Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: The T.A.M.I. Show

One time I saw James Brown play in a theater.  It was the kind of place that has a U-shaped corridor between the doors into the theater and the seating area.  You buy your tickets and enter the theater, walk through the corridor and find the door that opens into the part of the theater where your seats are located, and then enter the seating area, find your seat and sit down.  After we had been sitting for awhile waiting for the show to start we heard this ghostly sax coming from somewhere else in the building.  We thought it was the band starting to warm up but it was only one sax and it didn’t sound like it was coming from behind the curtains.  As the sax continued to play more and more people in the audience heard it and quieted down.  Soon everyone was quiet and it became clear that the doors to the theater from the corridor had been closed and the sax player was walking back and forth through the corridor.

Once the audience had completely settled down one of the doors from the corridor was opened and the sax player, who was Maceo Parker, stepped into the room while he continued to play.  By this time he had been playing for awhile and the motherfucker was wailing.  The door opened, Maceo’s sax burst forth and the audience exploded which drove Maceo to new heights.  For the next ten minutes or so he walked through the audience, playing alone and on fire.  He tore the place up and as good as James Brown was,  Maceo had upstaged him.

Upstaging James Brown is no small thing.  Brown played at the T.A.M.I. show in 1964.  He didn’t have Maceo Parker to deal with but he faced an even greater challenge from the other acts on the bill.

The T.A.M.I. Show is a film of the concert which took place over two nights in late October 1964.  Free tickets were distributed to local high school students and the best bits from the two shows were combined in the film.  The acts ranged from The Barbarians, basically a novelty act featuring a one-armed drummer who played with a prosthetic limb, to the Rolling Stones who headlined and closed the show.  Jan & Dean were the emcees and they performed “Here They Come (From All Over the World)”.  Jack  Nitzsche was the music director who led the house band which included Glenn Campbell on guitar and Leon Russell on piano.  All of the music was performed live.

In order of appearance, the bands and groups were Chuck Berry, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Leslie Gore, Jan & Dean, The Beach Boys, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, The Supremes, The Barbarians, James Brown and the Famous Flames and the Rolling Stones.  Think about that line up for a minute.  James Brown wasn’t likely to have too much trouble with the Barbarians, Leslie Gore or Jan & Dean.  But Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones on the same bill?  Are you kidding me?

The concert took place relatively early in the careers of some of these artists.  The Miracles weren’t yet Smokey Robinson and the Miracles although watching their electric performance you can see and hear why they soon would be.  The Supremes were not yet Diana Ross and the Supremes even though they performed their two current back-to-back #1 hits “Baby Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go?”.  The Rolling Stones still had Brian Jones in the lineup, Keith Richards was the pretty one, and “Satisfaction” hadn’t happened yet.  Their big numbers were “Time Is On My Side” and “It’s All Over Now”.  On the one hand, maybe these groups hadn’t realized the full extent of their powers, on the other they had to work the audience to make it on performance alone, not reputation and inflatable stage props.  These are the performances that made them what they become.

The Beach Boys performance which had been removed from previously released versions of the film after its initial run in theaters is restored in this new DVD version.  Almost all of the performances are terrific.  This was a special event that was designed from the ground up to be released as a feature film.  The bands approached it as just what it was intended to be, a marketing tool which could have very positive and very lucrative consequences.  They wanted to shine and they had to do it sharing the stage with some of the most accomplished performers of the day.  They had to bring their A game and they had to bring it live.  They did.  The show is tremendous.

So what about James Brown?  The Stones had the choice spot closing the show but Brown came on right before them.  Could he outshine the likes of Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Beach Boys?  Could he put on a performance which the audience would still remember once the Stones took the stage?

It was no contest.  James Brown owned.  He owned the Stones, he owned the Supremes, he owned all the other groups, he owned their entourages, he owned their mothers, lovers and pets.  In later interviews Keith Richards would say that following James Brown at the T.A.M.I. show was the single biggest mistake of their careers.  No matter how well they performed, they had no chance.  If you’ve ever wondered why James Brown was called “the hardest working man in show business”, watch this movie.  His performance alone is worth the price of the film.  And he puts this on with only a short spot to work with.  Imagine what it would be like after an hour’s show where he left 10 lbs of sweat on the stage before he got to what you see in the T.A.M.I. show.

If you like the music from this period, see this movie.  It’s great.

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06/20/2010 - Posted by | DVD reviews, film reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , , ,

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