Ed Gray found success as lead guitarist for the hitmaking '60s pop group Tommy James and the Shondells.
Born Feb. 27, 1948, in Scottdale, Pa., Gray joined the Shondells in 1965, in Pittsburgh, where Michigan-based James had moved the band when a local DJ picked up his song "Hanky Panky." James had recorded the tune two years earlier with the short-lived original Shondells lineup.
When James formed the new version of the band in 1965, it featured bassist Mike Vale, drummer Peter Lucia and organist Ronnie Rosman in addition to Gray.
The following year, "Hanky Panky" received national distribution and topped the Billboard Hot 100. The Shondells then issued their first LP, named after their hit single, and had two more top-40 hits with "What I Am" and "It's Only Love."
In 1967 the Shondells had a top-five smash with "I Think We're Alone Now," which teen pop queen Tiffany later turned into a hit in the '80s. The year brought several hits for the group, including "Mirage," "I Like the Way," "Gettin' Together" and "Out of the Blue."
The following year, the Shondells toughened their shimmering, jaunty, light-pop sound considerably. They had a #3 smash with the rocking "Mony Mony," which James named after a sign bearing the financial institution Mutual of New York's initials. The song marked the Shondells' breakthrough in the UK, where it hit #1. Also in 1968, the Shondells performed at rallies for many Democratic political candidates.
For single release, the Shondells shortened the title cut to their 1969 album. The track, "Crimson and Clover" (RealAudio excerpt), topped the Billboard Hot 100 and became the band's biggest hit (Joan Jett went on to hit #7 with the song in 1982). It also typified the album's embrace of psychedelic rock. The LP, featuring liner notes by Democratic Presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey, yielded the top-10 "Sweet Cherry Wine" and the #2 smash "Crystal Blue Persuasion."
After a few more hits, the Shondells enjoyed a best-selling LP in 1970 with The Best of Tommy James and the Shondells. While touring that year in Alabama, James collapsed onstage. He soon disbanded the group, though Gray and the others kept touring and recorded one LP under the name Hog Heaven.
While James had a briefly successful solo career in the early '70s, Hog Heaven floundered and split. Gray spent time at his self-built recording studio in Pennsylvania. Although James has continued to tour, singing his Shondells hits, Gray did not participate in the singer's brief, sporadic impromptu reunions with some bandmembers in the past few decades.
In 1987 the U.S. and UK pop charts had something of a Shondells renaissance: Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" was bumped off the top of the Billboard Hot 100 by Billy Idol's take on "Mony Mony." In Britain, the tracks had similar success. Two years later, Rhino Records issued the Shondells' Anthology.
Other birthdays on Sunday: Robert Lee "Bobby" Balderrama (? and the Mysterians), 50; Neal Schon (Journey, Santana, Bad English), 46; Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden), 43; Johnny Van Zant (Lynyrd Skynyrd), 41; Paul Humphreys (OMD), 40; Mike Cross (Sponge), 35; Ewen Vernal (Deacon Blue), 35; Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas (TLC), 29; Roderick Demon "Pooh" Clark (Hi-Five), 27; and Bobby Wilson (Mista), 20.