The Godfather of Soul goes home…
James Brown 1933 – 2006. Rest in Peace Mr. Brown.
Say it loud: He gave music
some new moves
By Robert Hilburn, Special
to The Times
December 26, 2006
FOR all the impact of such
towering figures as Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, no one influenced
black music more than James Brown because no one mirrored black culture more
than the man behind such hits as "Please, Please, Please,"
"Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)."
You hear his percolating style in Prince’s funky guitar licks, see his
spectacular physicality in Michael Jackson’s dance steps and feel his spirit
and self-affirmation in every explosive hip-hop record.
Long before he was showered
with celebrated (and eminently fitting) titles such as "the Godfather of
Soul" and "the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business," Brown was
briefly thought of by some as the black Elvis, which was mostly silly — except
in one profound way.
If Presley was the artist most often cited by leading white musicians as an
influence — and I found that to be true in the ’60s and ’70s — Brown was the
name I most often heard when asking African American musicians about who
Brown’s influence isn’t limited to black artists by any means. One of the most
illuminating pop moments ever captured by a camera was when a young Mick Jagger
stood in the wings, mesmerized, watching Brown’s seductive moves during the
’60s concert film "The T.A.M.I. Show," and we all know how Jagger
eventually built his stage performance around those moves.
If anything, Brown’s impact on modern pop music is underrated, partly because
he did most of his defining work on secondary record labels that didn’t have
massive publicity machines and he never really embraced the mainstream the way,
say, Ray Charles did. Yet, you could build a case that Brown was also the
"Godfather of Disco," the "Godfather of Rap" and the
"Godfather of Funk" because his electrifying beats powered so many
Like Presley, the Southern-bred musician touched a sociological nerve that went
far beyond normal pop stardom.
Though the lyrics of Brown’s hits were often little more than catchy phrases,
the best lines were right in step with the rise of black pride in this country,
and they are why he was such a powerful, beloved figure during the civil rights
"Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud," he screamed on a record,
released only five months after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther
King Jr., that channeled the righteousness of an oppressed people into a
three-minute declaration of independence that topped the R&B charts for
Though millions of pop and rock fans also thrilled to Brown’s music in the ’60s
and ’70s, he wasn’t embraced by mainstream radio nearly as strongly as by
R&B stations, which is why he had 60 top 10 R&B hits (more than any
other artist) but fewer than a dozen top 10 pop hits (which wasn’t enough to
place him in the top 25 among artists).
Given the immense appeal of his records and style, it’s hard now to understand
his relatively limited chart success, but the noteworthy thing about Brown’s
music is it is so enduring. By the mid-’80s, other artists, especially the
Beatles and Bob Dylan, were cited by white musicians as their chief
inspiration, but Brown remained the influence most mentioned by black musicians
(along with a sizable number of white musicians).
Lots of early R&B stars made records with an eye toward the pop mainstream,
especially the lucrative teenage market, but Brown, in the tradition of
bluesman John Lee Hooker, never tempered his blues-R&B-gospel merger, and
his themes were mostly adult: "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex
Machine," "It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World" and "Cold
Brown didn’t sing as much as he growled, as if he were trying to match the
intensity that grew out of his essential funk brew, powered by guitars, horns,
bass and drums.
He wasn’t an easy interview; he didn’t seem interested in talking about himself
(his background was troubled, and he had more than his share of court
appearances) or his music. Thus, he ended up telling the same stories over and
Part of the problem was that Brown found it frustrating to try to explain his
true passion — the elements of his music — just as a great painter finds it
difficult to tell us why he sees things in a certain way. Writers too had a
hard time capturing in words the magic of Brown’s instrumental sound.
In the end, Brown seemed comfortable only in the studio and, especially, on
stage. At his prime, he moved with such speed and grace that it took your
breath away. Even listening to his superb live albums — starting with 1962’s
"Live at the Apollo" — you feel the heat of his scorching
The easiest way to explain Brown’s genius to someone is simply to play one of
his best records.
In nominating the 500 greatest singles ever in a 1989 book, rock critic Dave
Marsh listed "Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag" at No. 3, declaring that
the only way the single could be "more bone-rattling was if Brown himself
leaped from your speakers, grabbed you tight by the shoulders and danced you
around the room, all the while screaming straight into your face." He
added, "No record before ‘Papa’s’ sounded anything like it. No record
since — certainly no dance record — has been unmarked by it."
Still, my favorite James Brown record is probably "I Got You (I Feel
Good)," which was the follow-up to "Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag."
