Tandyn Douglas Almer was born July 30, 1942, in Minneapolis. According to his half brother and sister-in-law, his parents couldn’t settle on a name, so they came up with Tandyn almost as a whimsical afterthought.
By the time he was 4, young Tandyn was playing classical music by ear on piano. When his parents separated, he and his mother moved into an apartment — a basement apartment — with two pianos.
Tandyn somehow pushed them together and played both at the same time.
He attended a conservatory in Minnesota in his youth, but he soon became fascinated with the jazz of John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Ahmad Jamal. He quit high school at 17 and moved to Chicago to become a jazz pianist. By about 1961, he was in Los Angeles, where his musical interests shifted to the rapidly evolving world of pop and rock music.
“He told me that his head was completely turned around by Bob Dylan,” Puterbaugh said. “Up until then, he had been a jazz freak.”
According to an account he wrote to an acquaintance on Facebook, Mr. Almer practiced at the music department at UCLA and graduated in 1964 from Los Angeles City College. By that time, he was becoming a fixture at the Troubadour, a Los Angeles folk-music club where he occasionally accompanied Linda Ronstadt and other performers on bass.
He also began to experiment with marijuana and LSD, and in some circles, he became renowned for inventing a kind of water pipe, or bong.
By 1965, he had written “Along Comes Mary,” which was picked up by the Association. Something about the tune — its rhythmic complexity, its soaring harmonies, the intricate wordplay of its lyrics — impressed more than just the teenagers who danced to it.
“Let me put it this way,” Puterbaugh said. “Leonard Bernstein in 1967 thought enough of him to bring him to the attention of the world in the CBS special ‘Inside Pop.’ Two of the people he spotlighted were Brian Wilson and Tandyn Almer.”
On the program, Bernstein lit Mr. Almer’s cigarette and praised his sophisticated use of the Dorian mode, a musical scale often used in classical music and jazz.
George Benson, Hugh Masekela, Cal Tjader and other jazz musicians recorded “Along Comes Mary,” and amateur musicologists tried to unravel the complicated lyrics, with their internal rhymes and images of youthful alienation.
When vague desire is the fire in the eyes of chicks
Whose sickness is the games they play ...
And when the morning of the warning’s passed, the gassed
And flaccid kids are flung across the stars.
Was the song about a girl named Mary, the Virgin Mary or, as many thought, the effects of smoking marijuana?
Even today, Jim Yester, who sang “Along Comes Mary” on the Association’s original recording, occasionally reads the lyrics to audiences before singing the song.