The Atlanta-based quintet the Tams was one of a small number of black vocal groups to emerge from the Southeast in the 1960s. They became one of the core groups of the Carolinas-based "beach music" sound and have continued to release albums and tour for four decades.
Joseph Pope, his brother Charles Pope, Robert Lee Smith, and Horace Kay began singing together when they were students at David T. Howard High School in Atlanta. Starting around 1952, they performed in clubs around Atlanta under the name the Four Dots, and later in the decade, after they were joined by Floyd Ashton, became the Tams (a name derived from their stage attire, which included tam-o'shanter hats).
They released a single on the Swan label in 1960, and attracted the attention of Atlanta producer Bill Lowery, who agreed to produce a demo single of the group. Lowery associate and songwriter Joe South produced the session at the Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which yielded the Tams' first hit, "Untie Me," which was also written by South. The Philadelphia-based Arlen Records picked up the demo recording in 1962, and it became a top twenty rhythm-and-blues hit on the Billboard magazine charts. This success enabled Lowery to secure a deal for the Tams with ABC-Paramount in 1963. Their first single for their new label, "What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)," written by another Lowery protege, Ray Whitley, broke into the top ten. Shortly thereafter, Ashton left the group and was replaced by Albert Cottle, a resident of Washington, D.C.
During the rest of the decade, the Tams continued to record material written primarily by Whitley and South, at Fame Studios and then later at Lowery's Master Sound Studio in Atlanta. The group released several albums on the ABC-Paramount label, including Presenting the Tams (1964), Time for the Tams (1965), and A Portrait of the Tams (1969). They achieved several charted hits in 1964, the most successful being "What Kind of Fool," which reached number twelve on Billboard's Hot 100. In 1968 the Tams charted for the last time, with their single "Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy," which peaked at number twenty-six on the Billboard rhythm-and-blues chart.
In 1970 the Tams left ABC-Paramount and signed with Lowery's 1-2-3 label, a subsidiary of Capitol Records. Although they were unable to replicate their earlier chart success, the group rerecorded many of their classic hits. The group toured continuously, enjoying popularity as a mainstay of the "beach music" scene along with other groups, such as the Drifters. The Tams were inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1992 and have received numerous other awards. Pope died in 1996, but the group continued to perform, and eventually split into two separate incarnations. Today the Joe Pope Tams, featuring Charles Pope and "Lil' Red" Cottle (son of Albert), and Robert Lee Smith and the Original Tams both perform regularly.