Tommy Roe

Whirling with Tommy Roe

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Whirling With Tommy Roe on the Diplomat label is a collection of six sides by the 1960s pop singer placed in combination with Italian vocalist Al Tornello, who sounds like Lou Monte emulating Al Martino by way of Dean Martin. The album starts off with "O' Marie," which is as off base as putting bluegrass on a disc featuring a pretty cool artist's rendition of Tommy Roe as the sole picture on the LP cover. The great early rendition of the eventual hit, "Sheila," doesn't have the rolling Buddy Holly drums of the number one hit version from August 1962, but Holly's influence permeates nonetheless. Keep in mind that Diplomat Records, with the slogan "Fine Records Need Not Be Expensive," had a catalog featuring titles like Enzo Stuarti Sings Mario Lanza, Al Jolson Sung by Norman Brooks, The Not So Gay 90s, 27 Saloon Songs, etc. with no one at the Newark, NJ, company having the smarts to seek out Brian Hyland or Tab Hunter outtakes or even music from Joey Stec of Bill Haley & His Comets. Tornello singing to the big band sounds of "On the Road to Mandalay" before Roe fans get to hear early titles like "Pretty Girl," "Caveman," and "Foreman" is ridiculous, but it makes him look and sound that much better. In fact, Roe sounds great on the early singles collected here -- from the garage guitar and vocal on "I Got a Girl" to a "Donna"-ish Ritchie Valens ballad style on "The Room" -- even the somewhat silly "Cave Man" is twangy, pop fun. A search on Internet newsgroups brings up Tornello's name in conversations mostly in Italian. It is his appearance on this disc which gets his only discussion in English speaking groups, mostly chatting about Roe or postings for copies of this somewhat rare disc for sale. Essays on those groups list the original labels and release dates of these sides: "Caveman"/"I Got a Girl" on Trumpet Records (45 rpm #1401) circa 1959 with a picture-sleeve version of that same release on Mark IV dated March 1960. It seems Judd Records also put out this title in May 1960 followed by the early "Sheila" b/w "Pretty Girl" on that same label in October 1960. It also appears Crown Records released an album similar to Whirling With Tommy Roe, which included five Bobby Lee songs filling out the disc rather than Tornello's music. Tommy Roe and Bobby Lee (Crown CST 323) might be more appealing than hearing Tornello croon "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" after the cool harmonica sounds on the bluesy "Fore Man" by Roe. Tommy Roe's early music has something to it, and this strange compilation keeps surfacing at record shows and on the Web. Any 60s album featuring one hit song, even if not the hit version, was a bargain, and the inclusion of the early "Sheila" makes even this budget product worthwhile.