There’s a lyric in The Police song, “When The World Is Running Down” that I didn’t understand when I first heard it. It sound like Sting sang, “James Brown on Tammy’s show.” I did some research and discovered that the line was actually “James Brown on The TAMI Show,” a reference to a legendary filmed performance from 1964. Unfortunately, there were no DVDs and no Netflix and no internet in 1980, so for the next three decades I’d been frustrated that I couldn’t see the performance The Police had referred to — until this weekend, when we finally got a copy and enjoyed it so much I’ve added it to my Movies You Might Not Know list.
“The TAMI Show” was a pair of designed-for-the-cameras concerts in late October, 1964, less than 9 months after The Beatles’ debut on Ed Sullivan, when rock and roll was on the mind of every American teen, and businesses were trying to figure out how to make money off this young demographic.
The promoters put together a stellar lineup that included Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Jan and Dean (who served as emcees), Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and the hottest female vocalist of the year, Lesley Gore. The house band supporting most of the acts was The Wrecking Crew, the group of LA studio musicians I wrote about here. There’s also a troupe of go-go dancers that included Teri Garr and choreographer Toni Basil (“Hey, Mickey!”) and a crowd of frenzied teenagers screaming their heads off (free tickets were given to students at local high schools).
The concerts were quickly edited and distributed to movie theaters at the end of December, 1964, where they had a brief run and then weren’t seen again (except for bootlegs) for more than 40 years, until Shout Factory acquired the rights and released “The TAMI Show” on DVD in 2010.
The show closed with the Rolling Stones, who were just starting to break into the US market, but they were overshadowed by the act that preceded them: James Brown. Keith Richards later said that agreeing to follow Brown was the biggest mistake the Stones made in their careers. Search YouTube for some clips and you’ll find ample evidence supporting that argument — Brown doing things onstage that no one else was doing, from the outrageous dance moves to the cape-on-the-back and every crowd-pleasing trick in his book, backed up by his own band of musicians (arguably were the greatest funk group ever). Towards the end, even the members of the Wrecking Crew, as well as the onstage dancers, couldn’t help but applaud in amazement at what they’ve just seen Brown do.