I tend to be a music freak. Particularly dead music.
So a story on the TAMI show caught my eye this weekend.
TAMI stood for Teenage Award Music International, and it was held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in winter 1964, when I was but a zygote.
It served as a sort of Lollapalooza before it became a label-driven shopping mall. The biggest stars of the country — The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Berry, The Supremes — all showed up for the two-day event.
Organizers knew it would be big — But not this big. Teens mobbed the auditorium, which was built more quiet country-folk celebs who would draw, in a good night, a concert with only rafter seating available. On the rarer occasion, it would sell out.
Not this TAMI. This was going to be different. More than a pre-Lollapalooza, this was more of a pre-Woodstock. Kids traveled across the country for the 60’s legends.
And egos traveled even further. When singers realized how big this could be (there was even going to be a documentary filmmaker in the audience, rare for a concert then), Stars began clashing over where they would be in the roster. Who would kick off? Who would conclude the first night. And the ultimate question: Who would conclude the concert.
While TAMI didn’t feature the Beatles, it did attract the ultimate anti-Beatle band, the Rolling Stone. Sexual, hard drinking and fond of chemical, they were emblematic of rebel times.
On the other was James Brown and the Flames. Huge in the black community, he was one of the early minority singers at the time who had captured the attention of American teenage girl, once thought only the province of rocking teenage boys. He, too, was sexual and fond of intoxicants.
But organizers didn’t see him as a breakthrough performer, even though he, more than the Stones, represented a nation going against the times. Look at today’s music, its stars, its movement, and try to mount a case that James Brown didn’t break mold; he reshaped it.
The two camps argue bitterly over who’s performance would be show’s finale. The organizers — perhaps reflecting on record sales, commercial viability, race, temperament, who knows? — chose the Stones. And it was a terrific performance.
In fact, TAMI was full of showmanship. The show was a huge success, and went on to set the template for multi-band shows. The documentary, kept for years on the shelf because of label contract disputes, wasn’t seen for nearly a half a century.
Which was probably good for the Stones. Years later in an interview, Keith Richards said following James Brown’s performance was the band’s single greatest career mistake.
To the undeniable power of dance.
And the inescapable fact that we white boys can’t do it.