Thomas Bennett Sim White was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1942. He grew up in the Grassmarket and his grandfather was bandmaster in Gilmerton. He had six uncles that played in the local brass band. Young Tam played the piano and sang tenor in school productions. He was good enough to auditioned with the Edinburgh Opera Company but the pull of rock’n’roll was too strong. He left school at 15 and became an apprentice stonemason. During this time, he joined a local skiffle group and began listening to American Blues music. He joined a beat group called the Heartbeats with drummer Toto McNaughton and when the group disbanded Tam White became a member of pop outfit, The Dean Hamilton Combo. The group was managed by club owner Brian Waldman and was installed as resident band at Edinburgh’s new Kontiki Club. They soon built up a sizeable local following and moved to the more prestigious The Place in Victoria Sreet. On stage Tam encouraged the band to include more R&B music. At the height of their popularity the Dean Hamilton Combo broke up in 1963.
The Boston Dextors were officially formed in 1964 and the line-up was Tam White (vocals), Toto McNaughton (drums), John Turnbull (guitar) and Alan Coventry (bass). On stage, they based their image on 30s gangsters and dressed in expensive pin striped suits, complete with replica machine guns. Musically, the Boston Dexters were a gutsy R&B band and very popular on the Edinburgh scene. Their manager paid for the band to record several demo discs which highlighted Tam’s husky vocals. After a journalist heard them he sent the demos to EMI, who called the group down to London for an audition in January 1965. They were signed them to Columbia label and song writers Bill Martin and Tommy Scott were commissioned to write for the group. They came up with I’ve Got Something to Tell You Baby which was nothing like the band’s R & B style. It flopped as did their follow up single Try Hard, another Bill Martin / Tommy Scott. The band did however impress Joe Meek who offered them a recording contract which was summarily dismissed by their manager, Brian Waldman. The Boston Dexters eventually broke up in 1966.
White and Turnbull formed the Buzz, while McNaughton kept the Boston Dexters’ name going for a few months with singer Linnie Patterson. The Buzz released one single ‘You’re Holding Me Down’ (1966) which was produced by Joe Meek. The band broke up soon after.
Tam White later pursued a solo career as a pop balladeer before finding success as an R&B/jazz singer. By this time, he had returned to Scotland but as the work began to dry up he went back to the stonemasonry. He revived the Dexters in the 70s, and billed them as Tam White & The Dexters. The band built up a solid and loyal following for their live appearances, which generally sold out.
When Tam White and the Dexters broke up for the second-time collaborations with musicians such as guitarist Neil Warden, the harmonica player Fraser Speirs and bassist Boz Burrell eventually developed into a permanent line-up known as The Shoestring Band, which continued until 2006.
In the 80s he tried to revive his solo career but could not adjust to the changing industry. The Dexters were reformed in 1982 and the ten-piece outfit played at Ronnie Scott’s before recording a live album.
Tam White sang the role of Big Jazza McGlone for Robbie Coltrane in John Byrne’s TV classic Tutti Frutti (BBC - 1987).
In the 90’s Tam took up character acting and featured in many TV series including Eastenders; and films such as Braveheart. Tam White was considered by many to be one of the greatest European Blues singers with his trademark gravel-voice but sadly was never able to turn his talent to commercial success. He died aged 58 in 2010.
Worth a listen
I’ve Got Troubles Of My Own (1964)
Nothings gonna change me <1964)
I Believe To My Soul (1965)
I’ve Got Something To Tell You Baby (1965)
You’re Holding Me Down’ (1966)