Tommy Roe, born May 9, 1942, is best remembered today for his mid-to-early 1960s bubblegum hits. Songs such as “Hooray For Hazel,” “Sweet Pea,” “Jam Up and Jelly Tight,” and his other chart topper, “Dizzy,” all received extensive radio airplay and sold millions of copies. His early career was different, as during the early '60s his single releases actually rocked a little.
Thomas David Roe grew up in Atlanta and counted Billy Joe Royal, Joe South, Mac Davis, and Ray Stevens among his boyhood friends. He sang in various bands during his school years and by the age of 16 had signed a contract with the small southern Judd label. He released the song “Sheila” as a single but it received little attention. He had written the song as a 14-year-old.
At the age of 20, he auditioned for the large ABC-Paramount label. The song that garnered the most attention was “Sheila.” Released as a single during the summer of 1962, it eventually spent two weeks on top of the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart. It also peaked at number six on the R&B Chart, which was a real stretch even by the standards of the day. His days of working for $70 a week soldering for General Electric were over. On a subsequent tour of the United Kingdom, one of his supporting acts was The Beatles.
“Sheila” may seem somewhat mild today, but by pre-Beatles standards it was a nice fusion of pop and rock. It was an up-tempo tune with a shuffle beat and some subtle early 1960s-type background vocals. In some ways it has some similarities to Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue.”
He was a consistent hit maker during the '60s and early '70s. Even with two years off while serving in the U.S. military, he managed to produce 23 chart singles, with six reaching the top 10. The hits may have stopped but he has continued to perform for the last 40 years and remains active on the oldies circuit.
Tommy Roe carved out a nice niche for himself and 50 years ago this week he sat on top of the American music world.