Eyeballin: James Brown Cape-Walks Away With The T.A.M.I. Show

Often written about, mythologized, and showing up in clips on rock docs and YouTube, the 1964 concert movie The T.A.M.I. Show has amazingly never been released in uncut format until now. And though it was shot in black and white, the exuberance and energy of the concert overcomes any pigmentation problems.

The T.A.M.I. (or Teenage Awards Music International) show was shot live to tape on October 1964 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and shown on theatres across the country afterwards. The country was in the grip of Beatlemania, and the Fabs were just about the only group not represented in a dream lineup crossing all genres from rock (Chuck Berry), pop (Lesley Gore), soul (James Brown), Motown (The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye), British Invasion (The Rolling Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas), surf (Beach Boys, Jan & Dean), and even a nod to garage rock (The Barbarians, with one-handed drummer Moulty!).

All in all, there are 45 full or snippet song performances, including too many Top 40 hits to mention. More importantly, these are live performances with no lip-syncing and the non-bands are backed by the legendary L.A. session musicians the Wrecking Crew including Glen Campbell and Leon Russell. And then there are the dancers.

Almost every performer is augmented by a cadre of shaking, stirring, and frugging troupe of backup dancers (including a young and quite sexy Teri Garr), often garbed in little more than a bikini. And though their constant gyrations are somewhat distracting (both in a musical and, um, sexual way), their presence fits right in.

Of all the performers, one simply stands pompadoured head and shoulder about the rest: The one and only James Brown. His four-song set with the Famous Flames ("Out of Sight," "Prisoner of Love," "Please, Please, Please," and "Night Train") is not only the best performance of the show, many have suggested it's the best musical performance ever filmed.

Brown is a whirlwind of sweat, sex, pleading, screaming, good-foot dancing, and splits (plus three Danny Ray-led "cape walks"). He simply lights up the audience with such drive and vigor that it's no wonder the show's nominal "closer," the Stones, seem staid, weak, and derivative by comparison, Mick Jagger's occasional lame, Brown-like dance moves notwithstanding. It's no wonder that the panicky Stones at first refused to follow Brown, but ended up being contractually obliged to do so.

The T.A.M.I. organization was designed to be a nonprofit organization that would hold annual concerts and ceremonies and provide music scholarships. And while none of that ever came to pass, we still have this incredible and invaluable film, now looking and sounding better than ever.

Shout! Factory, 112 mins, $19.93.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero