Backstage with ‘The Godfather of Soul’ James Brown

No Lies Radio Music – By Teri Perticone – June 09, 2018

james-brown_side-face-wallpaper

James Joseph Brown[1] (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was an American singer, songwriter, dancer, musician, record producer and bandleader. A progenitor of funk music and a major figure of 20th century popular music and dance, he is often referred to as the “Godfather of Soul”.[2] In a career that lasted 50 years, he influenced the development of several music genres.[3]

Brown began his career as a gospel singer in Toccoa, Georgia. He joined an R&B vocal group, the Gospel Starlighters (which later evolved into the Flames) founded by Bobby Byrd, in which he was the lead singer.[4][5] First coming to national public attention in the late 1950s as a member of the singing group The Famous Flames with the hit ballads “Please, Please, Please” and “Try Me”, Brown built a reputation as a tireless live performer with the Famous Flames and his backing band, sometimes known as the James Brown Band or the James Brown Orchestra. His success peaked in the 1960s with the live album Live at the Apollo and hit singles such as “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”. During the late 1960s he moved from a continuum of blues and gospel-based forms and styles to a profoundly “Africanized” approach to music-making that influenced the development of funk music.[6] By the early 1970s, Brown had fully established the funk sound after the formation of the J.B.s with records such as “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” and “The Payback”. He also became noted for songs of social commentary, including the 1968 hit “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud”. Brown continued to perform and record until his death from pneumonia in 2006.

James-Brown-that-grape-juice

Brown recorded 17 singles that reached number one on the Billboard R&B charts.[7][8] He also holds the record for the most singles listed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart which did not reach number one.[9][10] Brown has received honors from many institutions, including inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame.[11] In Joel Whitburn’s analysis of the Billboard R&B charts from 1942 to 2010, James Brown is ranked as number one in The Top 500 Artists.[12] He is ranked seventh on the music magazine Rolling Stone’s list of its 100 greatest artists of all time. Rolling Stone has also cited Brown as the most sampled artist of all time.[13][14]

Early life

Brown was born on May 3, 1933, in Toccoa, Georgia, to 16-year-old Susie (née Behling, 1917–2003) and 22-year-old Joseph Gardner Brown (1911–1993), in a small wooden shack.[15] Brown’s name was supposed to have been Joseph James Brown Jr., but his first and middle names were mistakenly reversed on his birth certificate.[1] He later legally changed his name to remove “Jr.” His parents were both African-American; in his autobiography, Brown stated that he also had Chinese and Native American ancestry.[16][17] The Brown family lived in extreme poverty in Elko, South Carolina, which was an impoverished town at the time.[9] They later moved to Augusta, Georgia, when James was four or five.[18] His family first settled at one of his aunts’ brothels. They later moved into a house shared with another aunt.[18] Brown’s mother eventually left the family after a contentious marriage and moved to New York.[19] Brown spent long stretches of time on his own, hanging out in the streets and hustling to get by. He managed to stay in school until the sixth grade.

He began singing in talent shows as a young child, first appearing at Augusta’s Lenox Theater in 1944, winning the show after singing the ballad “So Long”.[20] While in Augusta, Brown performed buck dances for change to entertain troops from Camp Gordon at the start of World War II as their convoys traveled over a canal bridge near his aunt’s home.[20] He learned to play the piano, guitar, and harmonica during this period. He became inspired to become an entertainer after hearing “Caldonia” by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.[21] In his teen years, Brown briefly had a career as a boxer.[22] At the age of 16, he was convicted of robbery and sent to a juvenile detention center in Toccoa.[23] There, he formed a gospel quartet with four fellow cellmates, including Johnny Terry. Stories differ as to how Brown eventually attained parole. According to one story, Bobby Byrd’s family helped to secure an early release, while another version of events had Brown getting parole after S. C. Lawson, the owner of a car and motor manufacturing company, agreed to sponsor him, with the provision that Brown promise to pursue a two-year job commitment.[24] He was paroled on June 14, 1952.[24] Upon his release, he joined a gospel group and had several jobs, working for the Lawson Motor Company and as a janitor at a local school.[25] Brown and Bobby Byrd reportedly met and became friends following Brown’s release from prison.[26]

