“Here They Come!”
The T.A.M.I. Show
By Rev. Billy C. Wirtz
Each week Rev. Billy C. Wirtz tells us about artists, albums, and music that we need to know about.
The ad in the Washington Post promised that the “Teenage Music International” aka “The T.A.M.I. Show” was the featured flick at the Veirs Mill Theatre. The theater was in the heart of a community known as Veirs Mill Village. Also known as “Little West Virginia,” The Village was in fact less of a suburb and more like a transplanted Mountain Holler. Sixteen-year-old girls with beehive hairdos loudly bragged about “going all the way” with their boyfriends who sported tattoos, duck’s ass hair over their shirt collars, and white socks with roach-killer Beatle boots.
It was, in this world, at the Veirs Mill movie theatre, where my life would change.
At the Saturday matinee there weren’t too many other patrons in the theater, so I sat way up front, in the middle of the row. I fired up a ‘Boro (smoking being permitted in movie theaters back then, but not for twelve year olds) and cupped it. The lights dimmed, the curtain rolled up.
“Here they come, from all over the world,
Here they come, from all over the world”
As Jan and Dean sang the theme, the list of the acts appeared, followed by a montage of the performers getting ready.
0:41- Leslie Gore with that pageboy hairdo!
In the dark theater, my J. C. Penny’s corduroy slacks suddenly began to fit much more snugly…my pre-adolescent imagination began to whir/stir… Leslie Gore was my babysitter… my parents were calling to say they’d had a flat tire and, and… now Leslie Gore is combing her pageboy and saying that she would have to stay overnight… Now she’s looking at me and asking….”Billy, would you like to play doctor and…”
Never mind, sorry.
0:55 – It sounds like Jan and Dean are singing “You know the kids are screwin’.”??
1:12 – The Miracles are getting into a taxi.
2:35 – DeeDee (of Dick and) is talking with Billy J. Kramer.
2:56 – A very serious looking black man, with a huge ring, is combing the tallest hair I’ve ever seen! I think it’s the James Brown guy.
3:00 – A close-up of Diana Ross putting on her lipstick. “Geez-O-Flip!” (the eleven-year-old version of” Holy Freaking’ Christ on a Crutch!”). This is better than my uncle Sam’s Playboys.”
3:12 – The go-go dancers are rehearsing, there’s a real cute one in a black leotard top. Years later, I will find out that’s it was nineteen-year-old Terri Garr.
Here, watch for yourself:
The concert kicks off with Chuck Berry, backed by The Wrecking Crew, playing “Johnny B. Goode.”
The Wrecking Crew were legendary West Coast session musicians; on hand for the T.A.M.I Show were Leon Russell, Tommy Tedesco, Glen Campbell, and saxophone legend Plas Johnson.
Berry is followed by Gerry and The Pacemakers, who were (as noted by Animal House director John Landis) actually far more popular at the time than The Rolling Stones.
And then: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Smokey flat wears out “You Really Got a Hold On Me.” The best version, ever.
This is followed by “Mickey’s Monkey,” complete with jaw-dropping dance moves by Robinson and rest of the group. Look for Ms. Garr dancing in the striped shirt at the 5:12 mark.
On and on, it goes.
Marvin Gaye, the Beach Boys, The Supremes, Leslie Gore, The Barbarians, and then:
Jan and Dean (dressed in a fireman’s getup) introduce “A man, who has brought down houses from coast to coast, and border to border, James Brown and His Famous Flames.”
The band hits the opening riff to “Out of Sight.”
A spotlight lands on the stratospheric hair, houndstooth jacket, and patent leather boots.
For a few brief seconds, James does “Mashed Potatoes” and then hits the trademark skate/glide/baddest ass move in the world (you know what I mean), spins around, and grabs the microphone.
I’ll never, never, ever forget sitting all alone, in that dark theater, and thinking how totally cool/weird/scary he was.
I mean, this was 1964.
Sure, I’d seen The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, but this was a long way from “I Want to Hold Your Fuckin’ Hand.”
Know what I mean?
I don’t know any of the songs, but who cares, the music is the least of it. Look at that guy, what is the deal??
Those insanely wild dance moves, the patent leather boots, and now he’s screaming and falling on the floor,
8:04 – He’s on the knees again, pleading “Please, Please, Baby,” while somebody puts a cape around him and tries to get him off the stage. He’s lost it, gone over the edge, and this-is-the-coolest-thing-I-have-ever-seen!
9:06 – The close-up shot of him on his knees will reappear in later years on posters and in photo essays, as the essence of “soul.”
Again with the capes, a six-foot close-up of his hand held up to that contorted face, sweat pouring off the mile-high hair, now again, he’s talking to himself (or someone). Welcome to The Outer Limits. Eighteen minutes, three capes, and four splits later, it’s all over. Was it really all that?
Elvis used to rent out movie theaters and play it over and over, Prince kept it on a loop in his office, and every single friend I’ve ever played it for has been rendered speechless. On fifty-eight-year-old, bended artificial knee, I beg you, please, (please, please), take twenty minutes out of your life and watch it.
Now that you’ve recovered, keep in mind, the Rolling Stones had to follow that. As I’ve told you before, Keith Richards described it as the biggest mistake of their career. Actually, their segment is worth watching, to see Brian Jones and his Vox teardrop-shaped guitar.
Historians and writers have critiqued The T.A.M.I Show for a number of reasons. The long, sordid history of why it was kept from the public for so many years, the innovative camera techniques, and how it paved the way for everything from Woodstock to MTV videos. James Brown would point to that performance as the turning point in his career and, in 2006, the T.A.M.I. Show was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
“Where Have You Been, Billy Boy?”
On a fall day in Cocoa Beach, a thousand miles and nearly five long decades later, I close my eyes and still remember riding home on the bus, smiling, and trying to process what I’d just seen. At first, it seemed much like Veirs Mill Village itself, something strange and forbidden. But there was something more, something about, not just James Brown, but all of it. That day I fell in love in with Chuck Berry, The Stones, The Miracles, the clothes, the dancers, every bit of it.
Up until then, I had aspirations of becoming either a zoologist or a park ranger, but after The T.A.M.I. Show, my plans changed.
Rev. Billy C. Wirtz is a weekly columnist at BluesWax. Each week he finds artists, albums, and music that you should know about. He also plays piano. His radio show, Rev. Billy’s Rhythm Revival, is available in podcast. To hear the latest, go to Rev. Billy C. Wirtz’ page on Facebook and look for the link.
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