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Jason Brewer of The Explorers Club discusses The Tams, The Fleetwoods, The Lettermen and more

“Wattage!,” a covers collection from the Nashville studio group The Explorers Club, begins with “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” originally recorded by The Tams, and includes nostalgic sounding radio interludes throughout the eight song package
Tams Wattage

GOLDMINE: Congratulations on Wattage!, which is so fun, and thank you for letting us do the exclusive premiere of this package recently at Goldmine. 

JASON BREWER: Of course. I am glad that you could and so happy that you like it.

GM: I grew up listening to radio and this collection takes me back to the community events promoted on radio when I would listen long-distance to different cities. Even now I listen each week to stations where the community content is part of the experience. Where did the idea for interspersing radio sounds come from?
JB: It came from a couple of places. I grew up in the 1980s where we had good oldies radio and I had friends who had recordings of 1960s radio segments, so I got to hear some vintage sounds. I also liked The Carpenters’ album Now & Then.

GM: Yes. My wife Donna introduced me to that one, with their guitarist Tony Peluso also being the DJ, where they covered “Dead Man’s Curve” and other oldies.

JB: Plus, obviously, one of my favorite movies was American Graffiti, so it is all blended together, being fascinated with that time period.

GM: Speaking about listening to oldies in the 1980s, in 1983 we moved to Richmond, Virginia and we were introduced to beach music in the Southeast region. That is where I learned lesser known R&B and soul songs that I might have missed when I was listening to radio beginning in the mid-1960s, growing up in Cleveland. Through the Sunday Night Beach Party radio show I learned The Tams’ 1968 song “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy.” It is so bouncy and among my all-time favorite beach music songs.

JB: I am from Charleston on the coast of South Carolina and I remember going with my folks to the beach. Myrtle Beach also wasn’t too far. There were a lot of bands who played in the area at events and at little bandstands at fairs. Beach music was really popular in the 1980s because it wasn’t too far removed from the 1960s, so I heard all of The Tams’ hits and probably saw some version of the group playing at the fairgrounds. Even when I was in high school, I had friends who would go to weekend beach music dance parties with their parents. That music was really popular and I had friends who played that style of music. I remember one of the kids that I went to high school with had a father who was in a beach music band. I liked it because it was mainly old 1960s R&B. I played private Vietnam vets affairs with my band later because we had a 1960s sound and being in South Carolina, they wanted us to learn some of these classics.

GM: When I was writing about beach music in the 1990s, there were some wonderful releases from Ripete Records in Elliott, South Carolina, produced by Marion Carter, including The Tams 15 Greatest Hits. It begins with “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)” and ends with “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy.” It includes a flip side, but not the flip side of “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy,” which is “That Same Old Song,” another good one from that Georgia group, written and produced by Joe South.

JB: “That Same Old Song” fits their mold. I love Joe South to begin with. “That Same Old Song” is definitely his style, if you think about “Hush” and that shuffle sound he likes to create. This recording, with its singing and shouting throaty vocal sound, is a perfect match for “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” as its flip side. I love it. Joe South is one of my favorite writers. He had hits with “Games People Play” and “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” but as a writer, “Rose Garden” is great and one of my favorites is “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home.” I tried to get in touch with him before he passed away to see if we could write together, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. He was on my list, from a very young age, of writers who I wanted to either meet or work with.

Tams flip side

The Tams

Flip side: That Same Old Song

A side: Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy

Billboard Top 100 debut: June 22, 1968

Peak position: No. 61

ABC 45-11066

GM: Joe Pope of The Tams had a gravely voice as did Levi Stubbs from The Four Tops, with an edgy, powerful sound. Your new version of The Four Tops’ “Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever” is a bit smoother. It is nice and different enough from the original to jump out at me with a fresh approach.

JB: Lannie Counts is singing that one and that is who also sang “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy.” I didn’t want him to do a full-on impersonation of Levi Stubbs. Who could? Lannie is such a great singer and can interpret the classic soul vibe in his own way. We did Explorers Club harmonies, sticking with a lot of the original harmonies.

GM: Another one that doesn’t sound like the original, or even covers from the 1970s that I shared with you by Bergen White and Bob Welch, is your version of The Fleetwoods’ 1959 No. 1 hit “Come Softly to Me.” This one is my favorites because it is so unique. I love the keyboard sound, reminding me a bit “Ma Belle Amie” by The Tee Set from Jerry Ross’ Dutch Invasion era.

JB: I tried to add something unique to it, but this version is actually based on Percy Sledge’s cover. A friend of mine sent me that version and then I heard his version of it used in a commercial.

GM: You included another Top 10 hit from The Fleetwoods, “Tragedy,” and that is another nice interpretation.

JB: I love The Fleetwoods. When I was making my first album I listened to many vocal harmony groups in addition to The Beach Boys, who sing my favorite harmonies. I love The Fleetwoods’ singles. One of the last singles they did, which doesn’t get much recognition, is “Before and After.” Chad and Jeremy did a version after The Fleetwoods, which became a hit. The American Breed recorded it on their Bend Me, Shape Me album, and that may be my favorite version of that song. I also like the old Skeeter Davis records and wanted to record a Fleetwoods or Skeeter Davis song. I ended up picking “Tragedy” because I love the flute and trumpet sounds. It is hard to get an acoustic guitar sound to replicate some of the old recordings so we mic-ed up a hollow-body electric guitar unplugged and used techniques to bring out more volume without overpowering the other sounds.

GM: You mentioned vocal groups. Well, there’s The Lettermen. I was so pleasantly surprised when I listened to “Hurt So Bad” that it was their arrangement which you chose.

JB: The reason I did that is because I love their version and The Explorers Club albums feature a lot of harmonies inspired by The Beach Boys, The Association, and others. With the R&B songs on Wattage!, what we didn’t have at that point was something for the fans who like our lush vocals, so I wanted to represent that side of our band.

GM: I remember when that version came out in 1969. It was the first version of “Hurt So Bad” that I knew as I was a little too young to hear Little Anthony and The Imperials’ original version until later as an oldie.

JB: Bobby Hart co-wrote that one. I am such a Boyce and Hart fan.

GM: Yes. We talked about that last time with your version of “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight.”

JB: As you can see, I have a lot of threads connecting to music that I may have done previously.

GM: “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long” and “Gimme Little Sign” are very similar to the 1960s originals, and you did a great job on both. There was one song I didn’t know, which is “I’m So Proud.”

Tams Proud

JB: Maybe it is because of where I am from. I am a huge Impressions fan and a huge Curtis Mayfield fan. I love Curtis Mayfield as much as I love Brian Wilson and The Beatles and this was a good Top 20 early 1960s hit for The Impressions, and one of Curtis’ best early ballads. I love the guitar and trumpets on the song. We tried to do lively harmonies similar to how The Impressions would handle it, being reverent to the original style. I learned so many songs when I was growing up, listening to Oldies 102.5 in Charleston, South Carolina. Thank you for covering every song on Wattage! today. I read your Goldmine posts all the time. I am happy we can collaborate again on sharing this music.

Related Links:

The Explorers Club on Facebook

Wattage! on CD or Green Vinyl

Goldmine 2020 Interview with The Explorers Club's Jason Brewer

Goldmine Fabulous Flip Sides now in its seventh year