In 1964, when I was still a Los Angeles grammar school kid, my next-door neighbor Armando got two free tickets to The TAMI Show. He convinced me to tell my parents some story and then ride buses across the L.A. basin to attend the taping, which included his favorite new band, called The Rolling Stones. I, for one, was crazy for Motown, and The Supremes were booked, too. To make a long story short, my father never bought the cover story, and Mondo went alone. For the next month, he never once shut up about it. Recently, the James Brown biopic Get on Up provided an X-ray glimpse into backstage TAMI, particularly the mini-war between Brown, who broke out there (even Mondo admitted), upstaging the Stones. With actual footage and stunningly re-created scenes, the film shows how incendiary Brown could be when his ego was on the line and the Flames were backing him up. “Welcome to America,” Brown mutters to upstart Mick Jagger.
Maybe the Stones were blown away and maybe not, said Steve Binder, who definitely was there half a century ago. He directed The TAMI Show, live and on film. “It almost doesn’t matter, because Lesley Gore was the big star of that show,” he laughs looking back in bemusement. “But the kids were screaming for all of the acts,” he said.
An unpretentious, articulate man, Binder sat in a Salinas Street TVSB conference room last week, waiting to go on Ben Ferguson’s Evening Show to promote The TAMI Show film, which will screen at Carpinteria’s Plaza Playhouse Theater this week. “It was shot live over the two days, and we barely had time to do any post-production,” said Binder. His own life had been a rush print, as well, since the day he stepped onto a CBS television lot for a summer job and went from the mailroom to directing The Soupy Sales Show in just a few weeks. After directing television programs like Steve Allen and Hullabaloo, Binder stumbled on a process called Electronovision, which passed itself off as closed-circuit television for movie theaters. The monumental TAMI event ensued, featuring the above act, as well as the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Billy J. Kramer, and The Dakotas, among others. It was hosted in madcap fashion by Jan and Dean.
“The acronym stood for Teenage Awards Music International, and it was supposed to be the first of many. Maybe that didn’t happen, but it featured a lot of historical events. It was the last time Brian Wilson played with the Beach Boys, and it was a first event for the Wrecking Crew,” claimed Binder, referring to the L.A. powerhouse session group that included Glen Campbell and Leon Russell. Binder notes that the show and audience were racially integrated, as we said then, which, even in California 50 years ago was not that common. “The best part was that everybody was there for everybody else. Nobody was treated like the star,” he said, despite the famous who-plays-last feuds. “They called it chemistry, but I think it was because all the acts stayed there for the whole two days.”
Binder is looking forward to two TAMI screenings next week, one at the Directors Guild in Beverly Hills and the other in Carpinteria — where he’ll happily do Q&A after. In fact, Binder’s unpretentiousness — his dad owned a gas station in downtown L.A. — might be the most charming aspect of the experience. “I love what I do, but I never worried about it that much. I always knew I could work at the gas station.”
The TAMI Show screens at the Plaza Playhouse Theater (4916 Carpinteria Ave., Carpinteria) on Saturday, August 23, at 7:15 p.m. Call (805) 684-6380 or visit plazatheatercarpinteria.com for tickets.