1953–1961: The Famous Flames

Brown joined Byrd’s group, which performed under two names: the Gospel Starlighters, an a cappella gospel group, and the Avons, an R&B band.[26] He reputedly joined the band after one of its members, Troy Collins, was killed.[27] Along with Brown and Byrd, the group consisted of Sylvester Keels, Doyle Oglesby, Fred Pulliam, Nash Knox and Nafloyd Scott. the group changed its name, first to the Toccoa Band and then to the Flames.[25][27]. Berry Trimier became the group’s first manager, booking them at parties near college campuses in Georgia and South Carolina.[29] The group had already gained a reputation as a good live act when they renamed themselves the Famous Flames.[30] In 1955, the group had contacted Little Richard while performing in Macon.[31][32] Richard convinced the group to get in contact with his manager at the time, Clint Brantley, at his nightclub.[33] Brantley agreed to manage them after seeing the group audition.[34] He then sent them to a local radio station to record a demo session, where they performed their own composition “Please, Please, Please”, which was inspired when Little Richard wrote the words of the title on a napkin and Brown was determined to make a song out of it.[34][35][36] The Famous Flames eventually signed with King Records’ Federal subsidiary in Cincinnati, Ohio, and issued a re-recorded version of “Please, Please, Please” in March 1956. The song becamown performed buck dances for change to entertain troops from Camp Gordon at the start of World War II as their convoys traveled over a canal bridge near his aunt’s home.[20] He learned to play the piano, guitar, and harmonica during this period. He became inspired to become an entertainer after hearing “Caldonia” by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.[21] In his teen years, Brown briefly had a career as a boxer.[22] At the age of 16, he was convicted of robbery and sent to a juvenile detention center in Toccoa.[23] There, he formed a gospel quartet with four fellow cellmates, including Johnny Terry. Stories differ as to how Brown eventually attained parole. According to one story, Bobby Byrd’s family helped to secure an early release, while another version of events had Brown getting parole after S. C. Lawson, the owner of a car and motor manufacturing company, agreed to sponsor him, with the provision that Brown promise to pursue a two-year job commitment.[24] He was paroled on June 14, 1952.[24] Upon his release, he joined a gospel group and had several jobs, working for the Lawson Motor Company and as a janitor at a local school.[25] Brown and Bobby Byrd reportedly met and became friends following Brown’s release from prison.[26]


James Brown performs “Please Please Please” at the TAMI Show (Live)

In October 1958, Brown released the ballad “Try Me”, which hit number one on the R&B chart in the beginning of 1959, becoming the first of seventeen chart-topping R&B hits.[39]


James Brown-Try me

1962–1966: Mr. Dynamite

In 1964, seeking bigger commercial success, Brown and Bobby Byrd formed the production company, Fair Deal, linking the operation to the Mercury imprint, Smash Records.[27][44] King Records, however, fought against this and was granted an injunction preventing Brown from releasing any recordings for the label. Prior to the injunction, Brown had released three vocal singles, including the blues-oriented hit “Out of Sight”, which further indicated the direction his music was going to take.[45] Touring throughout the year, Brown and the Famous Flames grabbed more national attention after giving an explosive show-stopping performance on the live concert film The T.A.M.I. Show. The Flames’ dynamic gospel-tinged vocals, polished choreography and timing as well as Brown’s energetic dance moves and high-octane singing upstaged the proposed closing act, the Rolling Stones. Having signed a new deal with King, Brown released his song “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, which became his first top ten pop hit and won him his first Grammy Award.[46] Later in 1965, he issued “I Got You”, which became his second single in a row to reach number-one on the R&B chart and top ten on the pop chart. Brown followed that up with the ballad “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” which confirmed his stance as a top-ranking performer, especially with R&B audiences from that point on.[46]


