James Brown – circa 1980
“Say it loud / I’m black and I’m proud!” – ‘Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud’ (James Brown, Alfred Ellis)
America is in trouble. On 4 April 1968, the Reverend Martin Luther King, a prominent campaigner for civil rights for African-Americans, is shot and killed on the balcony of a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. This provokes black people to riot in thirty different cities across the United States of America. Washington, D.C., a city with a large percentage of African-American citizens, is one of the worst affected. When all is chaos, who can save the situation? “Ladeez and gennulmen, Mr Jaa-aa-ames Brown!!” Stay tuned…
James Joseph Brown (3 May 1933-25 December 2006) is born in a ‘small wooden shack’ in Barnwell, South Carolina, U.S.A. “I was stillborn,” James Brown later claims. “The midwives laid me aside, thought I was really gone. I laid there about an hour, and they picked me back up and tried again, ‘cause my body was still warm. The Good Lord brought me back.” It is said that it is the baby’s great aunt Minnie who resuscitates the newborn. James Brown is the son of Joseph ‘Joe’ Gardner Brown, aged 23, and his 16 year old wife, Susie Brown (nee Behling). Their child was supposed to be named Joseph James Brown, but the forenames are accidentally reversed when the birth is registered. Joe Brown works for James M. Anderson. Joe travels around the area, getting sap from trees which he sells to turpentine manufacturers. The family lives in ‘extreme poverty’ in Elko, South Carolina. ‘After a contentious marriage’, Susie Brown leaves the family when her son James is 4 years old. She moves to New York.
When James Brown is 6 years old, he is sent to live with an aunt in a bordello in Augusta, Georgia. “I guess I saw and heard just about everything in the world in that house, when the soldiers were there with women,” James recalls. The soldiers come from the nearby military post, Fort Gordon. As they get on trains to be deployed elsewhere, the soldiers are entertained by the young James Brown and his friend, Willie Glenn. While Willie claps his hands in accompaniment, James dances and the troops toss pennies down before the youngsters. James Brown spends a lot of time on his own, without adult supervision. He grows up on King Street in Augusta, ‘poorer than poor.’ James Brown makes a little money shining shoes, picking cotton and peanuts in the fields and delivering groceries for a store.
James Brown displays an aptitude for music at an early age. He enters talent shows as a child. In 1944 he wins one such contest, singing the ballad ‘So Long’ at the Lenox Theater in Augusta. Inspired, James learns to play piano, guitar and harmonica. What sets him on the path to becoming an entertainer is seeing a short film of jump blues recording artist Louis Jordan And His Tympany Five performing their 1945 song ‘Caldonia’. Brown sings with a rhythm and blues vocal group called The Cremona Trio.
James Brown only manages to stay in school until the sixth grade. When he is 12, young James is dismissed from school for ‘insufficient clothing.’ He becomes a pool-hall attendant and does some semi-professional boxing. James Brown also becomes a thief. Allegedly, he ‘steals to get money to buy decent clothes for school.’ Brown’s specialty seems to be stealing from parked cars. After looting four vehicles in one night, in 1949 the 16 year old James Brown is arrested. He is given an eight to sixteen year sentence and sent to the juvenile detention center in Toccoa, Georgia.
While he is serving his time in custody, James Brown divides his time between music and sports. He forms a vocal group called The Swanees with fellow young offender Johnny Terry. In 1952, the reform baseball team (including Brown) plays a match against another group of boys from outside the detention center. One of the boys on this other team is Bobby Byrd. James and Bobby get along well and, at Bobby’s urging, the Byrd family sponsors James Brown for early release.
James Brown is paroled on 14 June 1952, having served three years in the detention center. One of the conditions of his release is that James Brown is not to return home, so he lives with the Byrd family in Toccoa, Georgia. James Brown works at the Lawson Motor Company, as a janitor at the local school and as a dish-washer. Brown also does some more boxing. He has hopes of becoming a professional baseball pitcher, but a leg injury puts an end to that idea.
James Brown also continues to sing with vocal groups. He and Bobby Byrd sing with a gospel vocal act called The Starlighters, which includes Bobby’s sister, Sarah. The boys also sing with a rhythm and blues vocal group, The Avons, alongside Troy Collins, Doyle Oglesby, Sylvester Keels and Willie Johnson.
On 19 June 1953 James Brown marries Velma Warren. James and Velma go on to have three sons – Teddy (1954-1973), Terry (born 1955) and Larry (born 1958) – and a daughter, Lisa (born 1963). Note: It has been argued that Lisa is Velma’s daughter from another relationship.
James Brown leaves The Avons for The Ever Ready Gospel Singers in 1954. The attraction for Brown in this act is that it brings him back together with Johnny Terry, his buddy in the prison group The Swanees. Johnny Terry was paroled around the same time as James Brown. However, The Ever Ready Gospel Singers proves a short-lived project and soon disbands. Later in 1954, Troy Collins from The Avons dies in a car accident. Bobby Byrd invites James Brown to return to The Avons and replace Collins. Johnny Terry is soon also asked to join the group and he brings with him guitarist Nafloyd Scott. Fred Pulliam is brought in to replace the departing Willie Johnson. The Avons change their name to The Toccoa Band to avoid confusion with another similarly named outfit. The Toccoa Band acquires a manager, Barry Tremier. He convinces each member of the vocal group to also play an instrument. For instance, James Brown plays drums and Bobby Byrd plays piano.
In 1955 James Brown and his friends attend a gig by Little Richard. A fellow Georgian, Little Richard is on his way to becoming one of the early stars of rock ‘n’ roll. Seeing the possibilities embodied by Little Richard, The Toccoa Band changes the name of the group to The Flames. Little Richard’s local agent, Clint Brantley, suggests a modification and the group becomes The Famous Flames. Line-up changes continue to be a part of the story for the boys. Doyle Oglesby and Fred Pulliam quit. Nashkendle ‘Nash’ Know and Nafloyd Scott’s cousin, Roy, are brought in – but Roy soon leaves.
Before Christmas 1955 James Brown And The Famous Flames make a demo recording of a song called ‘Please Please Please’. This is heard by Ralph Bass, who takes the recording to Syd Nathan of King Records. Despite some resistance, Nathan eventually consents to release the song on the Federal label, a subsidiary of King, and James Brown’s recording career is underway.
In the beginning, the music of James Brown is probably best described as rhythm and blues (R&B). Often R&B is little more than record executive shorthand for a recording by an act of African-American origin. In the mid-1950s, rock ‘n’ roll is born from a merger of black R&B and white country and western music. Many early black rock ‘n’ roll performers – Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Fats Domino – incorporate strains of country music into their work. Although James Brown does record some songs from country origins, he is almost alone in standing for an undiluted African-American sound. Brown is no racist; if white kids enjoy the music, that’s fine – but he does not go out of his way to court them.
Having come up through gospel music as well as rhythm and blues, James Brown’s music often owes a debt to preachers from the highly animated travelling tent shows. Brown’s vocals are peppered with exclamations like, ‘Oww!”, “Whoo!”, “Good God!” and “He’p Me!” Of course, he is far less sanctified and is earthy enough to add many a grunt simulating sex (“Unnnh!”). There are also tonsil-rattling screams – “Aaa-aaa-aargh!”- in the fashion of holy men speaking in tongues. Brown’s voice is described as ‘torn and frayed.’
The fusion of characteristics from rhythm and blues as well as gospel comes to be known as soul music. This term is not really applied to any recordings prior to 1961, though – arguably – James Brown is singing soul for years before then. Brown can also lay claim to having invented funk, an intensely rhythmic form of dance music, in the mid-1960s. More tenuous is his association with disco, a more vapid, hedonistic brand of dance music from the mid-1970s. That doesn’t stop James Brown boasting about his role in this and even later trends: “Disco is James Brown. Hip-hop is James Brown. Rap is James Brown. You know what I’m saying? You hear all the rappers, ninety per cent of that music is me.”
James Brown is ‘Soul Brother Number One’, ‘The Hardest Working Man in Show Business’ and ‘Mr Dynamite’…all self-appointed titles he adds ‘like campaign medals.’
Most of James Brown’s catalogue of songs is both written and produced by the man himself. Although he records some cover versions and outside compositions, unless otherwise indicated, all songs referred to herein are written and produced by James Brown.
