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Gone But Not Forgotten: James Brown

WDAS remembers the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, 5/3/1933 - 12/25/2006.
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    James Brown, 5/3/1933 - 12/25/2006
    "Soul Brother Number One," "the Godfather of Soul," "the Hardest Working Man in Show Business," "Mr. Dynamite" - those are mighty titles, but no one can question that James Brown earned them more than any other performer.
    Photo: Getty Images
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    After an early stint in prison for robbery, Brown began his career as a gospel singer and then became lead singer of his first band, The Famous Flames. Brown became inspired to become an entertainer after seeing footage of Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five. Another of his early influences was Little Richard, with whom he shared a manager.
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    In 1962, Brown financed a live recording of a performance at the Apollo and convinced his label to release the album, despite their beliefs that live albums were usually bad sellers. Live at the Apollo was released the following June and became an immediate hit. That year Brown launched his own label. Artists included a pre-Motown Tammi Terrell, then recording under "Tammy Montgomery".
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    In 1967 James Brown released what has been cited as the first true funk song, "Cold Sweat", one of his first recordings to contain a drum break. Starting with "Cold Sweat", Brown's vocals started to take the form of a rhythmic declamation, not quite sung but not quite spoken - a major influence on rapping. James Brown remains to this day the world's most sampled recording artist, with "Funky Drummer" itself the most sampled individual piece of music.
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    Responding to pressure from black activists to take a bigger stance on their issues and from footage of black on black crime committed in inner cities, Brown wrote lyrics to the song, "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud". An anthem of the civil rights movement, Brown only performed the song sporadically following its initial release and later stated he had regrets recording it, saying, "Now 'Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud' has done more for the black race than any other record, but if I had my choice, I wouldn't have done it, because I don't like defining anyone by race. To teach race is to teach separatism."
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    At the peak of his success James Brown bought many radio stations, including WRDW in his native Augusta, where he shined shoes as a boy. In November 1967, James Brown purchased radio station WGYW in Knoxville, Tennessee, and its call letters were changed to WJBE reflecting his initials. WJBE began on January 15, 1968 and broadcast a Rhythm & Blues format. The station slogan was "WJBE 1430 Raw Soul". Brown also bought WEBB in Baltimore in 1970.
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    Saxophonist Maceo Parker joined the James Brown's band in 1963. Possibly Brown's most famous sideman, he played a key part in classics such as "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", "I Got You (I Feel Good)", "Sex Machine", and "Cold Sweat". Brown demanded extreme discipline, perfection and precision from his musicians and dancers - right down to when performers in his Revue showed up for rehearsals all the way to whether members wore the right "uniform" or "costume" for concert performances.
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    Maceo Parker offered his experience with the discipline that Brown demanded of the band: "You gotta be on time. You gotta have your uniform. Your stuff's got to be intact. You gotta have the bow tie. You got to have it. You can't come up without the bow tie. You cannot come up without a cummerbund ... [The] patent leather shoes we were wearing at the time gotta be greased. You just gotta have this stuff. This is what [Brown expected] ... [Brown] bought the costumes. He bought the shoes. And if for some reason [the band member decided] to leave the group, [Brown told the person to] please leave my uniforms ..."
    Photo: Getty Images
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    In 1970, most of the members of Brown's road band as well as The Famous Flames walked out on him due to money disputes. Only founding member Bobby Byrd elected to remain with Brown. Brown and Byrd recruited Bootsy Collins and his brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins; augmented by the remaining members of the 60s road band and other newer musicians, they would form the nucleus of The J.B.'s, Brown's new backing ensemble.
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    Fred Wesley was the JBs' musical director. Briefly a member of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, Wesley started his career as a trumpeter and became the JBs' trombonist. Fred Wesley wrote 1973's "Doin It to Death" as well as "Papa Don't Take No Mess" for Brown. Brown's "Papa Don't Take No Mess" would be his final single to reach the #1 spot on the R&B charts and his final Top 40 pop single of the 1970s.
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    The classic title track from Lyn Collins a.k.a. James Brown's protege "The Female Preacher"'s 1972 album Think (About It) was famously sampled by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock in the 80s for "It Takes Two". Songs such as "Think (About It)", "I Know You Got Soul" by Bobby Byrd, and "Doin It to Death" are considered as much a part of Brown's recorded legacy as the recordings released under his own name.
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    During the 1972 presidential election, James Brown's open support of Richard Nixon for reelection over George McGovern led to a boycott of his performances and, according to Brown, cost him a big portion of his black audience. As a result, Brown's record sales and concerts in the reached a lull in 1973 as he failed to land a #1 R&B single that year. That year he focused on composing film soundtracks. Brown provided the score for the blaxploitation film Black Caesar. He also recorded another soundtrack for the film, Slaughter's Big Rip-Off.
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    James Brown on the cover of the August 8, 1974 issue of Jet. That year Brown visited Africa and performed in Kinshasa as part of the buildup to The Rumble in the Jungle fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
    Photo: Jet magazine
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    James Brown on the cover of the January 8, 1976 issue of Jet. "Get Up Offa That Thing", released in 1976, was aimed at musical rivals such as Barry White, The Ohio Players and K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Brown credited his then-second wife and two of their children as writers of the song to avoid concurrent tax problems with the IRS.
    Photo: Jet magazine
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    Despite later drug-related troubles, for the majority of his career, Brown carried around a strict drug and alcohol-free policy with any member in his entourage, including band members, firing people who disobeyed orders, particularly those who used or abused drugs and alcohol. Some of the original members of The J.B.'s, including Catfish and Bootsy Collins, intentionally got high on LSD during a concert gig in 1971, causing Brown to fire them after the show.
    Photo: Rolling Stone magazine
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    James Brown was known for coordinating his dance moves to lead his band. Each movement was actually an instruction to the band. For many years, Brown's touring show was one of the most extravagant productions in pop music. At the time of his death, his band included three guitarists, two bass guitar players, two drummers, three horns and a percussionist. The bands that he maintained during the late 1960s and 1970s were of comparable size, and the bands also included a three-piece amplified string section that played during ballads. Brown employed between 40 and 50 people for the James Brown Revue.
    Photo: Getty Images
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    Members of his 60s-70s touring group traveled with him in a bus to cities and towns all over the country, performing upwards of 330 shows a year with almost all of the shows as one-nighters.
    Photo: Getty Images
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    James Brown holds the record as the artist to have charted the most singles on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever hitting #1. However, Brown scored 17 #1 singles on the R&B charts starting with "Try Me". Brown's 1962 instrumental "Night Train" was his first Top 40 hit. "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" was his first Top 10 single and won him a Grammy Award in 1965.
    Photo: Getty Images
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    Brown's final Top 10 pop hit, 1985's "Living in America", marked his first Top 40 entry since 1974 and his first Top 10 pop entry since 1968. It was also featured prominently on the Rocky IV film and soundtrack.
    Photo: Getty Images
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    James Brown's funeral after passing away from congestive heart failure and pneumonia. A star-studded list of luminaries were in attendance including Michael Jackson, Prince, Ice Cube, Little Richard, Stevie Wonder, 50 Cent, Don King, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many others. The service was held at the Apollo Theater and presided over by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
    Photo: Getty Images