Tommy James’ ‘Crystal Blue’ Conversion

By   •   September 4, 2011

This week, BGEA’s long-running Hour of Decision radio program features an interview with 1960s music star Tommy James. We sat in on the interview and learned more about his unusual story.

Tommy James was so close to the television set that night in his apartment, he almost burned the retinas in his eyes.

The rock star, famous for hits like “Mony, Mony,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” was watching the Billy Graham Crusade at Shea Stadium from his Midtown Manhattan apartment for the third consecutive night.

The Holy Spirit had been knocking on James’ heart and when that invitation came on that summer night over 40 years ago, he felt this overwhelming urge to get as close as possible to the TV set.

“I’ll never forget it,” James recalls. “I was putting my nose up to the screen and my hand on the screen. I received Jesus that night and was born again.”

For James, it was a night that’s forever seared into his brain. He was starting to make it big with his band “Tommy James and the Shondells” and would eventually sell more than 100 million records.

But at that moment, James knew he was a changed man and he’s never forgotten it.

“That was the night I was born again,” he said, “and thank God He never let go of me.”

It wouldn’t be so easy for James to shake the drugs and alcohol he was hooked on. Even though his entire band found the Lord around the same time he was saved, James split off from the Shondells to pursue a solo career. (He remains “best friends” with the band members to this day).

And while the substances changed throughout the years, it wasn’t until 1986 when James was at the Betty Ford Cliic that he finally broke clean of his addictions.

“I had a real revelation at the Betty Ford Clinic,” he said. “I opened my Bible and asked God to speak to me wherever the page ended up. I knew God would talk to me.”

So like he had done many times before, James took the Bible, randomly opened to a page — Psalm 32 — and, sure enough, God started speaking to him.

“It’s a conversation between David and God, and essentially it says don’t make me treat you like a wild donkey,” James said. “It really went right to my heart. I knew God was speaking to me through that. It changed my life in a very real way.”

James credits being clean for a quarter of a century to the Lord, and he has been intentional about sharing his faith, using the musical platform to tell others about his hope in Christ.

He tells his fans after performing “Sweet Cherry Wine” to keep looking up because Jesus is coming. After the show, during autograph sessions, he’ll sometimes share how “Sweet Cherry Wine” is about the blood of Jesus and “Crystal Blue Persuasion” is about his own conversion to Christianity, with the imagery coming from the Book of Revelation.

“I don’t get preachy,” James said. “I just say that little thing (during the concert) and you wouldn’t believe how many people after the show come up and talk about Jesus.”

In 2010, James released the book “Me, The Music and The Mob,” which delved into the never-before-told story about Roulette Records.

“It was a very scary experience,” James said. “I’m so blessed to have the longevity and to be able to do this for all these years.”

James continues to tour and tell whoever will listen that Jesus’ return is soon and, frankly, you’d better be ready.

“You’d have to be living in a fantasyland not to connect Bible prophecy with the news and what’s on TV and in the papers every day,” he said. “I am just so excited at this point. It’s clear Jesus is coming back soon.”

And in the meantime, while he’s flipping through channels at his home in New York, James will occasionally come across classic Billy Graham Crusade footage.

His hand will freeze, if only for a moment. He zeroes in on Mr. Graham’s sermon and listens for the invitation, which takes him all the way back to his “Crystal Blue” conversion.

“They’ll have Crusades on from 1962, 1958, 1975,” he said. “And you know, it’s so amazing, as Billy Graham ages, the message is always the same and it hits you exactly the same way. It’s the consistency of Jesus.”

And that song?

He can’t help but think of laying hands on his TV. His eyes red, nearly burning.

And giving his life to the Lord — just as he was.

“It’s like a time machine,” James said. “Every time I hear that song, “Just as I am,” I feel like I’m home again. I love that song.”

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  1. Aquino Chua says:

    Tommy thank God your saved in Jesus. Your brethren here in the Philippines Pastor Aquino Chua.I am looking forward to have a conversation with you. God bless you

  2. Joey says:

    Wow, Crystal Blue Persuasion was about Jesus, all this time. What a blessing to find this out.

  3. Carole says:

    God's always surprising me, Tommy James was a favorite when I was a teen… loved the music; but, its such a blessing to know he's a believer. I checked the lyrics and was thrilled. God bless this ministry; thank You Jesus for all You do~

  4. James says:

    Thank you Tommy James for all the great music and for listening to GOD via brother Billy Graham, So that you could make it to the other side and you too could be (instrumental) in bringing other people to our LORD and SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. I had the privilege of being at a Billy Graham cusade in my hometown of B.R. La. in 1971 with our UMYF group. I was 15 and just starting to get into drinking and drugging. When the altar call came that night I felt compelled to go, but I just could not go forward, I was afraid to commit. Now 54 after 40 years of drinking and drugging, my GOD and my LORD and SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST have always been there. They pulled me out of many of jails, ditches and deep dark holes tha I dug myself into. I am doing way way better now thanks to GOD and JESUS and a great, blessed and serving church at Healing Place in B.R., La. Thank you FATHER and thank you JESUS. May GOD keep his loving healing hands of protection around you all and bless you all. In YOUR SON JESUS CHRIST most loving and precious name AMEN AMEN.

  5. Marc says:

    Tommy James and the Shondells came to play at my high school in Vincennes, Indiana in 68 or 69. I loved seeing them at the time they were making their hits. (Loved “Crimson and Clover”) So glad to hear that TJ and the whole band got saved! Praise Jesus!

  6. Shelly says:

    This is sooo cool to read about! I was a hippie back then, and really didn't think the song was anything but a good trip. In 1980 I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, and have always hoped that more from that generation would finally realize what real Truth and Love is all about. Fantastic, Tommy! And thank you Billy Graham for being true to the Gospel all these years!

  7. Paul says:

    I was always lead to the song Crystal Blue Persuassion I have it in my car always and loved that song, but, really didnt know it was wrote for salvation and no wonder I was lead to it! Thanks Tommy James you was lead to Christ and thanks for that beautiful song. I will play it now for a even newer meaning! Isn't God Great!

  8. Jane says:

    Thank you Jesus! I saw Tommy James perform at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo back in 1971.

  9. Maggie says:

    What an incredible testimony for the Lord!!

  10. debi says:

    You must visit the Billy Graham Library in N.C. it will mean soooooooooo much to you… :}