BELLEAIR – It began 52 years ago in Atlanta, Ga., the sound of a new R&B group known as the Tams. It was 1962 and that first hit single was “Untie Me.” It made it to No. 12 on the Billboard charts that year and it marked the beginning of a long and continuing successful run in the music industry.
On March 10, the Tams are coming to Belleair for the second of the three outdoor concerts in the community.
The Tams promise their music will have them dancing in the aisles, or in this case, all over the field.
The group had a most unlikely beginning. Brothers Charles and Joe Pope, along with Floyd Aston, Horace Key and Robert Smith, were friends who grew up in a poor section of Atlanta. They were drawn together by a love of music and early on played in parks or in local halls, wherever they could get an audience.
Then a stroke of fortune happened. Two young college students from Georgia Tech, both aspiring songwriters, heard the group one day and had them record some of their songs so they could present a demo to a local record label. They got their contract but so did the singing group and the Tams were born.
Their poor beginnings in fact led to their name, the Tams. Diane Pope managed the group back then and remains their manager. Her husband Charles, who suffers with Alzheimer’s disease, is the last of the original Tams still alive.
“Back when they were really young they were very poor. My husband’s mother and father were killed so his aunt raised all seven kids. They were so poor the only hats they could afford were tams. That’s how they got their name.”
Although the original members are all gone, Pope said the band with the family influence lives on.
“Our son Redd is the lead singer of the group now. He’s 43 years old and has been singing since he was 6,” she said. “Most of the other members of today’s group have been with us for 25 or 30 years.”
Pope said it was a sad day when her husband had to leave the group because of his illness, but they knew it was time.
“Charles came off the road in 2009; he was still out there singing. He never forgot the words to his songs. He’d forget everything else but not that,” she said. “One day he fell and hit his head and things got worse after that. Redd said it was time for him to stay home. I don’t think he really knew what was happening. He was always so quiet, a real gentleman. He wore a suit every day. He was a wonderful person, a wonderful person; he still is.”
Pope said things are changing in the music industry with a tight economy. The Tams tour for about 100 days a year now compared to the 320 days back in their heyday.
“We tour mostly in the Southeast now, sometimes Texas or Washington, D.C., and Chicago once in a while,” she said. “It is getting harder with the economy the last two years especially.”
It isn’t hard to remember the good old days and all the touring they did. Pope said they toured with some of the legends in the industry.
“We toured with all the different groups,” she said. “Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Bob Diddley. We even played with Herman’s Hermits and back in 1971 with Rod Stewart.”
Pope said the Tams will have the audience up dancing because of the music they play and the roots of that music.
“We played with the Temptations. Our sound is Motown too. Nowadays they call it Beach music. One time they danced the Shag to it that was the big dance in the Southeast.”
Lead singer Redd Pope also might have something to do with it.
“He’s been with us since he was 6 years old,” Pope said of her son. “He’s a dancing fool if you see him. He could always sing and he’s following in his dad’s footsteps. In fact he still comes home after a tour and splits the money with his dad.”
Just what makes the concert organizers in Belleair think an R&B group would have success? Special Events coordinator Sara Borger said the answer to that is easy.
“We listen to our residents. We researched the demographics of our community and determined this would be a really good fit,” she said. “We’ve gotten good feedback and a lot of people know them and have heard of them. People told us they want to hear songs that they know and can sing along. I know they are going to just love this group.”
In fact, Martha Thorn of Coldwell Banker and the Thorne Collection is putting her money behind the concert as the title sponsor of the event because of the Tams.
“She had them at her birthday party a few years ago,” said Borger. “When she heard we were bringing them in she got so excited and said she’d sponsor the event right then and there.”
For concert attendees who like what they hear and hope they might be able to hear the group again in the future they needn’t despair. Pope said the group has no intention of retiring anytime soon.
“My son and two daughters all have young sons, three of them. We call them the three little Tams so the group has a future already in place.”
Borger said they are expecting a sell-out, 2,300 people. There are still tickets available at the Dimmitt Community Center or Bella Vino Wine & Cheese Market. They are $5 in advance or $10 at the door. The concert is on Sunday, March 10. Doors open at 4 p.m. The music starts at 5 p.m.