Tommy Sands Interview
At the age of nine, Tommy Sands was singing. By the time he was 17, he had his first hit record, 'Teenage Crush." From being a teen idol to an actor, Tommy Sands has done it all.
Q. Tommy, you were once referred to as "One of the more talented of the Presley imitators." Were you, in anyway trying to imitate Elvis?
A. I think there might have been a subconscious influence there, because I liked him so much. I can say that honestly now without any loss of dignity. When I met him, I was so young, and he influenced me so much, just as James Dean did as an actor. There were little pieces of Dean and Elvis in what I did, and that's quite normal. But, the people who managed me did a whole lot to take almost all of Elvis out of me, because they were much more conscious of it then me. They took away the guitar from early on. I never again after "The Singing Idol" appeared with a guitar that I remember. They had me cut my sideburns, cut my hair. It was a conscious attempt on their part to make me totally different. If I would've had my own way, I would have been even more identifiable as an imitator because I liked him so much.
Q. You told one interviewer you had some "unfulfilled dreams." What did you want to do that you didn't?
A. Well, right from the beginning an unfulfilled dream would have been to have been a serious actor. That's originally what I wanted to do. It never materialized. I got very lucky with the singing, early. I didn't realize it at the time, because I was a neophyte to Hollywood and business internationally. But, people get a first impression of you and it's very difficult to change their minds then, not only the producers, but the public. And so, they saw me the first time in one way, and it was difficult then to ever break out of that mold. I never did a very serious meaningful film.
Q. You had four good years before you hit a downward spiral in your career, at the age of 20. That's an age when most people are just getting started. That must be very difficult to accept. How did you handle that?
A. It was very difficult. Its difficult today in retrospect. What you find is you're constantly trying to achieve a high point in your life that was reached before you were really 21. Everything else from that point on was down. I was a millionaire before I was 21. I was a star of films before I was 21.I was an idol before I was 21. You can't ever hope to have those things again. Maybe you'll have different things. It's pretty difficult to have that kind of thing again, unless it continues, which it didn't.
Q. So many of the performers from the 50's and 60's were ripped off by managers and record companies. Since you were a beach bum at one time, you probably saved your money.
A. No I didn't really. I just didn't care about money, and I had blown it all on my marriage. When I went into the marriage, we all thought, my business people and my brother, who was my direct business manager, but without any control, actually it was my own fault, we all thought I was set for life, because I was very wealthy. I blew it all in that first marriage. And so, when I left her, I didn't care about money. I was trying to sort out what I wanted to do that I wasn't doing, that would make me get back on track. I knew I had lost my dream somewhere along the way and I didn't know how to pick it up or find it again. So, I went to Hawaii and I didn't care about money. I lived on the beaches and bummed around for several years. Then I worked on and off, whenever I needed some money. It was always very small compared to my initial money.
Q. Prior to the British Invasion of 1964, did you know the music was about to change?
A. Yeah, I had an inkling. But, it was coming not from England, but from the person I think was second to Elvis that really motivated the people in Europe, specifically The Beatles and The Stones, but generally speaking, changed everything and that was — Bob Dylan. I had become a fan of his by working on a talk show with him somewhere about that time. I knew he was on to something because I liked him so much. I just felt it. Although he wasn't as commercial as his ideas or whole lifestyle was, that someone or something was gonna come about. Change was in the air, and it was happening all around us. He was the vanguard of it all. And, it happened. They came. And, he had been influencing them on his tours from the early 60's. The people who had been looking to America and first looked to us through our black music, then looked to us through Elvis. Then he came over there with his new ideas and his freedom. His whole trip was just right for the time. He's the precursor of social consciousness among the music scene and the music people. You wouldn't have U2 today writing what they write. It was facilitated for them by Bob Dylan being the first.
Q. As you listen to today's music and look at today's fashions in music, do you ever get the feeling that this has all been done before?
A. I have never really thought about that because I see something new in everything. Even if it's exactly the same, it's done with a new slant. It's done with a new person, and they give it their own personality and so it comes out looking a little bit different. I know what you're getting at. You could just as easily say there's nothing new too. I just had never really thought that.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved