Sunday, January 25, 2015

James Brown: Soul Brother Number One

James Brown, born in Macon, Georgia, in 1938 was known by a number of titles including “The Godfather of Soul,” “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” “Soul Brother Number One,” and “Mr. Dynamite.” Brown is considered one of the most influential figures in the history of American popular music. In addition to being a major figure in the creation of funk music, Brown was a businessman and an inspirational leader in the American civil rights movement.

A number of musicians spent time in his back-up bands before finding success as solo artists including, Bootsy Collins, Maceo Parker, and Hank Ballard. Brown is frequently cited as an influence by hip hop artists, and he may be the single most sampled artist by hip hop producers.

James Brown was born in Barnwell, North Carolina, in 1933. He was born into abject poverty and was sent to live with an aunt. He dropped out of school in the seventh grade and began working odd jobs such as shoe shining and singing for the World War Two troops that were stationed at Camp Gordon near his aunt’s home. During this time, Brown taught himself to play the harmonica and received guitar lessons from the legendary bluesman, Tampa Red.

When he saw a film of the great jump blues master Louis Jordan performing his hit, “Caledonia,” Brown resolved to pursue a professional music career. However, when he was sixteen, Brown was charged with armed robbery and sent to a juvenile detention center. While serving a three-year sentence in a detention center, Brown became acquainted with Bobby Byrd, a future R&B star whose family arranged for Brown’s release from the center. After stints as a semi-professional baseball player and boxer, Brown focused his attention back on music.

In 1955, Brown joined his friend Bobby Bird as a member of Byrd’s singing group, the Avons. With Brown now a member, the Avons changed their name to the Flames and signed to Federal Records. Brown’s first recording, “Please. Please, Please” would come as a member of the Flames and present him as a soul singer of great depth and intensity.

Brown would record several more singles with the Flames during the Fifties, and the group would eventually become known as “James Brown and the Famous Flames.” Among thier big hits were the songs, “I’ll Go Crazy,” “Think,” “Lost Someone,” “Night Train,” and “Caledonia.” In 1965, Brown, in the opinion of many, would invent funk music with his hit, “Papa’s got a Brand New Bag.” For its recording, Brown told his band to “play it on the one,” transforming the traditional 2/4 beat heard in R&B recordings and giving the world something new.

Brown continued recording hit singles and albums consistently until the Nineties. Among Brown’s later hits were the songs, “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “Licking Stick,” “Say it Loud-I’m Black and I’m Proud,” “Cold Sweat,” “Sex Machine,” and “Living in America.”

Brown died on Christmas Day, 2006, leaving behind him an awesome catalogue of recorded work.

Among Brown’s best studio albums and compilations are: “Please Please Please” (1956), “Live at the Apollo” (1963), “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (1965), “I Got You (I Feel Good)” (1966), “James Brown Live at the Garden” (1967), “I Can’t Stand Myself When You Touch Me” (1968), “Say it Loud-I’m Black and I’m Proud” (1969), “Sex Machine”(1970), “Revolution of the Mind” (1971), “The Payback” (1974), “Love Power Peace, Live at the Olympia, Paris1971” (1992), “James Brown Soul Classics” (1972), “Solid Gold 30 Golden Hits” (1977), “In the Jungle Groove” (1986), “Star Time” (1991), and “Gold” (2005)