It was a record of supreme optimism and cheer. I’ve even got a foot-high James
Brown bobblehead in my den, and it screams "I Feel Good" when you
push a button.
I’ve pushed it dozens of times when friends were over, and every time it
brought smiles. It’s just one sign that Brown’s music remains powerful. For
another sign, just turn on the radio. Half the music you hear, from Kanye West
and Jay Z to Justin Timberlake and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is in part a
testimony to that power.
At some point today, I’ll just push the button on the bobblehead doll, or put
on one of Brown’s CDs. There’s no way that music won’t still make you feel
alive. What a wonderful legacy for any artist.
Robert Hilburn, who was The Times’ pop music critic for
nearly 40 years, left the paper in January to write a cultural history of pop
Excerpts from the Home
Going service transcript:
REV. AL SHARPTON:
Last thing he told me about
a week ago, Ms. Hogan called me and said, Reverend Sharpton, Mr. Brown is trying
to reach you. And we talked about every week. I sometimes would wait till the
next day to call, because you need a good half hour to put aside to talk to
James Brown. You never could cut him ff. He would just keep talking. But Mr.
Bobby called me about two hours later and said, you need to call him, he wants
to talk to you. It was the last conversation we had. He said to me, Reverend,
he said, "I’ve been watching you on the news. I want you to keep fighting
for justice. But I want you to tell people to love one another. I want you to
fight to lift the standards back." He said, "What happened to us that
we are now celebrating from being down? What happened we went from saying I’m
black and I’m proud to calling each other niggers and ho’s and bitches?" He
said, "I sung people up and now they’re singing people down, and we need
to change the music."
He said, "I want you to stay with your teacher, Reverend Jackson, don’t
get so big headed you can’t stay with your teacher, y’all got to clean it
up." Then he said to me, "Reverend, have you talked to Michael?"
I said, "no, I think he’s out of the country." He said, "I love
Michael. Tell him don’t worry about coming home. They always scandalize those
that have the talent. But tell him we need to clean up the music and I want
Michael and all of those that imitated me to come back and lift the music back
to where children and their grand mommas can sit and listen to the music
I didn’t know that would be our last conversation…
Full coverage: http://news.yahoo.com/fc/Entertainment/James_Brown
What I’m going to say is brief but to the point. James Brown is my greatest
inspiration. Ever since I was a small child, no more than like 6 years old, my
mother would wake me, no matter what time it was, if I was sleeping, no matter
what I was doing, to watch the television to see the master at work. And when I
saw him move, I was mesmerized. I’ve never seen a performer perform like James
Brown. And right then and there, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do
for the rest of my life because of James Brown. I love you. But James Brown, I
shall miss you and I love you so much. And thank you for everything. God bless
helped Jacksons’ star rise
Dec. 30, 2006
helping hand gave the Jackson family a timely boost.
In his 1986 book,
"James Brown, The Godfather of Soul," Brown recalled meeting the
Jacksons in the mid-1960s in their hometown of Gary, Ind.
"I think they were
playing talent shows and amateur things around Gary," Brown wrote.
Joe Jackson, the father of the group then known as the Jackson
Family (Tito, Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael, then about 6)
had approached Brown about getting them "some exposure and some seasoning,
but I did not want to take them out of school. I thought that if they didn’t
make it as entertainers, they’d regret not getting their formal
But Brown relented and put
them on one of the shows in Gary, "and they were fantastic. They could
really dance, especially Michael."
Later, Brown gave them more
chances during shows at Chicago’s Regal Theater and McCormick Place.
In 1968, the Jacksons got
their big chance at the famed Apollo Theater in New York.
"Joe sent some money
ahead for their hotel rooms and to see they were well looked after, since they
were still just kids," Brown recalled.
However, Brown’s bodyguard,
Baby James, spent the money and was too afraid to tell his boss.
So he took the Jackson
children to Bobby Byrd‘s apartment.
Byrd, Brown’s longtime
sideman and co-vocalist, and his wife, Vicky, fed the youngsters and
gave them a place to stay.
"The next morning when
the kids got dressed and ready to go, they told Bobby and Vicky they wanted to
sing them a song," Brown wrote. They gathered around the piano and sang a
song that thanked the Byrds for their assistance.
"They were always
well- mannered … you could tell they’d had a good upbringing and had a lot of
discipline instilled in them. They’re like that right today."
After gaining fame with his
brothers, Michael Jackson went solo in 1971, at age 13, and began his climb to
the top as the King of Pop.
Brown died Monday at 73.