The famous story goes that T.A.M.I. Show (Shout Factory) Executive Producer Bill Sargent wanted the Rolling Stones to close the show. The Stones, however, had seen James Brown’s act, and were not eager to follow him. Brown wasn’t too happy about the scheduling either, apparently promising to make the Stones sorry that they ever came to America. Sargent was insistent however, and the Stones did close the show. There were no casualties, and the T.A.M.I. Show went on to become one of the most legendary shows in the history of rock and roll.
Sargent had the original idea for the show. After serving as an engineer in the Navy, he helped to develop an electronic camera that had greater resolution than what was used for television in those days. He and his partner Joseph Bluth called their invention “Electronovision.” The idea was to film stage shows that could then be shown in movie theaters. They began by filming the 1964 Broadway production of “Hamlet,” starring Richard Burton. Sargent then had the idea to film a concert for theatrical release, and the T.A.M.I. Show was born.
The acronym stood for Teenage Awards Music International, and it was originally intended to be an annual event that would be broadcast on television to help raise funds for music scholarships to benefit teenagers. Unfortunately, none of that ever happened. What did happen, thankfully, was the one time only T.A.M.I. Show.
The show has been the subject of crappy bootlegs for many years, and many of them did not include the Beach Boys set following the band’s request that their performance be cut from each of the 2,200 film prints in circulation at the time. It’s hard to believe, but thanks to Shout Factory this marks the first time that the T.A.M.I. Show has had an official home video release. And yes, the Beach Boys are included. Director Steve Binder shot the black and white film in “Electronovision” (except for the opening sequence, which was shot in 16 mm), edited it on the spot, and then had it blown up to 35 mm for theatrical release. The audio was also mixed down on the fly, from four track to mono, by Lionel St. Peter.
Seven of the 12 artists who appear are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but keep in mind that this was years before there was such an institution. There were no FM rock stations, serious rock and roll magazines, or documentaries like Monterey Pop or Woodstock. As Don Waller points out in his excellent essay that appears in the accompanying booklet, Dylan had yet to go electric, and the Who and the Yardbirds had yet to make their first U.S. appearances. The interracial show took place just after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which survived a 57 day filibuster before passage.
The music presented is a perfect reflection of what was going on at the time. There is a rock and roll founding father Chuck Berry, and British Invasion stars Gerry and the Pacemakers, and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. There are the Motown acts; the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, and the Supremes, and southern soul represented by James Brown. There is California surf music from the Beach Boys, and hosts Jan and Dean, and pop from Lesley Gore (who, incidentally, may have actually been the biggest star of the show at that time). England’s newest hitmakers, the Rolling Stones, are on hand to wrap it all up. Garage rock progenitors the Barbarians are there too, and no one is really sure why. Oh, and there are the non-stop go-go dancers, choreographed by ’80s hitmaker Toni Basil, who include among their number a young Teri Garr,
The shows took place at the 3,000 seat Santa Monica Civic Center on October 28 and 29, 1964. The audience was made up primarily of students from nearby Santa Monica High School. In addition to the two concerts, a third show was filmed, without an audience, on the afternoon of the 29th. The footage of the final film, however, was all taken from the second night’s show. The performers didn’t really have anywhere to go during the film, so they mostly stayed in the building to watch each other’s performances. There is no doubt that a friendly rivalry helped to drive these performances to higher levels. Everyone wanted to look good in front of their contemporaries.
James Brown, determined to prove that he should have been the headliner, delivers a simply astonishing performance. The Stones, however, don’t wilt under the pressure, and manage to hold their own. The newly included Beach Boys footage is thrilling, if only for Brian Wilson’s beautiful falsetto on “Surfer Girl.” There is not a bad performance in the lot, though the sweaty, squirrely Billy J. Kramer is a bit of a chore, and the Barbarians are overmatched in terms of star power. Jan and Dean have to deliver a lot of cornball dialog, but when they stick to their music, they do fine. The Motown acts are all superb, and it’s particularly stirring to see the brilliant young Marvin Gaye. If you’ve never seen Chuck Berry in his prime, he is at his best here. Lesley Gore is the perfect pop princess from a time when vocal talent was the main criteria for that role.
Fourteen days after the concerts, the T.A.M.I. Show began appearing in local theaters. Eventually, the film got a national run, and did quite well for its distributor American International Pictures. Bill Sargent, having run out of money during the production and sold off his rights, went out of business after making a third and final “Electronovision” film. In 2006, the T.A.M.I. Show was entered into the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress.
The T.A.M.I. Show has been appearing on PBS recently. That’s fine if you’re willing to sit through the endless beg-a-thon segments, but what you will miss is the fascinating DVD commentary track provided by director Steve Binder and essayist Don Waller. Binder, it seems, was a part of nearly every major television production at the time, and has some great stories to tell, while Waller adds the crucial historical context. The T.A.M.I. Show is here at last, and the years have done nothing to dull its luster.
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