James Brown ~ Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag (1965)


James Brown – I Got You (I Feel Good) (Live 8, Edinburgh 2005)


Luciano Pavarotti & James Brown – It’s a man’s world

1975–1991: Decline and resurgence

Although his records were mainstays of the vanguard New York underground disco scene exemplified by DJs such as David Mancuso and Francis Grasso from 1969 onwards, Brown did not consciously yield to the trend until 1975’s Sex Machine Today. By 1977, he was no longer a dominant force in R&B. After “Get Up Offa That Thing”, thirteen of Brown’s late 1970s recordings for Polydor failed to reach the Top 10 of the R&B chart, with only “Bodyheat” in 1976 and the disco-oriented “It’s Too Funky in Here” in 1979 reaching the R&B Top 15 and the ballad “Kiss in ’77” reaching the Top 20. After 1976’s “Bodyheat”, he also failed to appear on the Billboard Hot 100.

By the release of 1979’s The Original Disco Man, Brown was not providing much production or writing, leaving most of it to producer Brad Shapiro, resulting in the song “It’s Too Funky in Here” becoming Brown’s most successful single in this period. After two more albums failed to chart, Brown left Polydor in 1981. It was around this time that Brown changed the name of his band from the J.B.’s to the Soul Generals (or Soul G’s). The band retained that name until his death. Despite the decline in his record sales Brown enjoyed something of a resurgence in this period, starting with appearances in the feature films The Blues Brothers, Doctor Detroit and Rocky IV, as well as guest-starring in the Miami Vice episode “Missing Hours” (1987). In 1984, he teamed with rap musician Afrika Bambaattaa on the song “Unity”. A year later he signed with Scotti Brothers Records and issued the moderately successful album Gravity in 1986. It included Brown’s final Top 10 pop hit, “Living in America”, marking his first Top 40 entry since 1974 and his first Top 10 pop entry since 1968. Produced and written by Dan Hartman, it was also featured prominently on the Rocky IV film and soundtrack. Brown performed the song in the film at Apollo Creed’s final fight, shot in the Ziegfeld Room at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and was credited in the film as “The Godfather of Soul”. 1986 also saw the publication of his autobiography, James Brown: The Godfather of Soul, co-written with Bruce Tucker. In 1987, Brown won the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Living in America”.


James Brown – Get On Up – Like A Sex Machine Parts 1 & 2


James Brown – Living in America

1991–2006: Final years

After his stint in prison during the late 1980s, Brown met Larry Fridie and Thomas Hart who produced the first James Brown biopic, entitled James Brown: The Man entitled James Brown: The Man, the Message, the Music, released in 1992.[60] He returned to music with the album Love Over-Due in 1991. It included the single “(So Tired of Standing Still We Got to) Move On”, which peaked at No. 48 on the R&B chart. His former record label Polydor also released the four-CD box set Star Time, spanning Brown’s career to date. Brown’s release from prison also prompted his former record labels to reissue his albums on CD, featuring additional tracks and commentary by music critics and historians. That same year, Brown appeared on rapper MC Hammer’s video for “Too Legit to Quit”. Hammer had been noted, alongside Big Daddy Kane, for bringing Brown’s unique stage shows and their own energetic dance moves to the hip-hop generation; both listed Brown as their idol. Both musicians also sampled his work, with Hammer having sampled the rhythms from “Super Bad” for his song “Here Comes the Hammer”, from his best-selling album Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em. Big Daddy Kane sampled many times. Before the year was over, Brown–who had immediately returned to work with his band following his release–organized a pay-per-view concert following a show at Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre, that was well received.


“Say It Loud It Loud ~ I’m Black & I’m Proud”

Brown continued making recordings and celebrated his status as an icon by appearing in a variety of entertainment and sports events.

Brown’s last televised appearance was at his induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame in November 2006, before his death the following month.

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Posted by Teri Perticone

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