Singer-songwriter Tommy Roe has had twenty-three Top 100 songs and four Gold Records throughout his fifty-five year career. He wrote and recorded six Top 10 hits within eight years. Tuesday, October 28, Roe received BMI’s Two Million Spins award for his songs ‘Sheila’ and ‘Dizzy’. I sat down with Mr. Roe to discuss this achievement and discover what this accomplishment means to him.
“I am very excited about this. I think the plateau of 2 million radio performances is quite a level to reach. To have two songs reach that at the same time is really cool,” Roe said. “It’s been a long haul for me. I wrote ‘Sheila’ when I was 14 years old and ‘Sheila’ has been a tremendous record for me through the years. I co-wrote ‘Dizzy’ with Freddy Weller, which was one of my biggest records of all time selling about 20 million records. So I’m excited and it’s good to accept the awards from BMI.”
If you’ve listened to ‘Sheila’, you might be curious what inspired this song. It seems to be about someone in Tommy’s life…
“It’s an interesting story about ‘Sheila’. When I was 14 I had a crush on this little girl I was in school with named Freida. I wrote a poem called ‘Sweet Little Freida’ and about the same time my dad taught me three cords on the guitar and so I put some music to my poem. Later on I got an opportunity to audition for a record producer and I sang ‘Freida’ for him. He said, “son, I love that song ‘Freida’ but I’m not too sure about the title.” So I changed the title and recorded it as ‘Sheila’ and it took off,” Roe recalls.
Surprisingly, Sheila was originally the B-side of the record. ‘Save Your Kisses’ was on the A side but didn’t create much hype. Buddy Dean, a DJ in Baltimore, flipped it over and according to Roe, “the phones lit up” and ‘Sheila’ was a hit in 1962.
Before The Beatles hit it big, they opened for Roe during his first tour in England in 1962.
Roe recalls, “Chris Montez and I had a song called ‘Let’s Dance’ which was big in England where we were headlining our tour. We went over and nobody knew who The Beatles were in early 1963. I met The Beatles at rehearsal and I thought they were our backup band. Then I found out later they were a featured act on our tour. The tour was great for all of us because The Beatles really took off after that tour. It was the springboard for their career.”
During their tour they got to know each other very well. Ron Howard is producing a documentary on The Beatles set to release in 2015 and Roe will be contributing his story.
Of course, I had to ask Roe what his plans going forward would be. He responded by saying, “That’s hard to say. I’m 72 now and I tried to retire a few years ago, but my old bandleader kept calling me to say that someone wanted to book me. I kept telling him I was retired but he was very persistent. Finally I took three dates in Canada in 2011 and I had a great time with my old band. The next year we did about 20 dates and now here I am in 2014 doing about 30 dates.”
Roe is opening in January at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He claims that as long as there’s an audience, he will play.
“There’s a continuous demand for what I do. It’s always been about the fans for me. I never told them when I started out but I would do this for free. To get paid for something you love is really cool. I came back for the sake of doing what I enjoy. As long as I’m healthy and can satisfy the fans I will keep going.”