James Brown at the T.A.M.I. Show

>> Wednesday, February 09, 2011

I'll try to keep it short. Here's what happened:

Back in the late 1950s, early 1960s, a guy named Bill Sargent was trying to market a video process called Electronovision which shot video at 800 lines. Which, yes, is high definition video (HD can be defined as 720 lines). There's a little bit of dispute over whether Sargent invented the process (as has been claimed in the past) or was just re-branding some existing tech (see the Wikipedia article linked in the first sentence). Either way, the relevant thing is that to sell the process, he needed productions and investors to fund those projects.

What Sargent really wanted to do was Shakespeare, but the shortcut to raking in the money, it seemed to him, was to cash in on this "rock" thing all the kids were into while it was still hot. So he and his partners drummed up this idea for a "teenage music" show, which would become an annual thing to be aired live in movie theatres over Electronovision displays and syndicated if they could get a network deal to do it; also, part of the gimmick would be that the teens could vote on their favorite acts--using punchcards.

The whole thing was way before its time: high-def simulcast over cable participatory television--a few decades later, MTV and other cable channels would have this down, get your parents' permission before you call, etc. So it's no surprise that the T.A.M.I. Show, as it ended up being called (and nobody could agree whether that was "Teen Awards Music International" or "Teen-Age Music International" or what) went off one time, lost money, was sold to another company that did a lo-def version, then vanished entirely. (And, meanwhile, Sargent's company never got to do all those Shakespeare movies they wanted to produce that T.A.M.I. was supposed to pay for.)

But that's not what this post was about. This is actually just a music video post, I just like explaining this stuff. And I'm not quite done.

So, anyway, the producers of the T.A.M.I. show were booking acts, and one of the acts they approached was Mr. James Brown, the greatest soul singer on Earth at the time and maybe ever. And James Brown agreed to go on their show, naturally assuming he'd be closing.

Well, no, the producers had another act in mind. They wanted James Brown to go on next to last. There were these guys from England the producers had heard would be the next big thing and all the kids liked shaggy-haired Brits, couldn't get enough of 'em, it seemed.

Now, a lot of acts these days would have walked at that point. But you don't become the hardest-working man in show business by throwing tantrums. What Brown said, and this is apparently very close to a direct quote so I'm treating it as such, was fine, he'd give up his rightful place at the end of the night "But I'm going to make the Rolling Stones wish they never came to America."

The Stones, to their credit, apparently pissed their pants when they heard what was happening, and contacted the booking agent to beg for a slot anywhere in the show that wasn't following James Brown.

They were denied.

This is part of what they had to follow (I wish the video wasn't clipped, but it is what it is):

I posted part of the Stones' performance last year. The Stones acquitted themselves well--the T.A.M.I. Show was one of their very first performances in the United States (I don't recall whether this was before or after they went on Sullivan, but it was in the ballpark). They even managed to stop looking quite so scared shitless before they finished their set. And I'm not being critical, there: any sane musician would be scared shitless if they had to follow James Brown, at the height of his James Brown-ness, James Brown having decided and announced before the show he was going to blow you off the stage. It's a testament to the Stones' fortitude that they showed up, really. The Rock Gods know I would have been in the nearest bar getting hammered and screw any contractual penalties.

The story apparently had a bit of a happy ending: Brown congratulated the boys after the show and ended up inviting them to his next concert, front row, and if I remember rightly, he even invited them up on stage with him that night. So good on them.

And as for Brown at T.A.M.I.: is he made of rubber? How does he do that? The man wasn't godlike, he was a god. And The Flames, his backing band--a well-oiled machine operating in perfect sync. Damn.

The T.A.M.I. Show, by the way, finally came out last year on DVD, remastered and restored (the Beach Boys' performance had been excised, and a prior VHS release mixed in a bunch of inferior clips from the unfortunate sequel). If you don't own it and love pop music, it's a must-have: in addition to The Stones, James Brown and the Beach Boys, performers at the original T.A.M.I. include Leslie Gore (at the time the second-biggest act in America after The Beatles), Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Miracles, Chuck Berry, Gerry And The Pacemakers and more. And because it was an early hi-def format, the restored DVD looks and sounds good, a lot better than a lot of concert footage from the era that was shot on video or low-end film. It's worth at least a rental--no, it's worth an own.


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