Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Notes from "The T.A.M.I. Show" Part 1

by Wayne Robins

My posse of pop culture thrill-seekers is still buzzing over the recent unearthing of “The T.A.M.I. Show” on PBS (WLIW/Channel 21 in the New York area). On a recent Saturday at 8 p.m., I called a friend as the program started. No hello from him, just: “I’ve got it on. You? OK. Bye.”
Shown briefly as a special event in movie theaters in 1964, the year it was made, “The T.A.M.I. Show” spent decades as a P.O.W. of performance rights dickering and was M.I.A. from video or DVD shelves. My understanding is that the show is culled from three performances over two nights at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The acronym stands for Teenage Music Awards International, and the idea behind it was to start an organization that would benefit music education. That didn’t happen. A conspiracy theorist might think that the real purpose was to block the British Invasion by showing that American talent: some Motown stars, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Lesley Gore and the Beach Boys—could outsing, outdance, and outplay the new breed from England, which included Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and the Rolling Stones. Just to make sure the U.S. came home with the gold, the still callow Rolling Stones had to close the show, following the already battle-trained James Brown and his Famous Flames.
But there were other fascinating subtexts. Imagine Chuck Berry, who had been released from prison months or possibly weeks before. Berry opens the show with “Maybellene,” which is then echoed right on stage by Gerry & the Pacemakers. My surprised conclusion: Gerry & the Pacemakers should have done more uptempo material: They acquitted themselves in this mini battle of the bands with beat club ease.
Berry also performs “Sweet Little Sixteen”; not too many minutes later, he probably thought one of those white groups was doing another one of his songs, when the Beach Boys performed “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Berry may never even heard the 1963 hit, based note-for-note on “Sixteen”: He was in the middle of his two year sentence for violation of the Mann Act, which were among the charges former New York governor Elliot Spitzer could have faced stemming from his out-of-state dalliance with a prostitute. Berry eventually sued and got co-writer credit for “Surfin’ U.S.A.”; it’s nice to think that “The T.A.M.I. Show” got that ball rolling.
We’ll return to “The T.A.M.I. Show” next posting.

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