Tuesday, December 26, 2006

James Brown 1933-2006

The Hardest Working Man in Show Business has left the building.

James Brown - the Godfather of Soul, Mr. Dynamite, Mr. Outtasight - died Christmas Day of heart failure at a hospital in Atlanta. And we'll never see his like again.

Forget about the run-ins with the law, the years of drug abuse, the infamous mug shot. History will prove Brown one of the most influential musical figures of the 20th century. His funk-driven rhythms and sheer energy swept aside cultural and racial differences, and his performance style has influenced hundreds who came after. If you need evidence, go back and give a listen to two of the greatest live albums anyone's ever made - "Live at the Apollo, 1962" and "Live at the Apollo, 1967."

The first was recorded at a sold-out performance at the Harlem theater in October '62 and Brown paid for it with his own money - $5,700. He'd already been recording for six years at that point, and his repertoire ranged from the deep soul of "Lost Someone" and the balladry of "Try Me" to the funky rhythms of "Think," which foreshadowed where he was headed musically. The 1967 album is even better, with 19 tracks recorded in June of that year, including most of his hits, an epic version of "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" and a ten-minute riff on "Lost Someone." In his 1986 autobiography, written with Bruce Tucker, Brown tells how the recording of the first album was almost ruined by an elderly woman in the front rows who kept yelling "Sing it, motherfucker" near the audience mike while they were recording directly to two track.

But for a more intimate look at James Brown the man, check out the 1990 compilation "Messing with the Blues" (Polydor), which collects a series of performances from 1957-75, with Brown recording numbers from the blues, jump and jazz artists that influenced him, including Louis Jordan's "Caldonia." In a spoken word rap on the track "Like It Is, Like It Was," Brown reminisces about growing up "broke and hungry" in the Jim Crow South. "Some people tell me I should think about the good things ... but believe me, it weren't that good. At least you got a right today to say you don't dig it. If we had said we didn't dig it, we'd been dead. I don't blame nobody, 'cause ignorance get everybody. But it make you want to sing the blues ..."

No comments: