Sunday, December 31, 2006

James Brown remembered
From LA Times website... excerpt... (photo by Bob Gruen)

Ike Turner
Rhythm and blues founder
We lost a good one, man. I knew the guy all my whole life. We were good friends. We got closer as we got older too. When we were young we used to be battling on the stage. They would have Ike and Tina on the back of one truck and James on another truck. They backed the two trucks up and we'd do one song and then he'd do a song. It went back and forth like that.

James, he was a real nice guy. There were people who thought he was strict, too strict. He made his band stay dressed on the bus, during their rides. It made a good impression, though. He cared about what people felt about him and the things they said. He cared about the way he handled his thing. He didn't want any of his guys looking like a slouch. Later on, those guys came back and they said to him, 'Thank you, man, I learned a lot from you, I got a lot and I didn't even know then that I was learning.' And that's how it is. We lost a good one.

Robert Christgau
Rock critic
In 1980 I set myself the task of reviewing every James Brown album of the '70s — 23 by my count, many borrowed from my neighbor Vince Aletti, who'd had the sense to keep even the soundtracks. To add verisimilitude, I worked in order of release, playing each record until it sunk in, then proceeding to the next. Ten titles I judged good-to-great, but though I home-taped like there was no tomorrow, many of these I never played again.

That job I undertook was part of a book project. Now James Brown's death has occasioned another job, only this time I'm immersing willy-nilly, often streaming albums I still own only on cassette. And so it came to pass that I woke from a brief nap to hear ... what the hell was that? At first Brown's grunts sounded African, or more African; later I decided maybe he was speaking in tongues. The track was "Time Is Running Out," from 1973's good-not-great "The Payback." Seven minutes in it gets really crazy, Brown's tongues and Fred Wesley's trombone dueling over a typically locked-in groove. But it kept morphing and it kept staying the same. I couldn't believe how experimental it was, and how enjoyable.

Out of curiosity, I reread my review of "The Payback." Hmmm.

I had noticed it, actually: "a horn-and-voice excursion that shambles on for 12:37," I'd sniffed. What then I'd disdained, now I loved. That's how profound James Brown is. We're still trying to catch up with him. I doubt we ever will.

Marva Whitney
Former singer with the James Brown Revue
One of the scariest moments in my life I had on Mr. Brown's Lear jet. It must have been around early 1969. It's no secret that I was his girlfriend at that time.

On that particular day, we were on our way from Cincinnati to Atlanta, if I remember it correctly. It was pretty late at night and dark outside while we flew about 30,000 feet above sea level. Suddenly I heard something like a big bang, and something shook the plane. The oxygen masks dropped down, I put mine on and started to pray. Mr. Brown's personal pilot announced that both engines had failed and he was gonna try an emergency landing. I looked at Mr. Brown and noticed that he had not put on his oxygen mask. He completely froze up and stared out of the window. On top of that, his face was as white as a sheet.

After what seemed like an eternity, the engines went back on. Mr. Brown didn't say anything until we landed. He kept on staring out of that window; his shirt was soaking wet. That day I learned that James Brown freezes up when he gets scared.

Alan Leeds
Former tour manager
When I went to work for James Brown, it was a pretty difficult time for white people in the black music business. The militant end of the civil rights era was at its peak, and the black community frowned on white involvement in anything within their community.

Brown represented the antithesis of that. At the passing of his manager in 1968, he took complete control of his career. I had met Brown through a radio station and stayed in touch with him through the year, and he offered me a job as tour manager, to go out and sell the show around the country. I said, "Are you sure you wanted to hire me — is this the right thing to do?" He said, "To hell with the industry, I've got a place for you." He was as difficult a boss for me as for everyone else. He was like the tough-love father, the patriarch of this extended family of people who came through his orbit.

