Have you seen the Tams lately? You still can you know. In fact, you have your choice between two sets of Tams, both led by original members. There is Robert Lee Smith’s “The Original Tams with RL Smith,” and then there are the Tams led by Charles Pope. His brother Joe founded the group back in 1960.
They got together in Atlanta and named themselves after, that’s right, the tam o’shanter caps that they wore on stage. Two years later they had a hit for Arlen Records with a Joe South song called “Untie Me.” Follow ups didn’t get much action, but then in 1964 ABC Paramount released “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)” and secured the Tams a place in soul music history.
“What Kind of Fool” was written by Ray Whitley. It was the Tams most successful record, reaching #1 on the Cashbox R&B chart, and #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964. They had another hit, albeit a smaller one, later that year with “Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me.”
The Tams weren’t done yet however. Not by a long shot. For a start they had one more big hit in them, but it would take them four years to get it. “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” was released in 1968 and was a #26 record on the Billboard R&B chart.
What happened next is a somewhat familiar story by now, but it was a big surprise in 1971. In another case of an almost forgotten American group being revived by the UK’s Northern Soul movement, the Tams scored a #1 hit on the UK Singles Chart in September of that year with a reissue of “Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me.”
So that’s the end of the story of the Tams, right? Well not quite. In 1989 there was this little remembered film called “Shag” which celebrated the dance made famous on the Carolina coast. The Tams were in the right place at the right time with “There Ain’t Nothing Like Shaggin'” and the record hit the UK charts, ultimately reaching #21. Of course shaggin’ means something else entirely in the UK, and the BBC banned the record.
The Tams are still around to this day, tearing it up throughout the southeast in their two incarnations. The Charles Pope-led group even sang on a Jimmy Buffet album, and did some touring with him in the late ’90s. They are members of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the Beach Music Hall of Fame, and the Atlanta Hall of Fame. Long may they run.