What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)
The "beach music" scene along the Carolina shore has been raging for several decades. Partiers danced and romanced to the sounds of specific rhythm and blues groups in the '60s and continue doing so to the same era's songs. The scene's most popular performers didn't originate from any points along the seaside yet were destined to perform there again and again. The songs weren't necessarily about the beach (though there are exceptions, like The Drifters' hits "Under the Boardwalk" and "I've Got Sand in My Shoes"). The Tams of Atlanta, Georgia are quite logically the definitive "beach" act (The Tymes - all the genre's fans know the difference! - might fight them for the "best beach group" trophy, if one existed). Besides having an ideal vocal technique set in a tempo range just right for "shagging," the signature swing-step move along the eastern seaboard, the Tams have always been conveniently situated: party central Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is just 350 miles due east of Atlanta.
Brothers Joseph and Charles Pope started the group around 1952 as The Four Dots, an all-teenage quartet with Robert Lee Smith and Horace Key. Several years later, "Little Floyd" Ashton made the act a quintet. Performing in A-Town dives for minimal pay took its toll; they began wearing patterned, multi-colored Scottish tam o'shanter hats that couldn't help but attract attention. In 1960 and '61, a group of white singers from Philadelphia (two girls and two guys) inadvertently used the Tams name on singles for the Swan and Heritage labels before drifting off the radar; in '62, Atlanta's Tams made a demo for former deejay and NRC Records owner Bill Lowery. NRC staffer Joe South, who'd made several recordings of his own but was still several years away from notching a major hit as a singer, penned "Untie Me," produced at the FAME studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama by Ray Stevens for his newly-contrived Ahab Productions (after Ray's novelty disc "Ahab, the Arab"). Charles handled the lead vocal and the band's tuba player tingled spines...ironically, the record was released on a Philadephia label, Arlen. Exceeding expectations, it hit number 60 on the pop charts and number 12 R&B in the fall of '62.
"Here Am I," a single credited to Little Floyd,, followed; the Tams did backing vocals on the B side, "My Baby Loves Me." Three more Tams singles appeared on Arlen (most sides were penned by South) before Lowery secured a five-year contract for the group with ABC-Paramount. "What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)" was written by Ray Whitley, a pop-rock singer-songwriter from Atlanta with several singles on Vee-Jay in the early '60s. On a return trip to FAME, Joe Pope handled the lead vocal ('I won't be your second choice...') and owned the frontman spot after the single landed in the pop top ten and became a Cash Box R&B chart topper in the early weeks of 1964. Joe took control on a two-sided charter, "You Lied to Your Daddy" (another Whitley grievance) and "It's All Right (You're Just In Love)," penned by Mississippi-born brothers (and former Sun Records recording artists) Cliff and Ed Thomas.
Around this time, alcohol consumption got the better of Little Floyd and he was replaced by Albert Cottle. Whitley's "Hey Girl Don't Bother Me" ('...go away, come back another day!') nearly reached the top 40 while returning them to the R&B top ten in September. Joe South's "Silly Little Girl" fit the Whitley mold and the Thomas brothers' "Find Another Love," a reissue of an earlier Arlen track, capped an eventful year. The next ten ABC 45s fared poorly, but treats are nevertheless contained within (South's "Concrete Jungle" and "Shelter," Whitley's "A Little More Soul"). "I've Been Hurt" was recorded by Ray Whitley, the first single release on the Dunhill label in the spring of 1965, shortly before the Tams did their version (the song was a hit for Virginia's Bill Deal and the Rhondels in 1969, as was "What Kind of Fool").
The Sensational Epics, a nine-man band from Columbia, South Carolina, recorded Whitley's "Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy" in 1966; a version by the Tams got them back into hit territory in the spring of '68. Even its quick tempo was surpassed by "Trouble Maker," their chart swan song...in the U.S., that is. They were picked up by Capitol in 1970; "Too Much Foolin' Around" (on subsidiary label 1-2-3) preceded "The Tams Medley" on Capitol (six song excerpts in a newly-recorded version: "Hey Girl," "What Kind of Fool," "You Lied to Your Daddy," "I've Been Hurt," "Laugh it Off" and "Be" times three), a decade ahead of the Stars on 45-sparked early-'80s medley craze. The 1970s were rife with Tams records on Apt, MGM South and several other labels, yet in the U.S. the act mainly catered to the Carolina coast crowd. In England, meanwhile, '60s soul songs were having a resurgence and "Hey Girl Don't Bother Me" was one of the hottest, a number one U.K. hit in the fall of 1971.
The group exhibited incredible staying power as their devoted "beach music" fan base grew with time and the word got out about how cool these guys really were (though the tam o'shanters don't necessarily tickle everyone's fashion fancy). They had another Brit hit, "There Ain't Nothing Like Shaggin'" in 1987, a top seller despite opposition from the BBC over the improper, non-dance definition of "shag" (everyone does it but no one's supposed to talk about it)! A couple of early-'90s singles crediting Joe Pope and the Tams were composed by General Johnson of top-rank beach music groups The Showmen and Chairmen of the Board. Longtime fan Jimmy Buffett tapped the Tams to do vocals for his 1999 album Beach House on the Moon (a tribute to the beach movement) and took them on tour to boot. Despite lead singer Joe Pope's passing in 1996, The Tams continue to wow crowds...while sometimes showing up in two places at the same time! Original member Robert Lee Smith fronts one group, while Charles Pope leads another that sounds somewhat closer to the original act.