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Meet Tommy Tutone

Tommy Tutone, 1980 vinyl album cover (Craig Allen photo).
Tommy Tutone, 1980 vinyl album cover (Craig Allen photo).

Back in the 1980’s, Tommy Tutone gave us one of the most famous phone numbers* in rock ‘n’ roll history!

867-5309/Jenny!

People still dial it to this day, asking for Jenny as a prank!

1980 album back cover: Tommy Heath, Jim Keller, Terry Nails, Micky Shine. (Craig Allen photo).
1980 album back cover: Tommy Heath, Jim Keller, Terry Nails, Micky Shine. (Craig Allen photo).

Tommy Tutone is an ’80s pop band, and although it is usually referred to as coming from San Francisco, it was actually based in Willits California.

Contrary to popular belief, Tommy Tutone is the not the name of the lead singer.

There is no (person) Tommy Tutone!

Tommy Heath is the lead singer. The name of the band is shortened from its original name, Tommy and the Tu-tones.

Tommy Heath and Jim Keller founded the band in 1978, with Heath as the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist. Tommy Heath also played keyboards on occasion. Keller played lead guitar, and sang supporting vocals.

Over the years, the lineup of the rest of the band Tommy Tutone has changed many times!

Just looking at the revolving personnel list can cause a person’s head to explode!

But, it is interesting to note that current bass guitarist/vocalist Jimmy James was “raised in the Garden State,” So, there is (now) a Jersey connection to the band…

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867-5309/Jenny was a BIG hit, landing at #4 on the US Top-40 charts in 1982.

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Above: Check out the band, performing LIVE, on “Fridays,” an SNL knockoff, in 1983!

Back to the now-famous number:

Usually, when a phone number is needed for a movie or TV show, they use a fake one, starting with 555, which doesn’t exist in the real world…NOT this time…

Songwriter Alex Call says that he came up with the number, while sitting in his yard…

“There was no Jenny. I don’t know where the number came from, I was just trying to write a 4-chord rock song and it just kind of came out.

This was back in 1981 when I wrote it, and I…made a tape of it. I had the guitar lick, I had the name and number, but I didn’t know what the song was about.

This buddy of mine, Jim Keller, who’s the co-writer, was the lead guitar player in ‘Tommy Tutone.’ He stopped by that afternoon and he said, ‘Al, it’s a girl’s number on a bathroom wall,’ and we had a good laugh!

I said, ‘That’s exactly right, that’s exactly what it is.’

I had the thing recorded. I had the name and number, and they were in the same spots, ‘Jenny… 867-5309.’ I had all that going, but I had a blind spot in the creative process, I didn’t realize it would be a girl’s number on a bathroom wall.

When Jim showed up, we wrote the verses in 15 or 20 minutes, they were just obvious.

It was just a fun thing, we never thought it would get cut.”

Tommy Heath adds that, over the years, because the number is REAL, several people threatened to sue the band!

As it turns out, 867-5309 was the personal number of the daughter of the Buffalo (N.Y.) Chief of Police, back in the day!

That’s a new one to me… I remember hearing Casey Kasem tell the story on “American Top-40″ in 1982, of how a Chicago rock station purchased the famous digits from an area grandmother who was tired of being pranked…and then used the famous (and easy to remember) number for their station contest line!

Call adds: “I think a high school in Peduca or Louisville, or somewhere in Kentucky had the number, and they got 50,000 calls in a week – ‘Is Jenny there?”

In 1999, Brown University put in a campus exchange of “867.” The number 867-5309 went to two freshman girls, who got about five prank calls a day.

One more, from the 80’s sitcom “Cheers”:  During the the men’s restroom scene in the 1982 “Coach Returns to Action” episode, graffiti can be seen on the wall near the door… “For a good time call Diane Chambers,” and offers the 867-5309!

On the band’s official website, Heath says that even if fans can’t get all the numbers right, they call the hit song their “personal anthem for the 80’s.”

"Angel Say No" on my turntable! (Craig Allen photo).
“Angel Say No” on my turntable! (Craig Allen photo).

Although Tommy Tutone  is frequently remembered as a so-called “one-hit-wonder,”  the band already had another hit (#38) on the Hot 100 charts…

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“Angel Say No” from 1980.

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Above: Early LIVE footage of “Angel Say No” as performed in 1979….

BOTH hit records have appeared on numerous 1980’s compilation CDs over the years!

Life after “Jenny?”

Tommy Heath became a computer analyst and moved to Oregon, where he worked for a startup computer company. Eventually, he returned to California.

In 2007, the band signed a recording contract with Spectra Records. In 2009, Tommy played Nashville. In 2010, Tommy relocated to Tennessee.

And while he still makes his living as a computer analyst, Heath is working on new music, and tours with the band!

Jim Keller went on to become the director of musician Philip Glass’s publishing company. He still performs in New York City.

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“Drop a dime,” and enjoy Tommy Tutone, and their biggest hit, on New Jersey 101.5!

*(Another famous number: Beechwood 4-5789, by  Mavelettes #17/1962 & Carpenters #74/1982)

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