Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Tammys

The Tammys

The Tammys were an early sixties Oil City group (one reviewer said "Think Shangri-Las, but even more twisted and way sillier") consisting of sisters Gretchen and Cathy Owens and their friend Linda Jones.

They're best known for their song "Egyptian Shumba" with its vaguely Mid-Eastern instrumentals and girl group vocals that quickly change to primal yelps. To this day, it's still considered a cult classic because of its energy.

In high school, the Owens girls first sang in a group called The Impressions. As The Charnelles, the trio first publicly performed on 1962 at a school talent show, losing to the Gyantwachia Indian Dance team.

The girls were later thrown out of Famores' Restaurant in Oil City for singing along with the jukebox. They told the owners that "We’ll be on that jukebox someday." The vow came true with 1963's "Take Back Your Ring."

The girls first met Lou Christie in 1961 at a Marcy Jo/Lugee And The Lions show on a Saturday night at the Moose Lodge in Franklin, PA.

He later took them for a ride in his black Cadillac, with, of course, their mom's permission. Christie sang while they did back-up back-seat harmony and he told them "If I ever get discovered, I'll call you," and they promised the same to him.

A year later, he hit it big with "The Gypsy Cried" and took them to New York City, where they sang backup for him on several record tracks. Christie's older sister, Amy Sacco, managed and chaperoned the group.

They got their own contract with United Artists Records through Jack Gold, who nurtured quite a few local careers (including Christie's), and The Tammys recorded four songs. He signed them as The Twy-Lous though they never recorded under that nom d' music.

Despite fairly strong local airplay, ballads "Take Back Your Ring" and "Gypsy," along with the wild "Egyptian Shumba," all failed to chart nationally, although "Ring" sold moderately well in the region and "Egyptian Shumba" was a Top 15 hit in Pittsburgh and a Top 30 tune in Cleveland.

KDKA jock Clark Race hosted The Tammys several times on his weekly TV "Dance Party" show, and they performed with Christie at Pittsburgh clubs. They also made regular appearances in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York, often backed by the Johnny Jack Quintet.

By 1965, after returning from the Army, Christie found another girl group to back him, The Angels of "My Boyfriend's Back" fame. The Tammys continued to play local gigs and sing background tracks, but by 1966, they joined the real world. Though their work wasn't particularly Billboard chart material, it wouldn't fade away, either.

As the Northern Soul craze engulfed Britain in the early 1970s, collectors began looking for songs with a funky dance groove. "Egyptian Shumba," written by Christie and Twyla Herbert, was rediscovered and became a Euro hit.

In 2002 all of The Tammys' singles plus two previously unreleased tracks were released on a CD called "Egyptian Shumba - The Singles and Rare Recordings: 1962-1964," (RPM - 330) including several Christie songs backed by The Tammys.

"Egyptian Shumba" is part of the Grammy-nominated box set "One Kiss Can Lead To Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost and Found" after some lobbying by Christie for his old running mates. The, make that catchy, dance tune is also included in a handful of compilation albums.

In 2006, Pitchfork Media included "Egyptian Shumba" in their list of top 200 songs of the 1960s at #177. Nitsuh Abebe wrote "It's not just that this girl group's gone wilder than any garage band on the list; it's that they're possessed. The Tammys bop hard and bratty, but by the chorus they're literally growling, barking, and squealing like sexed-up hyenas..."

The "sexed-up hyenas" are all domesticated tabbies now. Cathy (Owens) Friederich put down roots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and has 10 grandkids. Gretchen (Owens) Wagner lives in the Erie area and is the music and liturgy coordinator for the Notre Dame Catholic Church of Hermitage. Linda (Jones) Honey makes her home in Texas.

Discography as the Tammys:

-- "Take Back Your Ring' b/w "Part Of Growing Up" (1963 - United Artists 632)
-- "Egyptian Shumba' b/w "What's So Sweet About Sweet Sixteen?" (1963 - United Artists 678)
-- "Gypsy" b/w "Hold Back The Light Of Dawn" (1965 - Veep 1210)
-- "Blue Sixteen" b/w "His Actions Speak Louder Than Words" (1965 - Veep 1220; unreleased until 2002)

As Ritchie & The Runarounds (Kripp Johnson of The Del Vikings, Lou Christie and The Tammys):
-- "Lost In the Crowd" b/w "Don'tcha Backtrack" (1963 - Ascot 2136)

"Egyptian Shumba" - Tammys 1963


Don bennett said...

I loved these girls,we had so much fun

Michael McDonnell said...

Gretchen Owens looks exactly like a 24 year old girl I know. The resemblance is actually shocking. Can anyone tell me something about these wonderful, young women? Thanks, Michael McDonnell, NYC.

Anonymous said...

There’s a lot of information about them on