Happy Birthday James Brown: the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest Working Man in Showbiz, Soul Brother Number 1, Mr. Dynamite is 70 years young today (although some reports have him as old as 75, but who’s counting?):
- “It’s been seven decades alive and over five decades onstage, and I still feel good,” James Brown said from his Beech Island home.
Brown, who celebrated his birthday Saturday, says he recently lost 13 pounds and is focused on good health.
“I’m getting back into my clothes again. I stopped eating late at night,” Brown said.
….Brown said he’s not ready to retire yet.
Upcoming tours include shows in Russia, at London’s Royal Albert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. “I’ll also play for President Bush in a few weeks,” he said. [AP]
James Brown is the funkiest man who ever lived, and his story is nearly as big as his amazing repertoir of classics, but let’s take a look at the very beginning of his career, as told by legendary producer Ralph Bass:
- As talent scout and producer, Bass combed the highways, byways and back alleys of 1950s black America, especially the South, for fresh talent. “I had to go out there and look and beat the bushes . . . you’d get a tip on somebody and go down to listen . . . We were in the ghetto. There were no rich kids who were singing . . . And I was fortunate to be able to recognize what was good and what was wrong.”
Bass discovered Little Willie Littlefield (who sang the original version of “Kansas
City,” “K.C. Lovin”), Guitar Lewis, Big Jay McNeely, Johnny Guitar Watson, and the Platters (Bass recorded the original version of “Only You”). But his greatest discovery for Federal was James Brown.
Bass told Lydon, “I was in Atlanta . . . and I heard a dub . . . it was so different that it knocked me out. A disc jockey and I drove to Macon in a pouring rainstorm. James was out on parole to his manager, a Macon promoter and club owner named Clint Brandly. I was told to meet Brandly by parking my car in front of a barbershop which was across the street from a railroad station, and when the venetian blinds went up and down, to come in.”
All of this intrigue was to avoid the potential unpleasantries of a white/black meeting in the Jim Crow Macon of 1956. There was an even greater sense of urgency than normal because Leonard Chess was on his way, but Leonard had to fly from Chicago.
“They had no radar and all that jive they have today, and so he was grounded . . . I gave the cat $200, and that was that.”
Bass produced Brown’s first hit “Please, Please, Please.” “This was a very young James Brown,” recalls Bass. “He was so browbeaten with that shit down there . . . he used to call me Mister Ralph . . . I says, Well man, don’t call me no Mister Ralph. Either call me Mister Bass or call me Ralph.”
I’m glad that world is gone – I imagine James is too.
James is also getting jiggy with the jam band set at the Bonnaroo Festival in June. Get up offa that thing.