SANTA ANA, Calif. — Backstage at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in October 1964, director Steve Binder greets each of the acts booked to play the T.A.M.I. Show — big names such as the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and the Supremes — and signs them up for rehearsal slots.
Only James Brown is having none of it.
“I introduced myself to him and I said I want to rehearse you at such and such a time,” Binder says of the bustling scene as the clock ticked down to show time for perhaps the first-ever rock ‘n’ roll concert movie.
“He just smiled and said, ‘Hey, Steve, you’ll know what to do when you see it.”
Thank goodness Binder did, for the footage he and his crew captured when James Brown and the Flames took the stage that night is the stuff of legend.
For four songs, Brown poured his heart and soul and sweat and voice into songs such as “Please Please Please” and “Night Train,” gliding across the dance floor in his trademark stutter-step slide, dropping to his knees and waving off his cape over and over to return to the stage for just one more verse.
That is just one of a dozen or more reasons why the restored version of “The T.A.M.I. Show” (Shout! Factory, $19.93) which arrives in stores on Tuesday for its first-ever home video release, is such an essential piece of rock ‘n’ roll history.
Part of its appeal is the freshness and breadth of the performers on the bill, from surf music to Motown to British rock.
But the movie also benefits from the allure of the long unattainable. “The T.A.M.I. Show” — the name stands for Teenage Awards Music International — has never been available for home viewing until now. Bootleg copies have circulated for years, but most were badly reproduced and missing the Beach Boys’ set because of a rights dispute.
“I think people will be delighted to again have all those acts on one show, and not just bits and pieces plucked out of different situations,” says Dean Torrence of the surf duo Jan & Dean.
“The opportunity of all these people being on the stage together is pretty damn neat,” he says. “It’s a pretty special moment.”
The film opens with footage of performers traveling to the show. Jan & Dean skateboard through L.A. while on the soundtrack they sing “Here They Come,” a theme written for the movie. The Barbarians, a now-forgotten garage band, hitch a ride on the back of a VW bus. Gerry and the Pacemakers make faces from onboard their tour bus.
The camera moves into the auditorium, Jan & Dean introduce Chuck Berry and we’re under way: crisp black-and-white images captured in a then-new but now-forgotten technology called Electronovision, groovy ‘60s dancers shimmying and shaking all over the stage, and off at the side, the Wrecking Crew, the fabled L.A. studio band that included Glen Campbell on guitar and Leon Russell on piano.
“We knew most all of them,” Torrence says of the lineup brought together for the show. “Just the English guys we had never worked together with before. Or the hippies.” (The Barbarians’ long hair and sandals made them the hippies to him, it seems.)
Torrence modestly suggests that he and Berry were picked as emcees because they lived nearby and were available. (Binder, however, says he suggested the duo for the gig, because his managers also represented Jan & Dean and asked him to recommend them to the producers.)
Despite all the star power assembled — Motown’s cream, hot Brit acts, L.A.‘s top surf groups — everyone got along in a laid-back camaraderie.
“In those days, people didn’t really even think about being separated out,” Torrence says. “We thought we were all one big family. I remember it being quite a hootenanny.
“Because Jan and I were a little bit more involved in almost every aspect of the thing, we didn’t have quite as much time to hang out backstage and eat some of the nice catered food, and drink anything that happened to be around.
“But like I said, we knew most of the performers already, so that was OK.”
Binder, the director of “The Steve Allen Show” at the time, had recently finished a music series, “Jazz Scene USA,” which left him eager for more music TV or movie projects. So when executive producer Bill Sargent asked him if wanted the job, he jumped at the chance.
With rock ‘n’ roll still in its early days — especially in its portrayal on TV — Binder was eager to find new ways to shoot live performances to recreate the immediacy of a concert.
“I was interested in seeing the sweat on the artists’ faces, and the audience being able to see them up real close,” he says.
Binder says he also arranged his cameras to shoot the performances from a variety of angles, not just the traditional front view used by most TV series at the time.
“I wanted to free the artists up, so I told them, ‘Do what you do naturally, and we’ll follow you,” says Binder, who directed many more music specials, most famously Elvis Presley’s “‘68 Comeback Special.”
That freedom led to a number of unexpected moments, Binder says, such as when Mick Jagger decided to walk out a runway into the audience, and of course, that sizzling James Brown set.
Legend has it that neither the Stones nor Brown were happy with their placement in the show, but Binder says his decision on sequencing the two acts worked out perfectly.
“I think it’s the best thing that happened to them,” Binder says of the Rolling Stones spot. “When Mick and the guys saw James’ act, Mick came out and cloned himself into sort of James.”