The first single by James Brown And The Famous Flames is ‘Please Please Please’ (US no. 105), released on the Federal label – a subsidiary of King Records – in February 1956. The Famous Flames continue to be co-credited on James Brown’s recordings until 1968, although the other vocalists probably only work with him in the recording studio up to 1965; thereafter only touring with their frontman. ‘Please Please Please’ is co-written by James Brown and Johnny Terry from The Famous Flames backing vocal group. The single is produced by Ralph Bass. The song does well in the Southern States of the U.S. on ‘the black juke box network.’ It is noted that ‘a dynamic religious fervour runs through’ ‘Please Please Please’. When performing the song on stage, James Brown acts out the agonising pleas to his lover, “Honey, please don’t go / I love you so,” despite acknowledging that, “Bay-by! You did me wrong.” The Famous Flames drape a cape over the shoulders of the singer, escorting him from the stage. Brown runs back for another chorus. The Famous Flames again place across his shoulders a cape – of a different colour. Brown is once more led away, only to make a third and final lunge for the microphone. After another vocal outburst, a black cape marks the singer’s exit…until a few minutes later, he runs back on stage, clad in a new outfit, suitcase in hand, his thumb extended to hitch a ride, as he shuffles across the stage and away. It’s all very theatrical and part of James Brown’s trademark showmanship.
‘Please Please Please’ is ‘folowed by two years of relative failure during which [James Brown] tries unavailingly to find a follow-up and performs almost exclusively in the Southern States, particularly Florida.’
In 1957 Ben Bart becomes James Brown’s manager. ‘Soon Brown has a regular road band, an increasingly tight show and an entire revue, with members of the troupe doubling as opening acts.’ Brown has a strict ‘no drugs or alcohol’ policy and band members are reportedly fined for any missed notes. Nat Jones is the band-lander of The James Brown Revue. The band includes bass player Bernard Odum, who started working with James Brown in 1956.
‘Try Me’ (US no. 48), ‘a laboriously slow, churchy ballad’, is released in October 1958. The single is produced by Andy Gibson.
By 1959, The Famous Flames backing vocalists settle into their most famous configuration: Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett, Johnny Terry and ‘Baby Lloyd’ Stallworth.
On 24 April 1959 James Brown And The Famous Flames play their first show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. This venue will come to play a significant role in James Brown’s legend.
James Brown releases two singles in 1959. ‘I Want You So Bad’ does not feature The Famous Flames, though they are still credited on the record label. The single is probably produced by James Brown – though there is some doubt on this point. If it is correct, then it marks Brown’s first effort as a record producer. ‘I’ll Go Crazy’, released on 11 November, is notable for its intriguing spider-web of guitar work. The producer of ‘I’ll Go Crazy’ is unknown. Neither ‘I Want You So Bad’ nor ‘I’ll Go Crazy’ makes the pop charts, though both are hits on the rhythm and blues chart. Over the course of his career, James Brown reputedly ‘places an astounding one hundred and three singles on the rhythm and blues charts’, but here only the placings on the pop charts will be noted. James Brown also releases his first two albums in 1959: ‘Please Please Please’ (1959) is produced by Ralph Bass and includes both ‘Please Please Please’ and ‘Try Me’. ‘Try Me!’ (1959) also includes ‘Try Me’, but this time it is in the company of ‘I Want You So Bad’. The producer of ‘Try Me!’ is unknown. ‘Try Me!’ is later reissued as ‘The Unbeatable James Brown: 16 Hits’ (1964). Federal/King is inclined to shuffle around the contents of Brown’s recordings so the same songs may appear on multiple albums – and not just compilation discs. James Brown is really more oriented towards singles than albums – as is the rock ‘n’ roll industry at the time.
James Brown gets into a dispute with Syd Nathan, the head of King Records (and the Federal subsidiary label). Brown wants to use the musicians from his touring band on his recordings but Nathan will not consent. To prove his point, James Brown and his band record a single under the pseudonym of Nat Kendrick And The Swans on the Dade label. The song is ‘(Do The) Mashed Potatoes’ and it is released in February 1960. Written by Dessie Rozier (an alias for James Brown), it is based on a dance routine from James Brown’s stage-show. The song reaches the top ten of the rhythm and blues singles chart and spawns a dance craze. Lesson learned, Syd Nathan relents and allows James Brown to use his own touring band in the recording studio. Another outcome of the standoff is Nathan shifts Brown from the Federal subsidiary to the parent company, King Records. “You got more support from the company,” says Brown, explaining the value of this label adjustment.
The shift from Federal to King Records does not take place immediately. The first three of the four James Brown singles released in 1960 are still on the Federal label. ‘Think’ (US no. 33), released in May 1960, is a cover version of a 1957 song by The 5 Royales. This song is powered by a beefed-up horn section that executes an impressive arrangement full of stops and starts. It is a more modern sound than Brown’s earlier gospel-influenced work. ‘You’ve Got The Power’ (US no. 86), also released in May 1960, is a duet between James Brown and Bea Ford. This is the only duet between the two singers, but not their only collaboration. Bea Ford gives birth to a son named Daryl (born 1960) as a result of an extra-marital relationship with James Brown. ‘This Old Heart’ (US no. 79) is one of the first James Brown records to be issued in the U.K. – on the Fontana label in this case. Brown’s last single for 1960 (and the first on King) is a cover version of the 1952 song by Billy Ward And The Dominoes, ‘The Bells’ (US no. 68). The producer(s) of these four singles are unknown. Similarly, the identity of the producer of James Brown’s album ‘Think!’ (1960) is unknown. This disc includes ‘I’ll Go Crazy’, ‘Think’, ‘You’ve Got The Power’ and ‘This Old Heart’ as well as two songs that become singles in 1961: ‘Bewildered’ and ‘Baby, You’re Right’.
James Brown releases five singles in 1961. The first is the February 1961 cover version of ‘Bewildered’ (US no. 40), a song originally recorded by Tommy Dorsey And His Orchestra in 1938. Andy Gibson produces James Brown’s take on the song. Gene Redd acts as producer for ‘I Don’t Mind’ (US no. 47). Syd Nathan, King Records’ boss, produces ‘Baby, You’re Right’ (US no. 49), James Brown’s cover version of the Joe Tex song from 1961. The producer(s) of the other two 1961 singles are unknown. ‘Just You And Me Darling’ is only a hit on the rhythm and blues chart. November 1961’s ‘Lost Someone’ (US no. 48) is co-written by James Brown and two of his Famous Flames vocal backing group, Bobby Byrd and Lloyd Eugene Stallworth. ‘The Amazing James Brown’ (1961) album includes ‘The Bells’, ‘I Don’t Mind’, ‘Just You And Me Darling’ and ‘Lost Someone’. ‘James Brown Presents His Band/Night Train’ (1961) launches the singer’s first hit for 1962. The producer of the second James Brown album for 1961 is unknown.
James Brown fathers another extra-marital child. LaRhonda Pettit (born 1961) is James Brown’s child by Ruby Shannon.
The name of the record producer of the four 1962 James Brown singles is unknown but, since James Brown produces the two albums he releases in 1962, it seems likely that he also produces the singles. ‘Night Train’ (US no. 35), released in March 1962, is a cover version of a 1952 Jimmy Forrest song. Forrest was a saxophone player in the band of jazz and blues musician Count Basie. ‘Night Train’ depends on the brass section as it honks, shuffles and powers on like a locomotive changing tracks. The vocal is minimal with James Brown ticking off the places on the journey: Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans and so on. ‘Shout And Shimmy’ (US no. 61) is followed by ‘Mashed Potatoes U.S.A.’ (US no. 82) (evidently a variation on the 1960 pseudonymous Nat Kendrick And The Swans song). ‘Three Hearts In A Tangle’ backed with ‘I’ve Got Money’ (US no. 93) closes out the year in November 1962. ‘Three Hearts In A Tangle’ is a reworking of Roy Drusky’s 1961 country music song (Brown’s version, strangely enough, only makes the rhythm and blues chart), but ‘I’ve Got Money’ is a James Brown original. The album ‘Good, Good Twistin’’ (1962) includes ‘I Don’t Mind’ and ‘Shout And Shimmy’. Another track, ‘Good, Good Lovin’’ (co-written by Albert Shubert and James Brown) contains ‘Latin cross-rhythms’ and is a precursor of Brown’s later more rhythmically complex works. Although ‘James Brown And His Famous Flames Tour The U.S.A.’ (1962) may sound like the title of a collection of concert recordings, it is actually another studio recording. This set incorporates ‘Mashed Potatoes U.S.A.’, ‘Three Hearts In A Tangle’, ‘I’ve Got Money’ and the two songs that will comprise the next James Brown single, ‘Like A Baby’ and ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’.
