I kind of created a caricature for myself, I became this bubblegum artist, and the only other bubblegum artists were like the Archies – there were a few others – but the Archies were like a cartoon group. It wasn’t really a group. So I’m in there with the cartoons; I was kind of a cartoon character myself.

Toddstar: Like you said, you were the King of Bubblegum, but better to be the king of something than the joker of nothing.

Tommy: There you go! I’ll buy that. But the interesting thing; the Beatles, their audience, that was my audience as well. Really, their early songs, they were bubblegum artists themselves. If you think about it, Michael Jackson was a bubblegum artist. The reason you’re called a bubblegum artist is because you stoke pre-teens and teens, and that’s exactly where they were. But for some reason they tagged me with it as a negative thing. They kind of dismissed me with that, with that tag. The DJs did this. They could have done that with any of the earlier artists, because we all did bubblegum music. We sold to teenagers, that’s what we did.

Toddstar: Sure. And almost 50 years later, you got the last laugh.

Tommy: There you go! You can look at it this way: I managed to survive the 60s and I’m still at it, and you can’t say that for all the artists. A lot of them had a lot of problems going through the 60s, so in that respect I did survive that.

Toddstar: So true, and better than that, you’re still out on the road. Rumor has it that you scheduled headline shows at the Southpoint Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in January.

Tommy: That’s right. I signed a long-term deal with them to work over there two or three times a year, and our first engagement is January 23, 24, and 25, and I’m really looking forward to that. I really enjoy working in Vegas under the right circumstances. I did a show there this year kind of setting up the Vista run at South Point. I did a show at a casino called Sun Coast. The venues were perfect for what I’m doing; they’re like 600 seaters, and they’re intimate venues to where I can really relate to the audience, because I’m doing a thing in my show where I do a Q&A in the middle of my show and I go out in the audience and take questions, so these kind of venues worked very well for what I’m doing.

Toddstar: You mentioned the Q&A during the show? What’s the oddest question the fans have asked you so far?

Tommy: Well, the scary ones are when they ask about old girlfriends. You never know what they’re going to ask you, but sometimes you can be embarrassed because I don’t really want to get into any personal things like that, but I’m leaving myself open when I walk out into the audience and ask them, “Let’s talk.” There’s no telling what they’re going to ask. Usually it’s about some of my records. They ask a lot of questions about my early days with Dick Clark, when I moved from Georgia to Los Angeles to be where the action is as a regular. I was only supposed to be in California for six or eight months doing this show and I ended up still having a home here after all these years. So thanks to Dick Clark, I became a Californian. They ask a lot of questions about that period when I did where the action is and I toured with a caravan of stars, the Dick Clark tours and all that. They ask a lot of questions about B-sides. I found on my website,, that I get a lot of people asking about B-sides, so that’s another thing I’m doing in this show, I’m singing kind of obscure songs that I had out and some songs that I hadn’t even released, and I’m doing some B-sides in the show which seems to interest the audience a lot.

Toddstar: The fans like the obscure stuff, that’s for sure.

Tommy: Yeah, it’s interesting. The ones that really get into your music and know– sometimes they know more about it than I do. There’s a song called “Gunfighter” – I think it’s called “Gunfighter” – I don’t even remember recording that. It’s on Youtube and sure enough it’s me singing it! It’s just a total blank to me. I can’t remember where I did it or what the circumstances were. There’s another song, “Every Time a Bluebird Cries.” I didn’t realize – I’d recorded that in England, it was just kind of looked over and wasn’t paid any attention to and it ended up on my greatest hit CD, which was really weird because it was never a hit! It was never released in the States. But somebody in California decided to put that song on there for some reason. It’s really a great song, because I do it in my show now. Things like that, it’s kind of interesting to the fans, the ones who really follow your career.

Toddstar: Well again, Tommy. We appreciate you taking time out and congratulations on the BMI awards, they’re so well deserved, and we want to make sure that everybody knows that they can get all the upcoming news on Tommy Roe at and that they should book a room at the South Point Hotel & Casino and come see you January 23rd, 24th, and 25th.

Tommy: Boy, I couldn’t have said it any better, Todd. Thank you so much, it was a pleasure to be with you!

Toddstar: Thank you, sir, we’ll see you soon.

Tommy: Okey-doke. Bye bye!




Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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