Oliver Wang
Writer-scholar and creator of
Like many in my generation, I was introduced to Brown's music via hip-hop samples. Moving backwards to his original songs, what I discovered was the incredible intensity he could bring to just a single moment. He and the JBs could do more with a horn stab or grunt than most other artists could achieve with entire songs. My favorite example of this comes on the "Sex Machine"-era version of "Give It Up or Turn It Loose," where, in the midst of the stripped-down bridge, James yells out, "Clyde!" [drummer Stubblefield] and one heartbeat later, the funky drummer himself drops in - on the one, of course - and lays out a nasty breakbeat. It's that pause between James' command and Stubblefield's response that sums up Brown's genius - he understood that rhythm was built from as much promise as it was fulfillment.

Nelson George
Author, cultural historian
I have two memories of James Brown that are bookends of a sort.

I first saw him perform in the mid-60s when my mother took my sister and I up to the Apollo Theater. We rode the A train up to 125th Street where we joined a line of Negroes (as we were called then) that snaked around the block. We sat in the back of the orchestra where I got quite concerned that Mr. Brown was gonna have to be hospitalized because of all his moaning, falling to his knees, and the way he kept tossing off that cape. I remember that matinee show like it was yesterday.

The last time I saw James Brown was at the Hollywood Bowl about a year and a half ago. It had been a while since I'd seen him live. In fact I'd kinda of avoided Mr. Brown's show since seeing him in the mid-90s and been saddened by a listless performance. That original memory was so precious to me, I didn't want it tampered with. But the old man I saw out in L.A. conjured just enough magic moments - his vocal on "A Man's World," a shake and strut on "Superbad" - that the middle-aged me felt excited to be seeing him again. I couldn't be at the Apollo for the public viewing but I can put on "Live at the Apollo" and have Mr. Brown entertain the little boy in me again and again.

Steve Harvey
Comedian, actor, radio show host
I'll always remember one time while in Augusta, Ga., performing at a comedy club, I saw James Brown sitting in the hotel restaurant. We started talking; he knew me from my appearances at the Apollo. As we talked, I told him how my parents would feel if they knew I was sitting here talking to you, Mr. Brown! He said, "Get them on the phone." JB sat there and talked to my mother and father like they were old friends. My parents talked about those moments with JB until they passed a few years later. I was later able to thank him several times; as a matter of fact, every time I saw him I thanked him for doing it. And every time he acted like he was supposed to do it. But having a mere taste of the fame he had, I can tell you what he did was big. Thank you, Mr. Brown, for letting me see that with my own eyes. In my book, you were, are, and will always be the Godfather of Soul.
Ring The Alarm playlist, BaseFM, December 30
James Brown – Don’t tell it
JMX feat Tikiman – Tikisong (Osunlade emix)
The Doors – Riders on the storm (Nightmares on wax remix)
Horace Andy – Money money
Jackie Mittoo – Chicken and booze
Quantic soul orchestra – Get a move on
Quatrertones – Caffeine (DJ Format remix)
Henry Mancini – Shot in the dark
Tyra and the tornadoes – Hui hui
Newmatics – Riot squad (for National Party leader John Key, who can’t remember where he stood on the 81 Springbok Tour - he was at university at the time. How flaky is that?)
Kitachi – Raise it up (Capoeira twins remix)
Audioweb – Faker (Justin Robertson Lionrock remix)
Joe Gibbs – Marriguana affair
St Etienne – Only love can break your heart
Global youth feat Jah Meek – The riddim (Disciples remix)
Afrodisiac sound system – Makossa saved my life
Nomo – Hand and mouth
James Brown – Funky president
(And in Holiday 'WTF?' News - anyone at the NZ Herald want to explain why the only photo they could find for James Brown's obituary was a police mugshot? That is just disrespectful - he's one of the most important musical figures of our times, and that's the best you can do? Someone at The Herald deserves to be shot, or at the very least, strapped into a chair and made to listen to the entire recorded works of Robbie Williams for 24 hours straight.)
Taffari – Water on glass
Paragons, Vegas, Uroy etc – Wear you to the ball
Meters – Look-ka py py
Gilberto sextet – Good lovin
Iggy and the stooges - 1969
Femi Kuti – Truth don die