In 1962 James Brown signs a singer named Tammy Montgomery (born Thomasina Winifred Montgomery) to his own Try Me record label. She is 17 at the time. Although James Brown is still married to Velma Warren, he and Tammy Montgomery ‘engage in a sexual relationship.’ She releases the single ‘I Cried’ (US no. 99) on Try Me in April 1962. It is said that the relationship between Brown and Montgomery ‘turns out to be abusive.’ Their two year liaison comes to an end in 1964 after a ‘horrific incident with Brown backstage after a show.’ Tammy Montgomery becomes better known as Tammi Terrell when she goes to Motown Records. Tammi Terrell is perhaps most famous for a series of duets with Motown singer Marvin Gaye. Tammi Terrell dies of brain cancer on 16 March 1970 at the age of 24.
James Brown issues four singles in 1963. The first of these is ‘Like A Baby’ b/w ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’. Both songs are cover versions. Elvis Presley recorded ‘Like A Baby’ in 1960 and the instrumental ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’ was credited to The Royals in 1954. This single does not reach the pop chart. A 1945 Billy Eckstine song, ‘Prisoner Of Love’ (US no. 18), becomes James Brown’s next single in April 1963. It is co-produced by James Brown and Hal Neely. The identity of the producer of the other 1963 singles is not known, but it seems likely that James Brown produces them. ‘Prisoner Of Love’ is an agonised song rendered in a doo wop vocal style with a background of lowing horns. ‘These Foolish Things’ (US no. 55) is a cover version of a Billie Holiday song from 1936 while ‘Signed, Sealed And Delivered’ (US no. 72) is a country tune first recorded by Cowboy Copas in 1948.
‘Live At The Apollo’ (1963) (US no. 2) is released in May. This album documents a performance by James Brown at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, on 24 October 1962. King Records boss Syd Nathan opposed the idea of recording a live album so, according to the singer, James Brown financed the project himself. ‘Live At The Apollo’ is ‘one of the first live albums’ and it ‘may be the greatest live album ever recorded.’ Although it runs barely over thirty minutes, the disc rifles through live takes of ‘Try Me’, ‘Think’, an eleven minute ‘epic’ version of ‘Lost Someone’, a nine-song medley and ends with ‘Night Train’. ‘Live At The Apollo’ sells over a million copies and stays on the album chart for sixty-six weeks. These sort of statistics are ‘virtually unprecedented for a hardcore rhythm and blues album.’ Although he is primarily a singles act, ‘Live At The Apollo’ ranks as James Brown’s best album.
An album made in the recording studio, ‘Prisoner Of Love’ (1963) (US no. 73), is released in September. This album includes such songs as the title track – ‘Prisoner Of Love’ – ‘Signed, Sealed And Delivered’, ‘Lost Someone’, ‘Try Me’ and ‘Bewildered’ (though the last three had also appeared on earlier James Brown albums as well).
James Brown grows increasingly frustrated with King Records. He has already found himself in opposition to King’s boss Syd Nathan about using Brown’s touring band as his backing musicians in the studio and the wisdom of making a live album. In both cases, Brown was proved right. Now the singer becomes convinced that King’s business practices are holding him back from greater success. James Brown forms Fair Deal Productions (and uses that as a pseudonym for some of his record production credits) and leases his next efforts to Smash Records, a subsidiary of Mercury. A legal battle ensues and both King and Smash release James Brown material in 1964 while the dispute simmers. The following information puts the singles and albums in chronological order between the two labels.
James Brown’s first single for 1964 is ‘Oh Baby Don’t You Weep (Part 1)’ (US no. 23) on King Records. Brown’s singles often carry a ‘Part 1’ suffix. Usually, ‘Part 2’ is on the B side. A long performance is simply cut into two pieces. The producer of ‘Oh Baby Don’t You Weep’ is unknown. James Brown’s first single for Smash is a cover version of Louis Jordan’s 1945 jump blues piece ‘Caldonia’ (US no. 95). Smash follows this with another cover version, ‘The Things That I Used To Do’ (US no. 99), a 1953 blues song first recorded by Guitar Slim. James Brown’s most significant single for 1964 is ‘Out Of Sight’ (US no. 24) b/w ‘Maybe The Last Time’ released in May. Both songs are Ted Wright compositions. ‘Out Of Sight’ ‘isn’t called funk when it first comes out but it has most of the essential ingredients.’ The song is a smart piece of work. The familiar horn section slips in and out of the weave, mixing restraint with power. The B side, ‘Maybe The Last Time’, is reportedly the final studio recording on which James Brown is backed by The Famous Flames vocal group. All three of these Smash singles are produced by the ‘Fair Deal Record Corp.’ King Records, by now in dispute with James Brown, issues a new version of his 1956 hit ‘Please Please Please’ (US no. 95) overdubbed with crowd noise to simulate a live recording. King follows this with ‘Have Mercy Baby’ (US no. 92), a cover version of a 1952 Billy Ward And The Dominoes song that originally appeared on Brown’s earlier album ‘Good, Good Twistin’’ (1962). Smash releases one more James Brown single (in 1965), an instrumental version of his 1958 hit ‘Try Me’ (US no. 63). Smash puts out the first James Brown album of the year: ‘Showtime’ (1964) (US no. 61) appears in April. This set includes ‘Caldonia’ and ‘The Things That I Used To Do’. The album also uses ‘canned’ applause to give the disc the air of a live recording, showing that King Records was not alone in trying to associate itself with the success of ‘Live At The Apollo’ (1963). However, there is nothing simulated about King’s release, ‘Pure Dynamite! Live At The Royal’ (1964) (US no. 10). This is a concert disc recorded live at the Royal Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland in November 1963. Smash’s ‘Grits & Soul’ (1964) (US no. 124) features ‘the instrumental sounds of The James Brown Band’ with no vocals. It would seem that this instrumental recording is a way to avoid legal problems with King. The Smash album ‘Out Of Sight’ (1964), issued in September, includes ‘Out Of Sight’ and ‘Maybe The Last Time’.
In September 1964 James Brown separates from his wife, Velma Warren. The couple never reconcile. Eventually, they divorce in 1969 – though one account has it that they were never officially divorced at all.
Released on 29 December 1964, the T.A.M.I. Show (Teen Age Music International) is ‘one of the most popular documentaries of the rock era.’ James Brown is one of the featured performers in this show. He sings ‘Night Train’, ‘Please Please Please’, ‘Out Of Sight’ and ‘Prisoner Of Love’.
While separated from his wife, but still legally married, James Brown has a brief relationship with a singer named Yvonne Fair. Brown hires Yvonne Fair as a backing singer for The James Brown Revue. During this time she records a song called ‘I Found You’ which Brown later reworks into his own hit, ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’. Yvonne Fair gives birth to a daughter by James Brown, Venisha (born 1965), but Brown’s relationship with Fair is soon over.
James Brown’s backing band, usually referred to as The James Brown Revue, goes through a fairly substantial changeover in personnel in the mid-1960s. Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis (saxophone, keyboards) takes over from previous band-leader Nat Jones. Ellis’ tenure in the position lasts from 1965 to 1969. The musicians joining him include: Jimmy Nolan (guitar), Alphonso ‘Country’ Kellum (guitar), Bobby Byrd (organ), Bernard Odum (bass), Melvin Parker (drums 1964-1965), Clyde Stubblefield (drums 1965-1971), John ‘Jabo’ Starks (drums – the band had two drummers at the same time), Fred Wesley (trombone) and St Clair Pinckney (saxophone). Note: A common fallacy is that Clarence Clemmons – later of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band – played saxophone in James Brown’s group in the mid-1960s. Clemmons played in an early band called The Vibrators which played cover versions of Brown’s songs.
From 1965 to the end of the decade is the ‘period of greatest commercial success and public visibility’ for James Brown.
The musical landscape is changing and James Brown is also in motion. Around this time, soul music is becoming popular. Soul, as opposed to rhythm and blues, is more gospel influenced and, generally, its practitioners are Southern blacks from a rural background, rather than Northern, city-bred rhythm and blues musicians. In other words, soul is what James Brown was doing ten years earlier. The songs he recorded that seemed out of step with Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino now seem to fit well with Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Sam And Dave. Yet, the ever restless James Brown is breaking ground now in what will come to be known as funk.
A more relentlessly rhythmic style than gospel, rhythm and blue or soul, funk percolates almost mechanically with its goal being to induce dancing. Key to understanding funk is that James ‘Brown and his musicians and arrangers begin to treat every instrument and voice in the group as if each is a drum.’ It is a music of stabbing staccato. It is probably most notable in its treatment of guitars. Long the featured instrument in rock, funk reduces the guitar to a supporting ‘chik, chik, chik’ groove, leaving a fluid bass to explore the melody with occasional splashes of brass or keyboards.
