Born on 9 May 1942 in Atlanta, Georgia, Tommy Roe attended the Brown High School where he formed his first group, The Satins. He also started writing songs and was a mere fourteen-years-old when he penned Sheila.
Two years later he signed a recording contract with Judd Records, a local company. During 1960 Roe released the song as a single, but without national coverage it did not fare well. So he returned to his group and continued to play local gigs.
During this period he met DJ Paul Drew, who introduced him to Felton Jarvis – the record producer who would go on to work with Elvis Presley throughout the late 60s and the 70s.
Jarvis got Roe a recording deal with ABC Paramount, and Sheila was released (again) as his debut single in June 1962.
By this time, Roe had left school and worked for General Electric where he soldered wires for $70 per week. As his single climbed the US chart the singer was required to promote it. Roe was reluctant to do so as he didn’t want to lose his job at GE (where he was in line for a promotion). When ABC Paramount waved a $6,000 cheque in his direction, Tommy handed in his resignation . . .
Sheila soared to the top of the US chart, selling one million copies. In October 1962, HMV released it in Britain and it leapt to #2 there. Susie Darling was Roe’s follow-up in November, providing him with a Top 40 hit in both Britain and America.
To coincide with the singer’s first British tour (supporting The Beatles alongside Chris Montez) HMV released his version of Merle Kilgore’s The Folk Singer which hit #4 but was a poor seller in the States, barely reaching the Top 80.
A sluggish few months followed until Roe released Everybody. The single gave him another Top Ten hit in the UK and became his second million-seller in the US, peaking at #3.
Just as Roe’s career began to head skyward again he was drafted into the army.
When he was discharged in 1966 the music business had changed – the British had invaded America. And so he turned to Britain, embarking on a national tour there with acts like Cilla Black and PJ Proby.
During July 1966 he had his third US million-seller, Sweet Pea, but it wasn’t until June 1969 that he returned to the British charts with Dizzy. It became Roe’s biggest-selling single ever, replacing The Beatles‘ Get Back at the top of the UK chart.
By this stage Roe was living the high life in a Malibu mansion, but it brought him no joy – so he abandoned his career to return to Georgia, his home state.
His recording deal with ABC Paramount had expired so he was under no pressure to record, and he subsequently spent four years recording whenever he felt like it for the small Atlanta-based label, MGM South.
Three years later he returned to Los Angeles to record a pair of albums for Monument Records – Energy and Full Bloom. Neither were successful.
In later years, Roe’s career was confined to nightclubs and cabaret venues.