Grammys for Tammys?

Gretchen Wagner of Hermitage, right; her sister, Cathy Owens, middle; and friend Linda Jones, left, made up the Tammys, a ’60s girl group who have a song on a Grammy-nominated compilation album.

Back when Gretchen Wagner was 18, singing with her sister and a friend, she never imagined the music would have any staying power.

And though the singles of the Hermitage woman’s former trio, the Tammys, have yet to make her rich, or even dent the charts, Ms. Wagner is tickled by the undercurrent of interest in her group.

The trio’s soprano harmonies managed some Pittsburgh and Cleveland radio play for songs such as “Take Back Your Ring” and “Gypsy” in the ’60s, but were mostly forgotten until the group’s biggest fan, Harry Young, reissued their music in 2002 on a compact disc called “Egyptian Shumba: The Singles and Rare Recordings 1962-64.”

The Tammys’ profile continued to rise when the song “Egyptian Shumba,” a two-chord party ditty, was released in October 2005 on Rhino Records’ 120-song box set “One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost and Found.”

Some 40 years after “Egyptian Shumba” was released, reviewers and critics are hearing it for the first time.

Seattle Weekly’s Keith Harris” called the song “the real prize” on the box set. He described it as “a goofball dance track about boogying along the Nile constructed by falsetto weirdo Lou Christie around a set of voices even squeakier than his own.” The Tammys sported “squiggly harmonies and delirious yelps,” he said.

Wayne Bledsoe of the Knoxville News-Sentinel said the obscure tracks on “One Kiss” provide “some of the most-fun moments on the set.” He called “Egyptian Shumba” “insane” and said it is “filled with yelps and whoops that are nearly orgasmic.”

Jeremiah Tucker of the Joplin Globe summed up the song this way: “Catchy and Eclectic, it would blow the minds of indie-music blogs everywhere if released today.”

The publicity the box set has generated could increase if it takes home the two Grammy Awards it is nominated for: Best Historical Album and Best Boxed or Special Edition Package.

“I think it’s hilarious,” Ms. Wagner said of the Tammys appearing on a Grammy-nominated album.

“The nice thing is Harry and Lou (Christie) put a lot of work into things over the years,” she said. “For him (Young) to have this opportunity, that’s justice.”

Young is president of the Lou Christie fan club, and his admiration for the “Lightning Strikes” singer led him to the Tammys, who backed Christie on some recordings. Christie and his songwriting partner, Twyla Herbert, also wrote songs for the Tammys.

Just having a Tammys song on “One Kiss Can Lead to Another” was a point of pride for Young and Ms. Wagner.

“I was like a dream come true for me,” said Young, who believes the uniqueness of the Tammys sound still will find an audience.

Rhino is the premiere reissue label, and they did the project up right by mixing songs by girl-group legends such as the Supremes, the Chiffons, the Marvelettes and the Shangri-Las with early Dolly Parton and Carole King tunes and obscure numbers by the Cake, the Gooddes and Whyte Boots, Young said.

The box set is packaged in a mod-style hat box, and the liner notes are written like a girl’s diary, with each group getting one day.

“The cleverness of it should win, anyway,” said Ms. Wagner, the former Margaret Gretchen Owens of Oil City, who performed as Shannon Owens, a name Christie came up with.

Ms. Wagner called being mentioned with the likes of the Supremes and the Chiffons “awesome,” noting they were her musical idols. She added that The Tammys performed with the Angels and other classic groups. Young said he has heard “Egyptian Shumba” on the radio twice since the box set came out, on an independent alternative station near his home in Fenton, Mo. Interest in the CD he produced has picked up, although he can’t get a straight answer out of the record company, RPM, of England, as to whether that has translated into sales.

If the Box set wins a Grammy, “It would mean the world to me,” said Young, who provided the version of “Egyptian Shumba” that “One Kiss” producers Sheryl Farber and Gary Stewart used.

“That is as good as it gets,” he said. “It would be a major victory.”

Ms. Wagner, music and liturgy coordinator for Church of Notre Dame, Hermitage, said she’s pulling for a Grammy victory, but not for any acclaim she might derive from it. She noted that she is writing liner notes for some local groups’ recordings, and she would to be able to identify herself as a Grammy-winning singer. That might give her words more credibility in the minds of listeners.

“It gives you a little wallop for somebody else’s future,” she said.



Tammys on the Web: http://keepkey.yochanan.net/tammys.htm and www.geocities.com/williamstos/tammys.htm

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