By 1965 the legal wrangles between King Records and Smash Records over James Brown are finished. Brown is firmly back with King Records but he now has ‘complete artistic control of his recording career, and a deciding voice in the business end of it as well.’
The prophetically titled ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ (US no. 8, UK no. 25), released in June 1965, is the herald of funk. This is ‘a monster that finally breaks James Brown to the white audience.’ Even better is the follow-up in October, ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’ (US no. 3, UK no. 29), James Brown’s single greatest song. The track romps out of the gates like a frisky colt. The jaw-dropping horn arrangement is both bright and sexy. The refrain, “When I hold you / In my aaa-aaarms,” has a contrasting underpinning, a frantic bout of drumming sounding like an ant dropped on a hotplate. Then the whole thing segues back into the sleek verses. It is probably not as funky as ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’, but ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’ has a better grasp of pop. James Brown’s only other singles for 1965 are live versions of prior releases ‘Lost Someone’ (US no. 94) and ‘I’ll Go Crazy’ (US no. 73). King releases the album ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ (1965) (US no. 26) while Smash fires a parting shot with ‘James Brown Plays James Brown Today & Yesterday’ (1965) (US no. 42) in November. Both discs match ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’ with a clutch of earlier hits.
‘Ain’t That A Groove – Part 1’ (US no. 42), released in February 1966, is the first of three songs among James Brown’s singles for 1966 that are co-written by Brown and his former band-leader, Nat Jones. April’s ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ (US no. 8, UK no. 13) is co-written by James Brown and Betty Jean Newsome. It has a vaguely feminist outlook. It may be a man’s man’s man’s world, but, “It wouldn’t be nothin’ / Without a woman or a girl.” Musically, it pairs a slow, smouldering gospel grind with dramatically swooping strings and lugubrious horns. Rather atypical amongst Brown’s songbook, ‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ is less easily absorbed than some more obviously crowd-pleasing numbers. July’s ‘Money Won’t Change You’ (US no. 53) is the second of the three James Brown and Nat Jones co-compositions. ‘Don’t Be A Drop-Out’ (US no. 50), released in October, is written by Burt Jones and is a plea for teenagers – by implication, particularly African-American teens – to continue with their education. Finally, Nat Jones and James Brown co-author the Christmas song ‘Sweet Little Baby Boy’ (US no. 8). In a busy year, James Brown releases six albums in 1966, though only four come from King Records; the other two are issued by Brown’s former label, Smash. ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’ (1966) (US no. 36) is released on 1 January and pairs the 1965 hit title track with a bunch of Brown’s earlier hits. As the name suggests, ‘Mighty Instrumentals’ (1966) has no vocals and consists only of instrumental versions of songs like ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’. Smash issues ‘James Brown Plays New Breed (The Boo-Ga-Loo)’ (1966) (US no. 101) in March. ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ (1966) (US no. 90) in August adds the title track to a heap of prior James Brown hits. The yuletide tune ‘Sweet Little Baby Boy’ is part of November’s ‘James Brown Sings Christmas Songs’ (1966) (US no. 13). Also in November, Smash puts out ‘Handful Of Soul’ (1966) (US no. 135) which contains just James Brown doing cover versions of contemporary soul songs like Percy Sledge’s ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ and Sam And Dave’s ‘Hold On, I’m Comin’’.
There is a total of six James Brown singles released in 1967. The first is January’s ‘Bring It Up’ (US no. 55), co-written by James Brown and his former band-leader, Nat Jones. Brown’s 1960 hit ‘Think’ (US no. 100) is rerecorded as a duet by James Brown and Vicki Anderson. April’s ‘Let Yourself Go’ (US no. 46) is co-written by James Brown and Bud Hobgood. The pick of the 1967 singles is July’s ‘Cold Sweat – Part 1’ (US no. 7), co-written by James Brown and his current band-leader, Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis. A celebration of desire, the song builds in a funky way through an assertive chorus, underlined by drums and horns, to its apex: “I wake up in a…cold sweat.” ‘Get It Together – Part 1’ (US no. 40) in October is another songwriting collaboration between James Brown and Bud Hobgood, the co-authors of ‘Let Yourself Go’. The same duo writes the B side of James Brown’s final 1967 single, December’s ‘I Can’t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me)’ (US no. 28) b/w ‘There Was A Time’ (US no. 36). Turning to this year’s albums, there is March’s ‘James Brown Sings Raw Soul’ (1967), which includes ‘Don’t Be A Drop-Out’, ‘Bring It Up’ and ‘Let Yourself Go’. The concert recording, ‘Live At The Garden’ (1967) (US no. 41), released in May, documents a James Brown gig at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on 14 January 1967. June’s ‘James Brown Plays The Real Thing’ (1967) (US no. 164) is a compendium of cover versions of contemporary soul songs like the previous year’s ‘Handful Of Soul’. ‘James Brown Plays The Real Thing’ is also the last of Brown’s disc released on the Smash label (and the only one in 1967). ‘Cold Sweat’ (1967) (US no. 35) in August places the title track amongst cover versions of older songs such as Wilbert Harrison’s ‘Kansas City’ from 1959.
Eight James Brown singles are released in 1968. ‘You’ve Got To Change Your Mind’ is a duet James Brown records with his long-time colleague Bobby Byrd. The song is co-written by Bobby Byrd, Gene Redd, James Brown and Ron Lenhoff. Although it’s a minor hit on the rhythm and blues chart, it does not reach the pop singles chart. ‘I Got The Feelin’’ (US no. 6) in April features a smart and sassy horn section. ‘Licking Stick-Licking Stick – Part 1’ (US no. 14) in May is co-written by James Brown, Bobby Brown and Brown’s band-leader, Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis. Although the name of the song may be thought to be some form of sexual innuendo, ‘the title of the song refers to a stick used to administer corporal punishment (a licking).’ It is a repetitive, funky piece, though the drums have a lighter, more percussive feel as opposed to funk’s more customary grounding thump. ‘America Is My Home – Part 1’ (US no. 52) is co-written by James Brown and Hayward E. Moore. This is followed by ‘I Guess I’ll Have To Cry, Cry, Cry’ (US no. 55). 1968’s best James Brown single may be August’s ‘Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud’ (US no. 10), co-written by James Brown and Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis. Against a kiddie chorus chanting out the title, Soul Brother Number One delivers a state of the union address. This is James Brown at his most socially conscious moment. Really, his allegiance is to entertainment rather than politics, but such is his success at the former – and so precarious is the civil rights situation for blacks – that James Brown has to make his voice heard. He soon backs away from being a spokesman. Rounding out James Brown’s 1968 singles are ‘Goodbye My Love’ (US no. 31) and a Christmas tune Brown co-writes with former band-leader, Nat Jones, ‘Tit For Tat (Ain’t No Taking Back)’ (US no. 86). There is a total of six James Brown albums in 1968. ‘I Can’t Stand Myself When You Touch Me’ (1968) (US no. 17) is released in March. It includes the songs ‘Get It Together’, ‘I Can’t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me)’ and ‘There Was A Time’ (all from 1967) as well as ‘You’ve Got To Change Your Mind’ from 1968. ‘I Got The Feelin’’ (1968) (US no. 135) in April naturally features the title track, ‘I Got The Feelin’’. ‘James Brown Plays Nothing But Soul’ (1968) (US no. 150) in August has only six (reasonably lengthy) tracks. Also released in August is ‘Live At The Apollo – Volume II’ (1968) (US no. 32). This return to the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, where Brown’s 1963 landmark album was recorded, is also a concert disc – albeit a double album this time. ‘Thinking About Little Willie John And A Few Nice Things’ (1968) in December is a tribute to the late rhythm and blues singer who died on 26 May 1968. James Brown was the opening act for Little Willie John when Brown first played at the Apollo Theater on 24 April 1959. Closing out the year is ‘A Soulful Christmas’ (1968) (US no. 10) which has both ‘Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud’ and ‘Tit For Tat (Ain’t No Taking Back)’. The period from 1965 to 1968 is rightly described as James Brown’s ‘heyday.’
The Famous Flames, James Brown’s vocal backing group, disband in 1968 due to a dispute with Brown over the money they are being paid.
James Brown fathers a daughter, Nicole Parris (born 1968), by Lea Jensen. Another Brown offspring is born the same year but Brown’s paternity in this case is more questionable. Mary Florence Brown (no relation) claims that her son, Michael Deon Brown (born 1968), is the child of James Brown.
