‘The T.A.M.I. Show’: The Classic 1964 Concert Film That Pitted James Brown vs. the Rolling Stones

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Original 1964 advertisement for The T.A.M.I. Show film

One of the most heralded rock events ever captured on film, the 1964 concert known as The T.A.M.I. Show [Teenage Awards Music International], filmed in black and white in Southern California by director Steve Binder, presented a lineup like no other: the Rolling Stones, James Brown, the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, the Miracles, the Supremes, Chuck Berry, Lesley Gore and others. The artists rehearsed and filmed over two days and nights on October 29 and 30 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. David Winters and Toni Basil served as choreographers.

Aside from the self-contained rock groups (which also included British Invasion stars Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, plus the American band the Barbarians), all of the performers were backed by a band assembled by musical director Jack Nitzsche. The band included several members of the fabled L.A. session team the Wrecking Crew: Hal Blaine, Glen Campbell, Tommy Tedesco, Don Peake, Barney Kessel and Leon Russell, along with singers Fanita James, Jean King and Darlene Love, billed as the Blossoms, who provided backing vocals.

In my 2021 book, Docs That Rock, Music That Matters, I discussed The T.A.M.I Show with several people who were involved.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at the T.A.M.I. Show in 1964

“I met the Stones in 1964,” Jack Nitzsche told me in a 1988 interview. “[Stones manager/producer] Andrew Loog Oldham called me up. He and the group had met Phil Spector and Andrew and the Stones wanted to meet me. Brian Jones was in a three- piece suit and tie. It was at RCA studios and I was working with Edna Wright, Darlene Love’s sister. A little later, the Stones started working at RCA.

“I got them into the T.A.M.I. Show. I put the band together and did all the arrangements. I was the musical director. I had told the producer, Bill Sargent, The Stones were going to be big. I felt the Stones could close the show.

“Bill said, ‘James Brown is going to close the show.’ We all stood at the side of the stage watching James Brown do his act. People were standing and screaming for James. (Legend has it that Brown told the Stones, ‘You’ll never be able to follow this.’). Then the Stones came out and all the girls started crying. It was a whole new emotion!”

James Brown in The T.A.M.I. Show

“In a stunningly monochromatic case of Life imitating Art imitating Pop and Soul, The T.A.M.I. Show is the living, beating, in-the-flesh reincarnation of all those cavalcades of stars Alan Freed would assemble during the closing reels of most each and every ’50s B-flick, beginning with the word rock,” is how music journalist Gary Pig Gold described the legendary sight and sound collaboration to me in a 2005 email correspondence.

Watch Marvin Gaye’s performance in The T.A.M.I. Show

“Indeed, in T.A.M.I., we can still see Gerry Marsden in a guitar duet to the death with none other than Chuck Berry, Mick Jagger wisely conceding to take on the blue-flaming Butane James Brown, the Barbarians’ five-fingered drummist practically inventing garage rock, Marvin Gaye hitchhiking after Diana Ross’ supreme eyeful, and to top it all—to HOST it all, no less—those Clown Princes of Surf ’n’ Roll themselves, Jan and Dean!

“Steve Binder recorded absolute history with this screaming little film; even the briefest glance towards Dennis Wilson’s moptop during ‘Surfin’ USA’ will tell you why.”

Watch Jan and Dean perform in 1964’s The T.A.M.I. Show

In 2004 I interviewed Oldham. “Why it works for me is the fear and loathing in Santa Monica,” he said. “Come on man, it’s a magic moment. The Stones were successful and getting good, and—wait a minute, we gotta follow James Brown? Seeing the Motown acts was terrific. It was the film within the film.

Related: The wild side of Jan and Dean

In 2001, I spoke with dancer/actress/singer Toni Basil, who helped choreograph the T.A.M.I. Show with David Winters. “I said to myself, ‘How can anybody follow James Brown?’” she said. “Anyway, Jack [Nitzsche] pointed this out to me, and I later heard as well, that Andrew Loog Oldham was so smart that he staged a massive equipment breakdown as well as suggesting some camera angles. I just knew that Andrew was saying that the Stones’ equipment broke down and they had to wait for stage setup. We knew some time would pass after James Brown’s performance.

“So, finally, maybe the tune was ‘It’s All Over Now,’ where there is a big cymbal crash in the opening of the song and Mick had a tambourine in his hand. Simultaneously with that crash in the music, Mick jumped up in the air, and as he jumped up in the air, Brian Jones turned his back to the audience, which was the first rebellious piece of theater I had ever seen in my entire life.

“I come from vaudeville. My parents were in vaudeville, on stage shows. You never turned your back to the audience. So, Mick was jumping in the air, Brian had his back to the audience, and Mick hit the ground in a crouch. Not one person ever remembered James Brown again. And neither did I.

“Mick’s moves were fantastic. What is this? What is he doing, ya know? As a trained dancer and even as a go-go dancer and a street dancer, I had never seen such moves in my life. I mean, they really were post-modern and right on the beat. It doesn’t matter what physically you’re doing as long as you’re grabbing the beat. And the Stones didn’t take a bow, which I thought was shocking. I mean, even James Brown came on and took a bow.

“Elvis Presley, James Brown and Mick Jagger had some similarities regarding dance. They moved exactly to the beat. They understood the back beat. And James, of course, understood it from a gospel sense. But Mick, even though his moves were very abstract, he did dance to the beat.

“What Elvis, James and Mick had in common was that they were nailing the beat. They were all physically dancing to the beat. They weren’t like guys who came before them like Frank Sinatra, or those people who would move to the lyric. Their movements came about from the story. Their movements didn’t come about the story. Their movements came because of the music.

“One more thing about the T.A.M.I. Show. When Smokey Robinson and the Miracles earlier did ‘Mickey’s Monkey,’ I lost my mind. That was really something. And Jack Nitzsche was brilliant. He was the one who called the shots of what order people went in. And man, he didn’t make a mistake. How did he know he could put the Stones on after James Brown? To this day I don’t know how he had the balls to do that and how he had an idea that it could be pulled off like it was.”

Watch: Here they are, James Brown and the Rolling Stones from The T.A.M.I. Show. You be the judge!

The concert film debuted theatrically on Dec. 29, 1964.

Harvey Kubernik

6 Comments so far

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  1. Deke
    #1 Deke 27 October, 2022, 06:38

    I don’t think Lesley Gore gets nearly enough credit for her performance at this show. I understand she was kind of buried with all the other big names, but I thought she was excellent and really should be mentioned more than she is in reviewing this concert.

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  2. Rob Weingartner
    #2 Rob Weingartner 30 October, 2022, 02:49

    This is by far my favorite performance by the original Rolling Stones ever caught on film. I thought they were fantastic on the TAMI Show. The band completely held their own. One thing not said about the Stones in the 1960s is that their stage performance seems more spontaneous then most acts of the time who’s stage performance seems to be more choreographed. They were very exciting to watch live.

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  3. Jas
    #3 Jas 31 December, 2022, 01:33

    All of them flooding the stage at the end while the Stones were playing is just outstanding!

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  4. nansoon
    #4 nansoon 31 December, 2023, 12:38

    James Brown had better hair and dance moves for certain

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