Tommy Roe (Shiela) Makes Rare Appearance
November 26, 2015
By Steven Lieberman
Legendary 1960’s bubblegum rocker Tommy Roe, made a rare appearance recently at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts (CCPA) and came equipped with all the songs he wrote and sang that made him famous.
Songs like “Dizzy,” “Sheila,” “Hooray For Hazel,” “Sweet Pea,” among many other chart toppers.
This was a rare performance because Roe retired from touring years ago and it took his friend and now tour manager and bandmate, Rick Levy, to inspire him to go back on the road as a treat for all of his adoring fans.
And his fans are glad he did.
It was recently announced that Roe was awarded special honors in Nashville from the office of BMI for two million spins each of “Sheila” and “Dizzy” on the radio.
“That’s a plateau that isn’t reached by a lot of songwriters, so I’m very proud of that,” Roe said. “And even though it took a long time to get there, the way it was explained to me was very interesting. If you played the song every hour continuously for 12 years, that’s two million air plays.”
“I wrote the song when I was 14 years old, a poem about a little girl named Frieda I had a crush on in school,” Roe said. “It was: ‘sweet little Frieda, you know her if you see her, blue eyes and her ponytail.’ I auditioned for a record producer in Atlanta 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.”
Roe never had a chance to give Frieda the poem because she moved out of town.
“She doesn’t have a clue that she started the whole thing with me,” Roe said. “Whoever she is in the world, hopefully she’s okay and alive.”
And then came “Dizzy,” which was recorded a few years later.
When Roe first started out, he was considered a rockabilly artist and opened in 1964 for the Beatles in Washington DC, their first American concert. Right after, he went into the army and was in the army when the British Invasion started to happen.
“The Beatles were not the only act that was making it over here,” Roe said. “After the Beatles clicked, all of the British acts started hitting the billboard charts here in America, and they were pushing the American artists off the charts.”
While still in the service, he wondered how he was going to survive the onslaught of all these British acts. He realized that he could no longer do his original style because that’s what they were doing, so he had to come up with something different.
So that’s when he wrote “Sweet Pea” and called it ‘soft rock.’ Very simple, melodic, happy-go-lucky kind of songs. When he got out of the service, he recorded “Sweet Pea” and that started the trend for him which the DJ’s later on referred to him as the King of Bubblegum.
“At first, I was a little annoyed,” Roe said. “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 and accepted it. I think that’s how I survived and had hits during the 60’s, because I was able to change my style and I was doing something totally different than everybody else and writing my own material.”
Roe feels that if he hadn’t been able to write his own songs, he doesn’t think he could have endured. He kind of created a caricature of himself, the bubblegum artist, and the only other bubblegum artists were bands like the Archies and a few others.
“The Archies were like a cartoon group, it wasn’t really a group,” Roe said. “So I’m in there with the cartoons; I was kind of a cartoon character myself, but real.”
What also helped was that Roe’s audience was the same as the Beatles. And that he was also featured on Dick Clark’s shows “That’s Where the Action Is” and “Caravan of Stars.”
“Really, the Beatles early songs, they were bubblegum artists themselves,” Roe said. “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, the DJ’s tagged Roe with it in a negative way, kind of dismissing him with that tag. They could have done that with any of the earlier artists, because most of them did bubblegum music and sold to teenagers. That’s what they did.
And 50 years later, Roe is getting the last laugh.
Even the great Neil Sedaka was pushed out of the music business for about 15 years when the Beatles hit the scene.
“I managed to survive the 60’s and I’m still at it, and you can’t say that for all the artists,” Roe said. “A lot of them had a lot of problems going through the 60’s, so in that respect I did survive that.”
And the fans in attendance at the packed-house CCPA were definitely glad he survived. He lit up the stage just like it was still the 60’s.
For information about upcoming shows at the CCPA, go to: http://www.cerritoscenter.com/