Local Obituaries

Drummer from Fabulous Flippers dies listening to James Brown

The Fabulous Flippers’ heyday was in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Fabulous Flippers’ heyday was in the 1960s and 1970s. Courtesy photo

Back in the day, the Fabulous Flippers were a hot rock and roll band known across the Midwest.

The man who kept the band’s beat moving was drummer Jerry Tammen.

Mr. Tammen, who drummed, trimmed trees, loved M&Ms and Coca-Cola, ran night clubs and invested in local real estate, died last week at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis. He was 72.

A memorial service in his hometown of Larned is planned.

“He was so easy to get along with,” said Terry Wierman of Hays, the band’s lead guitar player and founder of the Flippers. “He was as wild and crazy as the rest of us.”

Mr. Tammen was born on Dec. 1, 1944, in Larned. He was a 1962 graduate of Larned High School.

He attended Washburn College in Topeka before transferring to the University of Kansas. And it was there he became part of the band.

The band was originally known as the Flippers, named after spinner hubcaps, also known as flippers. In the beginning, it was a five-piece high school band from Hays.

But when the band reorganized in 1964, they became known as the Fabulous Flippers and re-emerged at KU as an eight-piece ensemble with a big rhythm-and-blues band sound featuring saxophones, horns, guitars and Mr. Tammen on drums.

The band was at its height from the mid-1960s through the 1970s.

Its promoter was John Brown from Downs, and the group was frequently mentioned on KOMA, a 100,000-watt radio station out of Oklahoma City. The Fabulous Flippers were best known for their hit “Harlem Shuffle,” which topped the charts for 16 straight weeks on radio stations throughout the Midwest. “I Don’t Want to Cry” was another Flippers hit.

“We were number one on many radio stations across the United States,” said Danny Hein, vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist. “We got so famous that KOMA used to announce the Fabulous Flippers will be performing and name off a town: Belleville, Omaha, Sioux Falls.

“We would have concerts where, in smaller towns, our concerts would outdraw the population of the town.”

A national organization of ballroom owners named the group the No. 1 ballroom band for five years running.

In its heyday, band members would often perform 90 concerts during the summer, attend school during the week and continue doing concerts on the weekends, Hein said.

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Halls of Fame of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.

The Fabulous Flippers broke up in 1972. Through the years, the group did several reunion concerts, the last in 2012 in Hutchinson. They also performed at the inauguration ball of Gov. Kathleen Sibelius in 2006.

In the 1970s, Mr. Tammen moved to California, where he graduated with honors from the Brooks Institute of Photography. Mary Murray August, who said she was once engaged to Mr. Tammen and remained one of his best friends, said he was a man of many talents.

“He could dance, sing, do carpentry and take care of anything,” she said.

He moved to Larned in 1991. The group produced a reunion album in 1994 called “Then and Now” that had all the group’s hits and eight new songs.

On Wednesday, Mr. Tammen was found in his Larned home, unresponsive. He was rushed to Wichita, and several band members came to be with him in his last moments.

“We played James Brown’s ‘Please, Please, Please,’ ” Hein said. “We all got together and held hands to send him off.”

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner