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The Star-maker Machinery

I just read Tommy James’ 2010 autobiography, Me, the Mob and the Music. You remember Tommy James, right? Lots of big hits. Hanky Panky. Crimson and Clover. Mony Mony. Catchy pop tunes. They don’t really interest me much, but his story is fascinating.

Tommy James signed up with Roulette Records which was run by the so-called Godfather of the Music business, Morris Levy. He came by that descriptor for every good reason. James describes all the Genovese family mobsters involved with Levy and it’s very scary. Levy didn’t pay out royalties owed. He didn’t pay writers. It seems he hardly paid anyone.

At one point a gang war broke out in New York and members of two rival organized crime families began killing one another off. Morris Levy blew town and James received a warning through his lawyer that it would be safer for him to to leave town as well and go work in Nashville for a while. Throughout his time at Roulette and through all the hit singles, Tommy James made his money off live shows only and was never paid royalties. When he finally left Roulette, he claims he was owed some $40 million.

This book paints a seriously ugly picture of the music business. Scams. Payola. It’s all there and it’s eye-opening.


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