Bolder Backstage with Tommy Roe


In the 60s Tommy Roe was one of the most prolific and successful recording artists anywhere! In fact, when the Beatles and the Stones were climbing the charts, Roe was right there with them.

He had 27 songs that reached the top 30, including “Sheila,” which went all the way to number one. When this song hit, Roe was just 20 years old, with next to no experience. But suddenly, he was a star.

“I was not a professional entertainer,” Roe explained. “I had a hit record and a number one record in the country with Sheila, but I’d never performed professionally before. So I was learning on the job.”

The hits just kept coming, and not just in the U.S. Roe was a worldwide hit. In 1963 he was sent to tour England, and you won’t believe who opened for him.  

“There was a featured act called the Beatles, and they were way down at the bottom of the program, which was really an incredible thing,” Roe recalled. “I used to joke with John [Lennon,] I said, ‘John, it’s because of our tour that you guys are where you are.’ He said, ‘Oh, now wait a minute.'”

Tommy saw how the crowds went wild for the Beatles. He knew his record label would want to sign them. So he personally took their music straight to the boss!  

“He said, ‘Well, give me the record. Let me hear what you got.’ So I pulled the album out. He put it on the turntable, dropped the needle on the first cut, I think it was ‘Love Me Do,’ and he played a few bars. He took the needle up and said, ‘I tell you what kid, that’s got to be the worst piece of crap I’ve ever heard in my life. Let us be the talent scouts. You are a great artist. We have you a nice room over at the Waldorf Astoria. Go over there and write us some more hits and let us find the talent.'”

But the Beatles appreciated Tommy’s efforts, and wanted to return the favor.

Brian Epstein contacted Roe’s manager and asked him to open the Beatles show for their first American concert in Washington DC, on February 11th, 1965. It was the only time the Beatles ever had an opening act! Roe was a major star, when he made a decision that shocked everyone.  

“I was about to get drafted. It was in the middle of the Vietnam [war],” Roe remembered. “So to keep from getting drafted, and I would lose two years of my career, I decided to join the Army Reserve. So right after the concert in Washington, DC, with the Beatles, I went into bootcamp.”

While he was in the Reserves, the U.S. was into the “British Invasion” in pop culture and music. It could have been the end of Tommy’s career. He knew he needed a hit to keep it going and, like his others, he’d have to write it himself.  

“When I got out of the service, they took me in the studio, we recorded ‘Sweet Pea,’ and it became a huge hit and put me back in the charts,” Roe said. “I was very fortunate to be able to do that. And I don’t think I could have done it without being a writer, without writing my own material.”

And the hits kept coming, remarkable, considering in that era he was up against folk songs, protest songs, and psychedelic songs. Yet, in 1969 Roe topped the charts with “Dizzy.”

The song went to number one in Canada, England and America. In fact, it was one of the fastest rising songs in history, and USA Today named it as one of the ‘Top 100 tunes in rock!’

Unlike other musicians of the era, Roe avoided drugs and psychedelics, but the pressure to keep writing hits and a constant life on the road did take a toll. 

“I was married three times,” Roe said. “My first wife, I had a daughter from my first wife, and we were kind of high school sweethearts. And my second wife, we were married for nine years. She was from England. And my third wife who had passed away 2020 was from France. And we were married for 42 years. So it took me three times to make it work.” 

All in all it was a storybook career, and it’s not over. Because Roe says never wants to stop.  

“It’s just the joy of doing it. I love doing this. I love making records. I love working,” Roe says.  “I used to think 30 was really old. If I can make it to 30, that’s going to be great, man. And here I am in 80s, still doing it. It’s pretty incredible.

“81 is the new 80. I’m keeping it positive. I have a passion for what I do, it’s all that I can really do well.”

Embracing his 80’s, Roe is still eager for what’s next.

“You’ve got to look forward, man. I have great memories and I appreciate the history. I mean, that history is why I am here today and who I am today and all the relationships I’ve had, that’s helped make me who I am today, the love in those relationships and the tragedy in those relationships,” Roe says. “The only way you can look at life is for the next day, to be positive about your next step and about where you’re going. If I have another 10 or 15 years, I’ll be very fortunate. But I’m going to do as much as I can in those 10 or 15 years as I possibly can to the best of my ability.”

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