Remembering Tam White
Remembering Tam White… by Iain McKinna.
Tam and I worked together as far back as 1987 where, along with award winning singer/songwriter Sandy Wright, I produced one of Tams songs “It Cuts Both Ways” at Edinburgh’s Sonic Studios. We had been introduced by my studio partner at the time John Edwards.
In 2001 Tam recorded a collection of his own songs on the last album he released entitled ‘Hold On’.
With my son Paul McKinna co-producing at the Offbeat studio, three of the songs from that album were featured in director Norman Stone’s feature length movie Mandancin’ in which Tam also played the role of a blind ‘blues’ musician.
‘Hold On’ featured some great session musicians including Guitarists Neil Warden and Frank Usher, Keyboard player Foss Paterson & Harmonica player Fraser Spiers with Dave Haswell on Percussion. Annie McCaig & Kirsty McKinna & Pippa Burnett feature on backing vocals, and legendary madman Toto McNaughton played Drums on a track.
Tam started his working life as a stonemason and later in life suffered from emphysema as a result. Tam says “I’d been told that white guys couldn’t sing the blues, but I’d left school at 15 to become a stonemason. I was up on the scaffolding on a Monday morning when it was 12 degrees below with a big hammer and chisel in my hands, so don’t tell me that I can’t sing the blues.”
In the 60’s Tam was the singer in The Boston Dexter. They recorded a single on Mickey Mosts’ RAK Records with the legendary producer Joe Meek in 1966. Tam was the first solo artist to win New Faces and he was notably the first artist to sing ‘live’ on Top Of The Pops in 1975.
He had his own show on STV in the 70’s before he went back to stonemasonry. It wasn’t a happy experience for him. He is quoted in an interview in the Scotsman “Everyone wanted me to be somebody else. I did a series for STV in the 1970s, my own show, and I ended up in a monkey suit – it was incredibly embarrassing – and doing working men’s clubs. I got hooked into that, anything to make a living.”. He began drinking heavily around this time.
After that he then started up Tam White & The Dexters who gigged for many years supporting artists like BB King, Van Morrison and Al Green and performing regularly at The Jazz & Blues Festival in Edinburgh.
After the band split, he then formed The Shoestring Band with guitarist Neil Warden & Harmonica player Fraser Speirs & ex King Crimson & Bad Company Bassist Boz Burrell.
Right up until the end Tam performed extensively and did a great series of gigs at the famous Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club In London in 1995. He was equally adept at singing Jazz & Blues styles.
Our Offbeat featured track is one of Tams favourites, a song by Rabbie Burns called ‘Slaves Lament’ which I produced for the Hold On album. It’s a classic song written in 1792 which strangely seems to predate the Blues by over a hundred years. Tam insisted, perhaps controversially, that it was the first Blues song ever written. Judge for yourself!
Interestingly, Tam grew up in Edinburgh, living above the White Hart Inn, in Grassmarket, where Robert Burns had stayed in 1791.
Download the track for free as long as its featured on our home page (all rights reserved)
Tam also made guest TV appearances on Eastenders, Taggart, Rebus and River City. He was the voice of Robbie Coltrane who mimed to Tam’s voice as Big Jazza in the Majestics for the acclaimed TV series Tutti Frutti which was written by John Byrne and also starred Emma Thomson.
I always felt Tam should have been much better known than he was but he wasn’t the best at self promotion. He was once described by the musician Alexis Korner as “the greatest undiscovered blues talent of our time”. After the release of Braveheart, Mel Gibson invited Tam to go to Hollywood to promote the film and to get the chance to promote his music to everyone in the entertainment business. But Tam turned down the offer when Mel said he would have to pay his own air fare!
When we released ‘Hold On’, I set up an interview with him at the BBC and frustratingly, he failed to mention the album despite many prompts by the bemused presenter of the show. We would set up record sales at his gigs to promote the record but despite asking him repeatedly to mention to the audience that the album was on sale in the break and at the end of the gig, he never actually did it. We eventually gave up asking him to help promote the album. I did however manage to pin him down to an interview about the album when I had him trapped in the studio one day… Watch this!
But as anyone who knows him will remember, he was constantly, and hilariously, reminiscing about things that had happened to him during his colourful musical career life which was dogged by alcoholism and other addictions which he overcame later in life.
I had meetings with him to discuss recording his story in his own words and he seemed keen, but in the end a heart attack took his life on Midsummers day in 2010 before I had the chance to do anything about it, which i regret. Seven years later he is still badly missed by anyone who knew him.
Tam always used to curse our studio stairs but ironically the last time he climbed them he was quite fit as he had been going to the gym regularly. I hadn’t seen him look so well in a long time. I had asked him to sing on a track I had written called Car Crash TV and my wife Kirsty, who also sang on the track, took this pic of us together in the studio for the last time just a short while before he unexpectedly and tragically passed away .