1968 is also possibly the most political year of James Brown’s career. When the Reverend Martin Luther King, the champion of African-American civil rights, is assassinated on 4 April 1968, there is a real danger of violent street riots breaking out. On 5 April 1968 James Brown arranges for one of his concerts to be televised to keep African-Americans (his core audience) home and to prevent riots. Brown ‘urges restraint and the constructive channelling of anger.’ This action earns the singer an official commendation from U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Brown and Humphrey also build a campaign for education based on Brown’s song ‘Don’t Be A Drop-Out’. Brown even endorses Hubert Humphrey’s bid for the U.S. Presidency in 1968. Beginning on 6 June 1968, James Brown undertakes a ten day tour of Vietnam, entertaining U.S. troops in that country. Brown’s political actions across the year draw the ire of the Black Panthers, a militant group of black activists who accuse James Brown of being a ‘sell-out.’ Stung, Brown retorts to the Black Panthers, “I’m not going to tell anybody to pick up a gun.”
James Brown remains prolific in 1969, releasing ten singles. The first release of the year is January’s ‘Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose’ (US no. 15). This song is written by Charles Bobbitt (a.k.a. Charles Bobbitt-Long), James Brown’s long-time friend turned personal manager. A teasing guitar introduction to this song gives way to a full-blooded pulse with a throaty organ. ‘Soul Pride’ is an instrumental co-written by James Brown and his band-leader, Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis. It does not reach the pop charts. March brings ‘I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door, I’ll Get It Myself)’ (US no. 20). This black power anthem has a bass line so heavy it verges on distortion. ‘The Popcorn’ (US no. 30) is an instrumental. Brown obviously enjoys ‘The Popcorn’ because he offers four sequels to it in the same year! The most successful of them (and more successful than its inspiration) is ‘Mother Popcorn (You Got To Have A Mother For Me)’ (US no. 11), released in June. James Brown co-writes this one with Alfred Ellis. It is hard and funky, chopped almost to the point of abstraction. ‘Lowdown Popcorn’ (US no. 41) is overdubbed with crowd noises. ‘World (Part 1)’ (US no. 37) offers a respite before the exotically titled ‘Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn – Part 1’ (US no. 21). After ‘Ain’t It Funky Now – Part 1’ (US no. 24) comes the final word on the ‘popcorn’ cycle, ‘Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn – Part 2’ (US no. 40). Four James Brown albums come out in 1969. ‘Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud’ (1969) (US no. 53) in March includes the title track ‘Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud’, ‘Goodbye My Love’ and ‘Licking Stick-Licking Stick – Part 1’. ‘Getting’ Down To It’ (1969) (US no. 99) in May is an album of ‘standards sung in the jazz ballad style of Frank Sinatra’, though Brown’s own ‘Cold Sweat’ is given a makeover to fit in with the tone of the album. ‘The Popcorn’ (1969) (US no. 40) in August naturally includes ‘The Popcorn’. This disc has just eight tracks and clocks in at just over thirty minutes. Also released in August is ‘It’s A Mother’ (1969) (US no. 26), which holds ‘Mother Popcorn’.
Weariness can overcome even ‘The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.’ On 6 September 1969, after a show at the Memphis Mid-South Coliseum, James Brown announces that he will retire from live performances after 4 July 1970. “I’m tired, man,” says Brown. “My brain seems to get much heavier.” No such retirement occurs and the announcement is soon forgotten.
In 1969 James Brown begins a romantic relationship with Deidre ‘Deedee’ Jenkins.
In March 1970, ‘most of James Brown’s mid-to-late 1960s road band walks out on him due to money disputes.’ This leads to the creation of a new backing band, The J.B.’s – named for their leader’s initials. The March 1970 edition of The J.B.’s consists of: Phelps ‘Catfish’ Collins (guitar), Bobby Byrd (organ), William ‘Bootsy’ Collins (bass) [who is Catfish’s brother], John ‘Jabo’ Starks (drums), Johnny Griggs (conga), Clayton ‘Chicken’ Gunnells (horns), Darryl ‘Hasaan’ Jamison (horns) and Robert McCullough (horns). It is not a long-lasting combination. ‘Bootsy’ Collins leaves to join George Clinton’s Funkadelic empire of interrelated acts. Despite his relatively brief tenure, it is thought that ‘Collins probably assisted Brown in the development of many of the funk routines that allow Brown to survive [commercially] into the 1970s.’ By December 1970, The J.B.’s horn section consists of: Fred Wesley (trombone), Maceo Parker (saxophone) and St Clair Pinckney (saxophone). Most of the rest of the original J.B.’s have left by this time. Despite this, The J.B.’s continue to work with James Brown and also have a parallel career as a band in their own right.
The J.B.’s release the following albums: ‘These Are The J.B.’s’ (1970); ‘Food For Thought’ (1972); ‘Doing It To Death’ (1973) (US no. 77); ‘Damn Right I Am Somebody’ (1974) (US no. 197) (as Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s); ‘Breakin’ Bread’ (1974) (as Fred & The New J.B.’s); ‘Hustle With Speed’ (1975); ‘Jam II Disco Fever’ (1978); ‘Groove Machine’ (1979); ‘Pee Wee, Fred And Maceo’ (1989) (as The J.B. Horns); ‘Funky Good Time/Live’ (1993) (as The J.B. Horns); ‘I Like It Like That’ (1994) (as The J.B. Horns); ‘Bring The Funk On Down’ (1999); and ‘The Lost Album’ (2011) (as The J.B.’s With Fred Wesley). Some of The J.B.’s more successful singles are: 1970’s ‘The Grunt’; 1971’s ‘Gimme Some More’ (US no. 67); 1972’s ‘Pass The Peas’ (US no. 95); and 1973’s ‘Doing It To Death’ (US no. 22). ‘The Grunt’ and ‘Pass The Peas’ are both instrumentals. The only lyrics in ‘Gimme Some More’ are the chanted words of the title. The title of ‘Doing It To Death’ does not appear in the lyrics; instead it advises, “We’re gonna have a funky good time.” ‘The Grunt’ is written by The J.B.’s; ‘Gimme Some More’ and ‘Doing It To Death’ are both written by James Brown; and ‘Pass The Peas’ is co-written by James Brown, drummer John Starks and Brown’s personal manager, Charles Bobbitt.
‘It’s A New Day’ (US no. 32), released in February 1970, is the appropriately titled first James Brown single for the 1970s. March’s ‘Funky Drummer – Part 1’ (US no. 51) is a popular choice as a sample used by rap artists in later decades. ‘Brother Rapp – Part 1’ (US no. 32) has nothing to do with rap music, a genre that is still a bit over ten years away. Perhaps the most notable James Brown single for 1970 is July’s ‘Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine – Part 1’ (US no. 15, UK no. 32), one of the first of Brown’s works to feature his new backing band, The J.B.’s. The song’s title flashes off and on like a neon sign while the rhythm takes a break for some “tasty…piano” and a burbling bass. Brown’s songwriting collaborators on this manifesto (or wishful thinking?) are Bobby Byrd and Ron Lenhoff. October brings the single ‘Super Bad’ (US no. 13). Nat Jones – James Brown’s ex-band-leader – pens the seasonal ditty ‘Santa Claus Is Definitely Here To Stay’ – which goes wide of the charts. Winding up 1970 is December’s ‘Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved’ (US no. 34), co-written by James Brown, Bobby Byrd and Ron Lenhoff. James Brown brings out five albums in 1970. ‘Ain’t It Funky’ (1970) (US no. 43) is released in January. This contains 1969’s hit ‘Aint It Funky Now’. Four of the album’s seven tracks are instrumentals. Past hits like ‘Cold Sweat’ and ‘Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose’ are amongst those given instrumental treatments. ‘Soul On Top’ (1970) (US no. 125) in April is a curious mix of jazz standards, show tunes and middle-of-the-road hits. An unedited version of Brown’s old 1966 hit ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ is present but, by contrast, so is 1965’s ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ and the latter is given a new arrangement in keeping with the album’s overall musical style. June’s ‘It’s A New Day – Let A Man Come In’ (1970) (US no. 121) is an example of King Records’ incomprehensible practice of jumbling recent hit singles (‘Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn’, ‘It’s A New Day’) with older James Brown hits (‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’, ‘Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose’). August’s ‘Sex Machine’ (1970) (US no. 29), despite plugging in a contemporary hit, is actually a live album. ‘Hey America’ (1970) is a Christmas album that includes ‘Santa Claus Is Definitely Here To Stay’. Perhaps more interesting is the title track, ‘Hey America’, co-written by Nat Jones and Addie William Jones.
James Brown and Christine Mitchell have a daughter together, Jeanette (born 1970).
