If I say “beach music” and you think surfers, surf boards and The Beach Boys, I need to clear some things up for you.
We Southerners know the real “beach music.” It came from our region, primarily from the Carolinas and Coastal Georgia. Think of it as a blend of R&B and pop music. It was music you could dance the “shag” to (the dance, not the kind of “shag” they talked about in Austin Powers movies).
The Tams may not be a household name anymore, but to beach music fans they are musical royalty. And six decades after the band organized in south Atlanta, it’s still on the road, playing festivals and shows across the southeast. The original members are long gone, of course, but children and even grandchildren of the founders are still touring together.
The Tams, an Atlanta institution, date back to the early 1960s. In an earlier article, I mentioned the discovery of The Tams by Southern music icon Bill Lowery (I wrote about Lowery in June). The group’s first big hit, “Unite Me,” was written by Joe South, a superb Atlanta songwriter who became an established recording artist himself.
The Tams’ signature hit, “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy,” was released in 1968. “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am),” “Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me” and “I’ve Been Hurt” are a few other hits you may know.
I’ve always been a sucker for horns and harmony and I’ve been a huge beach music fan most of my life. Although I know plenty about the subject, I did consult with a couple of experts for this article.
I contacted Dianne Pope, widow of Charles “Speedy” Pope, the brother of Joe Pope, co-founder of the Tams. Charles passed away in 2013 at the age of 77. Their son Al (Little Redd) joined the group and is still with them today.
The Tams formed in south Atlanta and started with appearances at various places on Auburn Avenue, such as The Royal Peacock, and The 617 Club off Hunter Street. Once they had major hits, they toured with big-name stars such as James Brown, The Temptations and Otis Redding.
Life on the road
The Tams were continuously on the road in the 60s and 70s. Dianne often accompanied them.
Once, she said, after a long road trip, she decided to return home and get a little rest. As The Tams headed to Harold’s A Go-Go in Columbia, South Carolina, their convertible, loaded with group and gear, decided to stop working. As luck would have it, Diane happened to pass by and spot them on the side of the road. She stopped and helped them get back on their way, so they wouldn’t miss the gig.
Everyone ended up back in Columbia at a hotel for the night. Dianne is white. Why mention this? In those days there were hotels for white people and separate ones for Black people. Dianne and The Tams were all arrested and jailed, she said, because a white woman was in segregated hotel that was to be used only by Blacks. Lowery came to the rescue. He drove to Columbia, bailed them out, and the show went on as planned, according to Dianne.
Of course, there are many more positive, and successful Tams stories.
The Tams are ‘the top’
My beach music authorities — Steve Begor, a record promoter back in the 1960s, and Chris Jones, a fan of the music and a collector — forgot more on the subject than most of us ever will know. Their opinion: The Tams are at the top.
“My intro to beach music came through high school friends who were home from college,” Jones said. “Their 8-tracks were of artists they had seen/heard on campus: The Tams, Junior Walker, James Brown, and The Swinging Medallions. Graduating from high school in 1968, “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” fit the moment. The Tams were the first recording artist that I got see in person, so I’m somewhat biased.”
“They were great live, however not the most dependable,” Begor said. “Remember once they were to play the Beach Club in Myrtle Beach and were nowhere to be found. Someone got in the car and found them playing baseball with a bunch of kids at a local park. They said, “Oh, we didn’t realize the time.”
I live in Bulldog country, where Tams appeared at the B&L Warehouse in 1973. Fast forward to 1977 and go up the street a bit to another club, The Other Place.
I was there to see the Tams one evening. Lucky me! They grabbed me, and others out of the crowd to come on stage and sing “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” with them. This was with Joe Pope!
I was so surprised I forgot the lyrics for a moment.
For more: thetams.com