Great Moments in TV Music History: James Brown – T.A.M.I. Show & Apollo ’68
Those of a certain age remember back when television options were limited; it was always a treat to see live music pouring out of the TV. At first, there were lots of lip-sync shows such as Where the Action Is, and Shindig and Hullabaloo! seemed like a mixture of live and lip-synced performances.
By 1967-1968, there were more opportunities for real live music from artists who were changing the face of music, such as The Smothers Brothers Show and The Dick Cavett Show as well as the various late-night programs.
Special performances are the ones that grabbed you by the lapels and wouldn’t let you go; they are burned forever into the brain.
I have been fortunate to see many of my musical heroes, unlucky to have missed others. At the top of the list of artists I wish I had seen is James Brown, and, as the song goes, “Ain’t Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” I had opportunities but squandered them all.
TV, fortunately, was another matter. There were two events in the 1960s with James Brown appearing live on the box that sent me into orbit. The first of those was The T.A.M.I. Show from 1964. I’m not sure when it aired originally, only that I was stunned watching James Brown and the Flames among the dozen performers participating in the Teenage Awards Music International. Of particular interest is that fact that both the lineup and the audience were fully integrated, a rarity in 1964. Five of the twelve artists and bands were black.
James Brown put on an astonishing 18-minute performance, one that nobody who has seen it will ever forget. The set list contains only four songs but enough funk and soul for a whole day, the fabulous cape routine, and moves that honored the great dancers of the past… on steroids. The band is tighter than tight, and the three male dancers/backup singers are all superb dancers in their own right.
They open with “Out of Sight,” his current smash hit. Brown appears from the right and dances across the stage, including that patented one-foot move of his. The three dancers with him also show some incredible moves. Brown dances like he is on ice… but sure-footed! The dancers grab one microphone to offer backup on ballad “Prisoner of Love.” This showcases Brown’s excellent voice. As the tension builds, he drops to one knee, overcome with passion, a precursor of things to come.
Next Brown begins his first hit song, the 1956 smash “Please, Please, Please.” Brown is now in a (controlled) frenzy as, gripped with emotion, he drops to his knees. Singer Bobby Byrd comes over to comfort him as Brown is “unable” to go on; MC Danny Ray appears with that famous cape and drapes it over his shoulders. They begin to walk him off stage when, suddenly, Brown “fights” through the emotion, drops the cape, and moves “painfully” back to the mic. He does this four times over the space of five and half minutes.
At song’s end, they take a quick breather (they’re going to need it). The band launches into Brown’s 1962 hit version of Jimmy Forrest’s soul jazz classic “Night Train,” playing it double-time and beyond. Brown begins his recount of cities on the Eastern seaboard (“Miami, Florida… Atlanta, Georgia…”), then falls in with the dancers, and the four of them put on a jaw-dropping display. Eventually, Brown exhorts the audience: “Are you ready for The Night Train?” It becomes a gospel call and response, and the audience is exploding.
Finally, the band keeps up the tempo as Brown starts to dance his way off to the right. Along the way, he does drops, a split, pushups, and other amazing moves. He goes off screen for a few seconds, returns, does a few more moves, goes to the riser with some female backup singers, sits down, gets back up, takes off his tie, pretends to throw it into the audience, tucks it instead in his vest, blows kisses, and walks off.
This was the performance that shook The Rolling Stones, who had both the distinct honor and difficulty of playing after Brown. They did well, by far their most animated performance to that date.
[TAMI: Out of Sight, Prisoner of Love, Please, Please, Please, Night Train]
The other was a program that aired during the summer of 1968. The show was filmed during a string of shows Brown and band played at The Apollo Theater the previous March. The concert footage was woven with interviews with Brown for a program called James Brown: Man to Man.
For the video, they chose classics from throughout his career, beginning with ballad “If I Ruled the World,” showcasing again his natural singing voice. And he is again attired in a natty three-piece suit! Next, he is seating on a chair as they rock through Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” demonstrating that he can do any damn thing he pleases as he leaves his chair and gets ready to bust a few moves. Then he takes Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City” waaaay uptempo.
There is a break at 11:00, and he returns with a change of clothes to jump into “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” which gives Brown a chance to slow down for a moment and show off his pipes. The pace quickens as he moves into “Lost Someone” and then “Bewildered.”
After another break at 22:30, Brown is seated as he talks about being a black man, followed by video of him walking in Harlem and in Watts talking about “the political and socioeconomic advances that need to be accomplished.” After another break, he returns with another clothes change and bounces into “Get It Together,” replete with trippy video effects 1968-style, Maceo Parker solos, and some fine dancing. The groove gets beyond deep as he sings one of his greatest tunes, “There Was a Time.” His band is simply astounding on this. To quote Brown from a later album, “When we’re through, they’ll KNOW where the funk come from.” That segues into a stompin’ “I Got the Feelin’,” and just as quickly he slows it to a walk for “Try Me,” a great ballad.
After another break, it cuts into a performance of “Cold Sweat” that opens a superb medley of five songs. “Maybe the Last Time” is scorching hot with the female singers backing him. There is a brief voice-over as he shakes hands with audience members before a brief run through “I Got You (I Feel Good)” before a short “Please, Please, Please” (only three capes, all different and sparkly, especially the fuchsia one). After the third cape, he struts to “I Can’t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me)” with all the horns out front in a soul line before a brief “Cold Sweat” reprise as MC Danny Ray reminds us that he is “the star of the show, the HARDEST-WORKING man in show business!”
You will be annoyed by the occasional brief reminders that this is a SHOUT! video, but the music is worth it. They do not appear on the DVD set.
[APOLLO ’68: If I Ruled the World, That’s Life, Kansas City, It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World > Lost Someone > Bewildered, Get It Together, There Was a Time, I Got the Feelin’, Try Me, Cold Sweat > Maybe the Last Time, I Got You (I Feel Good) > Please, Please, Please > I Can’t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me) > Cold Sweat (reprise)]
Both of these performances are also available on SHOUT Video. The 1964 set is part of the complete T.A.M.I. Show. The 1968 set is one of a three-disk set titled I Got the Feelin’: James Brown in the ’60s. The other two in that set are a documentary called The Night James Brown Saved Boston, dealing with his show the night after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and the concert itself, James Brown Live at The Boston Garden – April 5, 1968.