On 22 October 1970 James Brown marries his second wife, Deidre Yvonne Jenkins. The ceremony is conducted on the front porch of her house in Barnwell, South Carolina. James and ‘Deedee’ have two daughters, Deanna (born 1969, before the marriage) and Yamma (born 1972).
1971 is a year of transition for James Brown’s recording career. His first single for the year is a cover version of the 1969 jazz pop hit by Blood, Sweat And Tears, ‘Spinning Wheel’ (US no. 90, UK no. 78). This is followed by Brown’s own version of ‘I Cried’ (US no. 50), the song he gave away to Tammy Montgomery/Tammi Terrell in 1963. ‘I Cried’ is co-written by James Brown and Bobby Byrd. March brings ‘Soul Power – Part 1’ (US no. 29, UK no. 78). It consists of little more than the title repeated over and over. But, for every accusation of ‘monotony’, there are James Brown supporters praising his ‘polyrhythmic interplay.’ The album ‘Super Bad’ (1971) (US no. 61) includes the hit single title track from 1970. Finally, in April, there is the album ‘Sho Is Funky Down Here’ (1971) (US no. 137). These three singles and two albums are James Brown’s last recordings for King Records.
Relocating to Polydor Records, James Brown maintains a heavy workload. At first, Brown’s recordings are on his own People Records label through Polydor. The first single under this new arrangement is ‘Escape-Ism (Part 1)’ (US no. 35). The amusing ‘Hot Pants (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Wants)’ (US no. 15) is James Brown’s biggest hit for 1971. Released in July, it is co-written by James Brown and Fred Wesley, the trombone player in Brown’s backing group, The J.B.’s. In the lyrics of this song, Brown accurately refers to the ‘Hot Pants’ as “Sssmokin’’. After these two singles, James Brown’s releases come out through the parent Polydor label, rather than the boutique People label. August’s ‘Make It Funky (Part 1)’ (US no. 22) b/w ‘Make It Funky (Part 2)’ has a ticking guitar sound adding tension to the shouted title. It is followed by ‘Make It Funky (Part 3)’ (US no. 68). ‘Make It Funky’ and Brown’s next single are both co-written by James Brown and his personal manager, Charles Bobbitt. In November’s ‘I’m A Greedy Man’ (US no. 35), “Too much of the rump” is not enough to satisfy Brown the narrator. Closing out the year, ‘Hey America’ (UK no. 47) from 1970’s Christmas album becomes a minor hit in the U.K. James Brown’s first album for Polydor is August’s ‘Hot Pants’ (1971) (US no. 22), which includes both ‘Escape-Ism’ and ‘Hot Pants’. The two disc concert album ‘Revolution Of The Mind – Recorded Live At The Apollo’ (1971) (US no. 39) follows in December.
By 1972, funk – the genre pioneered by James Brown – has become the popular style for African-American recording acts. Earth, Wind And Fire, Kool And The Gang and George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic tag team are all making funk records. The world has caught up to James Brown’s innovation. There are seven singles released by James Brown in 1972. First, in February Brown issues ‘Talking Loud And Saying Nothing – Part 1’ (US no. 27), which he co-writes with Bobby Byrd. March brings the anti-drug song ‘King Heroin’ (US no. 40). This effort is co-written by James Brown, David Matthews, Manny Rosen and Charles Bobbitt and is based on a poem by Rosen. ‘There It Is – Part 1’ (US no. 43) is released in May. ‘Honky Tonk – Part 1’ (US no. 44) is a cover version of Bill Doggett’s 1956 rhythm and blues instrumental. On this single, The J.B.’s are billed as The James Brown Soul Train, possibly inspired by the U.S. television show ‘Soul Train’ which started in 1971 and was mainly a forum for African-American recording artists. The year’s best James Brown single is July’s ‘Get On The Good Foot – Part 1’ (US no. 18), a propulsive dance anthem. It is co-written by James Brown, Fred Wesley and Joseph Mims. November sees the release of ‘I Got A Bag Of My Own’ (US no. 44). Ending the year is ‘What My Baby Needs Is A Little More Lovin’’ (US no. 56), a duet by James Brown and Lyn Collins. The two singers co-write this piece with Dave Matthews. Turning to James Brown’s albums for 1972, we find ‘There It Is’ (1972) (US no. 60), released on 9 June. This set is home to ‘I’m A Greedy Man’, ‘Talking Loud And Saying Nothing’, ‘King Heroin’ and ‘There It Is’. ‘Get On The Good Foot’ (1972) (US no. 68) is released on 20 November. Aside from the title track, this disc has remakes of past hits like ‘Please Please Please’, ‘Lost Someone’ and ‘Cold Sweat’. For those interested in the singer’s past hits, a better option may be ‘James Brown Soul Classics’ (1972) (US no. 83).
James Brown’s 1973 recordings begin with the January single ‘I Got Ants In My Pants And I Want To Dance – Part 1’ (US no. 27). ‘Down And Out In New York City’ (US no. 50), written by Bodie Chandler and Barry DeVorzon, comes from the soundtrack album ‘Black Caesar’ (1973) (US no. 31). The accompanying movie, ‘Black Caesar’ (1973), is released on 7 February. ‘Black Caesar’ is part of a wave of what come to be known as ‘blaxploitation’ films. In the early 1970s, these movies – typically about criminals, cops or private eyes – are aimed squarely at a young African-American audience and, for the time, have high levels of sex, violence, drug use and coarse language. James Brown’s 1960 hit ‘Think’ (US no. 77) is rereleased in 1973 along with ‘Think (Alternate Version)’ (US no. 80). ‘Sexy, Sexy, Sexy’ (US no. 50) is from the soundtrack to ‘Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off’ (1973). This is another ‘Blaxploitation’ movie, released on 31 August 1973. November’s ‘Stoned To The Bone’ (US no. 58) comes from James Brown’s only non-soundtrack album for the year, ‘The Payback’ (1973) (US no. 34), released in December.
Teddy Brown, James Brown’s eldest child from his first marriage to Velma Warren, dies in a car accident in 1973. Teddy was 19 years old.
The first James Brown single for 1974 is released in February. It is ‘The Payback – Part 1’ (US no. 26), the title track from the 1973 album. The song is co-written by James Brown and two members of his backing group, The J.B.’s, trombone player Fred Wesley and drummer John Starks. ‘My Thang’ (US no. 29) is released in April. ‘People Don’t Take No Mess – Part 1’ (US no. 31) is co-written by Brown, Wesley and Starks (the team responsible for ‘The Payback’) with the addition of Brown’s personal manager, Charles Bobbitt. The last James Brown single for the year is October’s ‘Funky President (People It’s Bad)’ (US no. 44) b/w ‘Coldblooded’ (US no. 99). James Brown issues two albums this year: ‘Hell’ (1974) (US no. 35), released on 28 June, includes ‘My Thang’ and ‘Coldblooded’, while ‘Reality’ (1974) (US no. 56), released on 19 December, has ‘Funky President’.
‘By the mid-1970s, James Brown is beginning to burn out artistically.’ The year’s first single, ‘Reality’ (US no. 80), is the title track from the 1974 album. ‘Reality’ is co-written by James Brown, Fred Wesley and Gertrude Wesley. ‘Sex Machine ‘76’ (US no. 61) is a disco version of Brown’s 1970 hit. The other three singles released by James Brown in 1975 fail to reach the pop chart. They are: ‘Hustle!!!(Dead On It)’ – which references the hustle, a popular dance of the time – ‘Superbad, Superslick – Part 1’; and ‘Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved)’. The album ‘Sex Machine Today’ (1975) (US no. 103), issued in May, includes the revised disco arrangement of ‘Sex Machine’. ‘Hustle!!! (Dead On It)’ and ‘Superbad, Superslick’ are both part of the September album ‘Everybody’s Doin’ The Hustle & Dead On The Double Bump’ (1975) (US no. 193).
By this time, disco is supplanting funk. Rather than innovate, James Brown is now trying to fit in with the prevailing trend. In 1976 he puts out a disco version of ‘(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons’, a 1945 song by Deek Watson & His Brown Dots. It doesn’t make the pop charts. Note: James Brown recorded a funk version of the same song on the album ‘Gettin’ Down To It’ (1969). The year’s best James Brown song is ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ (US no. 45, UK no. 22) to which he adds the advice, “And shake till you feel better.” The single come out in May. ‘I Refuse To Lose’ is another single that fails to make the pop chart. In fact, the follow-up – December’s ‘Bodyheat (Part 1)’ (US no. 88, UK no. 36) – is the last James Brown single to make the U.S. pop charts until 1985. Officially, the co-authors of the three original singles issued by James Brown in 1976 are his wife Deidre Brown and their daughters Deanna and Yamma. Really, the singles are written by James Brown but, due to hassles he is experiencing at the time with the U.S. tax office, Brown credits them to his wife and children in an attempt to keep the income from the songwriting royalties in his family. James Brown releases three albums in 1976. ‘Hot’ (1976) arrives on 1 January and includes the 1975 single ‘Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved)’. ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ (1976) (US no. 147), released in July, is a disc whose contents include ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ and ‘I Refuse To Lose’. Finally, ‘Bodyheat’ (1976) (US no. 126) in December includes the title track ‘Bodyheat’ and a song that will become a single in the next year, ‘Kiss In ‘77’.
‘By 1977 James Brown is no longer a dominant force in rhythm and blues.’ None of the three singles he releases in 1977 make the pop charts. Those singles are: ‘Kiss In ‘77’, ‘Give Me Some Skin’ and ‘If You Don’t Give A Doggone About It’. ‘Kiss in ‘77’ is written by Charles Sherrell. The other two singles continue to share songwriting credit around the Brown family to frustrate the tax office. The album ‘Mutha’s Nature’ (1977) includes the latter two singles.
On 29 September 1977 James Brown’s band walks out on him in Hallandale Beach, Florida, complaining that he has been underpaying them.
The 1978 singles – ‘Eyesight’, ‘The Spank’ and ‘For Goodness Sakes (Take A Look At Those Cakes) (Part 1)’ – all fail to make the U.S. pop charts. ‘The Spank’ is co-written by James Brown and Charles Sherrell. The other two singles are – supposedly – co-written by James Brown and his wife, Deidre – for taxation purposes. ‘For Goodness Sakes (Take A Look At Those Cakes)’ is a ‘bawdy ode to one variety of girl watching.’ The first two singles for the year may be found on ‘Jam/1980s’ (1978) (US no. 121), released in March, while the remaining single is, of course, on ‘Take A Look At Those Cakes’ (1978), released in December.
On 16 July 1978 James Brown is arrested by the I.R.S. (Internal Revenue Service), the U.S. tax office. It seems as though there are some taxation irregularities in relation to radio stations the singer acquired.
The best of James Brown’s late 1970s singles is ‘It’s Too Funky In Here’ from May 1979. Although it fails to make the pop charts, it shows some signs of life in its rubbery bounce. Tellingly, it’s a non-original, a song co-written by George Jackson, Walter Shaw, Brad Shapiro and Robert Miller and produced by Shapiro. ‘Star Generation’, in August, is co-written by Brad Shapiro and Randy McCormick and is also produced by Shapiro. The album ‘The Original Disco Man’ (1979) (US no. 152), released in July, counts ‘It’s Too Funky In Here’ amongst its tracks. The album’s title is ‘an ironic comment, perhaps, on James Brown’s inability to profit from the success of an idiom he helped create.’
James Brown and his second wife, Deidre, separate in September 1979. They officially divorce on 10 January 1981.
‘Regrets’ is the perhaps appropriate title of James Brown’s last single for Polydor. Released in January 1980, the song is written by Barbara Wyrick. It appears on the album ‘People’ (1980), released in March. 1980 sees the release of two live albums. ‘Live And Lowdown At The Apollo, Vol. 1’ (1980) (US no. 163) is simply a reissue by Solid Smoke Records of ‘Live At The Apollo’ (1963). Polydor releases ‘James Brown…Live/Hot On The One’ (1980) (US no. 170) which is a double album drawn from James Brown shows in Tokyo, Japan. James Brown’s career gets a bit of a boost when he appears in the popular comedy film ‘The Blues Brothers’ (1980), which premieres on 18 June 1980. He performs ‘The Old Landmark’ with the Reverend James Cleveland Choir. In November James Brown releases the single ‘Rapp Payback (Where Iz Moses)’ (UK no. 39). This is a disco reworking of Brown’s 1974 single ‘The Payback’. Susaye Brown and Henry Stallings are co-credited with the singer as authors of this version. The single is issued by T.K. Records, the same company that releases the parent album, ‘Soul Syndrome’ (1980). This disc includes ‘Stay With Me’, which is released as a single in March 1981. ‘Stay With Me’ is co-written by Bobby Byrd and Susaye Brown.
‘Nonstop’ (1981) is released by James Brown’s former label, Polydor, in April.
James Brown resurfaces on the Augusta Sound label with the album ‘Bring It On’ (1983). This disc yields the single ‘Bring It On…Bring It On’ (UK no. 45) b/w ‘The Night Time Is The Right Time’. The A side is co-written by James Brown and Joe Brown. The B side is a cover version of Nappy Brown’s 1957 rhythm and blues song.
In 1984 James Brown marries his third wife, Adrienne Rodriguez. She is a hair stylist on the music television program ‘Solid Gold’.
In August 1984 Tommy Boy Records releases (via Warner Bros) ‘Unity’ (UK no. 49), a duet between James Brown and hip-hop recording artist Afrika Bambaataa. The song is co-written by James Brown, Khayan Aasim Bambaataa, Douglas Wimbish, Bernard Alexander, Keith Le Blanc and Robin Haplin. The song is produced by Tom Silverman and Afrika Bambaataa.
‘Froggy Mix’ (UK no. 50) is released in 1985.
‘Living In America’ (US no. 4, UK no. 5), released in December 1985, is a surprise hit for James Brown. It is featured in the movie ‘Rocky IV’ (1985), released on 27 November. The song is co-written by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight and produced by Terry Jackson. Dan Hartman had a hit in 1979 with his song ‘Instant Replay’. ‘Living In America’ sounds like vintage James Brown. The single appears on Scotti Bros Records. That label releases a new James Brown album, ‘Gravity’ (1986), on 15 September. This includes the songs ‘Gravity’ (US no. 93, UK no. 65) and ‘How Do You Stop’ (UK no. 90), both of which are co-written by Hartman and Midnight. Dan Hartman produces the album. ‘Gravity’ is the last James Brown single to reach the U.S. pop charts.
Polydor releases ‘In The Jungle Groove’ (1986) in August. This is a compilation of James Brown’s 1970s singles.
In the same year, the autobiography ‘James Brown: The Godfather of Soul’ (1986) is published.
Polydor’s compilation ‘The Motherlode’ (1988) combines James Brown’s funk singles from the late 1960s and early 1970s. It includes a cover version of The Midnighters’ 1954 rhythm and blues song ‘She’s The One’ (UK no. 45). Brown recorded his version in 1969 at the same time as he produced Marva Whitney’s version of the same song. Brown’s take was unreleased until its inclusion on ‘The Motherlode’. 1988 also sees the release of ‘The Payback Mix – Part 1’ (UK no. 12), a reworking of 1974’s ‘The Payback’.
‘I’m Real’ (UK no. 31) is a new James Brown song released in April 1988. In this piece, Brown tries to assert himself in rap music. Scotti Bros put out the album ‘I’m Real’ (1988) (US no. 96), which also includes the single, ‘Static’ (UK no. 83). On these recordings James Brown works with Full Force, a collective of rhythm and blues singer, songwriters and producers. Full Force write both of the singles ‘I’m Real’ and ‘Static’ and produce the album ‘I’m Real’ – the last James Brown album of new recordings to reach the U.S. album chart.
For most of his recording career, James Brown enforced a strict no drugs or alcohol policy for himself and his musicians. However in the mid-1980s, Brown and his wife Adrienne begin using PCP (‘Angel Dust’). This practice leads to bouts of violence and complaints of domestic abuse. In 1987-1988 James Brown is arrested four times for domestic violence. In May 1988 James Brown is arrested for drugs and weapons violations after hitting his spouse with a lead pipe. Another arrest follows on 24 September 1988. This arrest takes place subsequent to Brown ‘leading police on an interstate car chase after allegedly threatening people with a handgun.’ He is charged with having an unregistered pistol, assaulting a police officer and drug and driving offences. James Brown is given a six year prison sentence, but is paroled after two years.
‘Gimme Your Love’ (UK no. 79), released in September 1989, is a duet between James Brown and Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. The track is co-written by Narada Michael Walden and Jeffrey Cohen and produced by Walden. The single is released on Arista, Aretha’s record company at the time, and is included on her album, ‘Through The Storm’ (1989). ‘Gimme Your Love’ also shows up on James Brown’s ‘Soul Session Live’ (1989), the only studio recording on this concert set.
‘Star Time’ (1991), released by Polydor on 7 May, is a four disc box set with a total of seventy-one tracks spanning the career of James Brown. Following on 22 October is ’20 All-Time Greatest Hits’ (1991), a single disc collection culled from the contents of ‘Star Time’.
James Brown resumes his recording career with ‘Love Over-Due’ (1991), released by Scotti Bros on 23 July. This album includes the single ‘(So Tired Of Standing Still We Got To) Move On’. The 1992 single ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’ (UK no. 72) is credited to James Brown Vs Dakeyne. In other words, Paul Dakeyne remixes Brown’s 1965 hit. ‘Universal James’ (1993), released on 3 March, is James Brown’s last album on Scotti Bros. It features the single ‘Can’t Get Any Harder’ (UK no. 59). The single is co-written by Robert Clivilles, David Cole, Bryan Higgins, Duran Ramos and Trevor Smith and is produced by Clivilles and Cole.
James Brown’s third wife, Adrienne Rodriguez, dies on 6 January 1996. She was 45. Adrienne had recently had liposuction, a cosmetic surgery procedure for weight loss, which left her with a weak heart. Taking the drug PCP proved fatal for her in this condition.
Less than a year after the death of Adrienne Rodriguez, James Brown hires Tomi Rae Hynie as a female backing vocalist. James and Tomi begin dating in 2000.
In January 1998 James Brown is released from hospital following treatment for addiction to pain-killers. A week later he is arrested for unlawful use of a handgun and possession of cannabis.
‘I’m Back’ (1998) is the title of the James Brown album released on 17 November. Three different labels – possibly interrelated – seem to be involved in the release: Private 1 Records, Inferno and Georgia-Lina. The album includes James Brown’s final single, ‘Funk On Ah Roll’ (UK no. 40), co-written by the singer and Derrick Monk. ‘The Merry Christmas Album’ (1999) is released on 16 November by Waxworks Records. The contents are eleven Christmas songs co-written by James Brown and Derrick Monk. The album is produced by Derrick Monk.
In June 2001 James Brown’s girlfriend Tomi Rae Hynie gives birth to his son, James Brown III.
At this point, it may be appropriate to recap a bit of history. James Brown fathered a total of thirteen children by nine different mothers – though his paternity in two cases (Lisa and Michael) has been questioned. James Brown’s children are: (1) Teddy (1954-1973) – mother (i) Velma Warren; (2) Terry (1955) – mother (i) Velma Warren; (3) Larry (1958) – mother (i) Velma Warren; (4) Daryl (1960) – mother (ii) Bea Ford; (5) LaRhonda (1961) – mother (iii) Ruby Shannon; (6) Lisa (1962) – mother (i) Velma Warren; (7) Venisha (1965) – mother (iv) Yvonne Fair; (8) Nicole (1968) – mother (v) Lea Jensen; (9) Michael (1968) – mother (vi) Mary Brown; (10) Deanna (1969) – mother (vii) Deidre Jenkins; (11) Jeanette (1970) – mother (viii) Christine Mitchell; (12) Yamma (1972) – mother (vii) Deidre Jenkins; and (13) James III (2001) – mother (ix) Tomi Ray Hynie.
‘The Next Step’ (2002), released on 27 August by Fome Records, is the last new album by James Brown.
On 23 December 2002 James Brown marries his fourth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie, the mother of his son, James III (born June 2001). There is some controversy about the validity of the marriage. It is possible that, at the time of the wedding, Tomi was still married to her previous husband, Javed Ahmed, from Bangladesh.
In 2003 South Carolina grants pardons to James Brown for seven criminal convictions – including cases involving guns and drugs – over a period of ten years. Also in 2003, Brown is diagnosed with heart disease.
On 28 January 2004 James Brown is again arrested for domestic violence. He is alleged to have pushed his wife Tomi Rae at their South Carolina home. Brown retorts, “I would never hurt my wife. I love her very much.” He later files for an annulment of their marriage. Also in 2004, James Brown is found to have prostate cancer. In December he has surgery for this problem. By 2006 the cancer is in remission.
In January 2005 Jacque Hollander files charges alleging that James Brown raped her in 1988. However, due to the statute of limitations on the charges having expired, nothing comes from the complaint.
‘I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life In Soul’ (2005), James Brown’s second autobiographical book – this one written with Marc Eliot – is published.
James Brown dies as a result of congestive heart failure on 25 December 2006. He was 73 years old.
‘Soul Brother No. 1’ (2008) (US no. 170) is a compilation album of James Brown songs released via Starbucks Entertainment.
The motion picture ‘Get On Up’ (2014) tells the story of James Brown. Mick Jagger, vocalist of the U.K. rock group The Rolling Stones, is a co-producer of the movie. The part of James Brown is played by Chadwick Boseman. ‘Get On Up: The James Brown Story (Soundtrack)’ (2014) (US no. 61) is released by Universal Records. The movie also prompts a return to the chart for ’20 All-Time Greatest Hits’ (1991) (US no. 133).
When the U.S. faced the possibility or rioting African-American citizens in 1968, the authorities could thank James Brown for largely defusing the situation. How did James Brown wield such influence? The answer is that he never ceased being determinedly true to his racial background. The Black Panthers may have questioned his political dedication to the cause, but musically James Brown was a champion of African-Americans. “Others may have followed in my wake, but I was the one who turned racist minstrelsy into black soul,” he boasted. The sheer volume of James Brown’s musical output is daunting. The large number of singles and albums suggests there may be more truth than hyperbole in his sobriquet of ‘The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.’ James Brown’s best work was released in the mid to late 1960s, but there are quality efforts dotted throughout his history from 1956’s ‘Please Please Please’ to 1985’s ‘Living In America’. As Brown said, “If people want to know who James Brown is, all they have to do is listen to my music.” ‘As the founding father of funk’s super-syncopated, ever-propulsive groove, spun out across a string of extraordinary records from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, Brown’s influence on popular music has been immense.’ ‘One of black music’s most charismatic stars, James Brown was an innovator whose influence spreads over three decades…[He is] definitely an all-time great.’
- ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 20, 69, 72, 101, 143, 162, 178, 274, 291, 313, 355
- wikipedia.org as at 5 May 2016
- Internet Movie Database – imdb.com – as at 8 May 2016
- brainyquote.com as at 7 May 2016
- encyclopedia.com – ‘James Brown’ by Thomson Gale (2003)
- ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 76, 80
- ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll’, ‘James Brown’ by Robert Palmer, ‘Soul’ by Peter Guralnick, ‘Funk’ by Joe McEwen (Plexus Publishing Limited, 1992) p. 164, 167, 168, 170, 261, 525
- biography.com – ‘James Brown’ – no author credited – as at 7 May 2016
- whosdatedwho.com as at 7 May 2016
- WDRW-TV Augusta, Georgia – ‘Velma Brown and James Brown Divorced’ – no author credited (8 November 2007)
- ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia Of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 43
- ‘Billboard’ (U.S. magazine) via 1 (above) p. 20
- rollingstone.com – James Brown biography – no author credited – as at 7 May 2016
- ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 40, 46, 65, 69
- oldchronicle.augusta.com as at 11 May 2016
- allmusic.com – ‘James Brown’ by Richie Unterberger as at 7 May 2016
- ‘Grits And Soul’ – album cover text (Smash Records, 1964)
- allmusic.com – ‘Grits And Soul’ (1964) – review by Kurt Edwards as at 7 May 2016
- geni.com as at 11 May 2016
- ‘Springsteen on Springsteen’ – Edited by Jeff Burger (Chicago Review Press, 2013) via 26 (below) [Clarence Clemmons information]
- supersoulsound.com/jbsuperfan (11 August 2012)
- slate.com/blogs/browbeat – ‘The Soul Activist Side of James Brown You Won’t See in “Get On Up”’ by Aisha Harris (1 August 2014)
- nextavenue.org – ‘James Brown, Vietnam and Race’ by Doug Bradley (21 August 2014)
- ‘Sex Machine: The Very Best Of James Brown’ – anonymous sleeve notes (Polydor Ltd., (UK), 1991) p. 2
- discogs.com as at 8 May 2016
- goodreads.com as at 17 May 2016
- itunes.apple.com as at 8 May 2016
- ‘The History Of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 50
- ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ – Edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 32
Song lyrics copyright Trio Music Co. / Fort Knox Music (BMI) with the exceptions of ‘Please Please Please’ (Jadar Music (BMI)); ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ (Dynatone Publishing / Clamlke Music (BMI)); ‘Hot Pants Pt. 1’ (Crited Music (BMI)); and ‘I’m A Greedy Man Pt. 1’ (Dynatone Publishing (BMI))
Last revised 23 May 2016