Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from A-E

Brown, James

smash hit blues pop

Brown, James “The Godfather of Soul”; b. Macon, Ga., May 3, 1928 (although some sources claim May 3, 1933, in Barnwell, S.C.). Raised in Augusta, James Brown took up keyboards, then drums and bass, at an early age. Dropping out of school in the seventh grade, Brown spent a delinquent youth, serving four years in reform school for petty theft beginning in 1949. Upon release, he joined pianist Bobby Byrd’s Gospel Starlight-ers. Evolving into The Famous Flames and concentrating on rhythm-and-blues music, the group played around Ga. and came to the attention of Ralph Bass of Cincinnati’s King Records. He signed them to a recording contract in January 1956 after hearing their first demonstration record. Rerecorded with Byrd and former Gospel Starlighters Sylvester Keels and Nafloyd Scott, the song, “Please, Please, Please” became a smash rhythm-and-blues hit in April.

James Brown quickly became the undisputed leader of The Famous Flames. Their next hit, 1958’s “Try Me” topped the R&B charts and filtered into the pop charts. A series of smash rhythm-and-blues hits began in 1960 with “Think,” followed by “I Don’t Mind,” “Baby, You’re Right,” “Lost Someone,” and “Night Train.” Brown organized the James Brown Revue with dozens of singers, musicians, and dancers, and, with a tightly rehearsed and choreographed stage act polished to near perfection, they played to sellout, box-office record audiences in ghetto areas across the country in the early 1960s. The live recording of their show at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre on Oct. 24, 1962, reflected Brown’s mastery of showmanship and effectively established him as an important artist, and the resulting album is regarded as a classic.

During 1962, James Brown reluctantly recorded several songs with vocal chorus and strings at the insistence of King Records. One of the songs, “Prisoner of Love,” became a major pop hit. By 1964, however, Brown had deemphasized vocals in favor of strong hard polyrhythms. He brought a set of recently recorded songs to the Smash subsidiary of Mercury Records in Chicago. One of them, “Out of Sight,” became a major pop hit and Brown’s first record to sell in large quantities to whites. Brown eventually returned to King with complete control over all aspects of his recording career, with releases on Smash restricted to instrumentais and recordings by members of the Revue.

With The Famous Flames, James Brown became perhaps the earliest purveyor of bottom-heavy funk music. Over the years, his groups included saxophonists Maceo Parker (1964-70, 1973-76, and 1984-88, the last as band director) and Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis (1965–70), guitarist Jimmy Nolen (1965-70, 1972-83), trombonist Fred Wesley (1968–76), and bassist William “Bootsy” Collins (1969–71). All except Nolen recorded albums on their own after leaving Brown.

Eschewing club engagements in favor of concert auditoriums, Brown scored a top rhythm-and-blues and near-smash pop hit in 1965 with the seminal “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” recorded with Nolen, Parker, and new band leader Nat Jones. Adding Ellis, Brown followed up with the top R&B and smash pop hits “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s World,” and the rhythm-and-blues smashes “Ain’t That a Groove (Part 1),” “Don’t Be a Drop- Out,” “Bring It Up,” and “Let Yourself Go.” Ellis took over as musical director and chief musical collaborator in 1967. Buying three Southern radio stations, Brown subsequently achieved top R&B and near- smash pop hits with the funk masterpiece “Cold Sweat” and “I Got the Feelin/” and rhythm-and-blues smashes with “I Can’t Stand Myself,” “There Was a Time,” “Licking Stick (Parti),” and “Licking Stick (Part 2).”

By the late 1960s, James Brown was producing the entire show for the Revue—songs, costumes, routines, choreography, and lighting. Credited with helping quell riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Brown issued one of the first anthems of black pride in 1968, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” a top R&B and major pop hit. Performing at President Richard Nixon’s inaugural celebration in January 1969, Brown scored the top R&B and major pop hit “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose” and the smash R&B and major pop hit “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing.” He next returned to more conventional hits based on the dance style called the Popcorn, beginning with the top R&B and major pop hit “Mother Popcorn,” followed by the smash R&B and major pop hit “Ain’t It Funky Now (Part 1)” and the seminal “Funky Drummer.”

In mid-1970, The Famous Flames broke up, to be replaced by The JBs, centered around pianist Bobby Byrd, guitarist Jimmy Nolen, saxophonist “Pee Wee” Ellis, trombonist Fred Wesley, and new bassist William “Bootsy” Collins. Scoring his final smash R&B hits on King with “Get Up I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine,” “Super Bad,” “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved,” and “Soul Power,” Brown switched to Poly dor Records in 1971, bringing with him his entire back catalog and forming his own label, People, for the classic “Hot Pants” and recording by the JBs. However, Ellis and Collins soon left the JBs, with Fred Wesley replacing Ellis as band leader. Nonetheless, top rhythm- and-blues hits continued through 1974 with “Make It Funky (Part 1),” “Talking Loud and Say Nothing (Part 1),” “Get on the Good Foot (Part 1),” “The Payback (Part 1),” “My Thang,” and “Papa Don’t Take No Mess (Part 1).” Smash R&B hits of the era included “”King Heroin,” “There It Is (Part 1),” “I Got a Bag of My Own,” “”I Got Ants in My Pants,” and “Funky President (People It’s Bad).” In 1973, Brown and Wesley scored the music to the movies Black Caesar and Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off .

In the early 1970s, Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis, and Fred Wesley recorded as Maceo and The King’s Men and Maceo and The Macks. The JBs recorded a number of albums for People Records in the first half of the 1970s. Parker, Wesley and Bootsy Collins all joined George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic aggregation in the 1970s, with Wesley recording one spin-off album as The Horny Horns. Collins later went on to his own successful funk career, and Parker, Wesley, and Ellis recorded successful jazz albums in the 1990s.

James Brown began having tax disputes with the Treasury Department in 1975 and scored his last smash rhythm-and-blues hit for 12 years with “Get Up Offa That Thing” in 1976. Enduring diminished popularity, particularly with the rise of disco music, Brown even utilized the services of an outside producer for the first time for The Original Disco Man in 1979. Touring the rock club circuit for the first time in 1980, he was introduced to a new generation of fans with his appearance in The Blues Brothers movie. He began playing the supper club circuit in 1983, but long-time guitarist Jimmy Nolen died in Atlanta on Dec. 18, 1983. Brown scored a minor R&B hit with hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa on “Unity” in 1984 and experienced a revival of interest in his music with the 1986 smash pop and near-smash R&B hit “Living in America” from the movie Rocky IV .

In 1986, James Brown was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and switched to Scotti Brothers Records. He soon became beset by personal, health, and financial troubles, yet scored a smash rhythm-and-blues hit with “I’m Real” in 1988. However, his September 1988 arrest in S.C. following a two-state car chase by police resulted in a prison term of more than two years beginning in December. Paroled in February 1991, James Brown quickly resumed touring and recording. Brown was the opening act for Woodstock ’99.

Probably the single most popular black artist among blacks until the mid- 1970s, James Brown may very well be the last vaudeville performer, with his high-powered, histrionic, and intensely dramatic stage show. In fact, his performance style influenced generations of performers, from Mick Jagger and Sly Stone to Michael Jackson and Prince. His classic 1962 album, Live at the Apollo, is regarded by some as the greatest in-concert album ever recorded and was likely the first album bought in mass quantities by blacks. With his unique mixture of gospel, blues, and even jazz, and the powerful choreographed playing of The Fabulous Flames, Brown reinvigorated soul music in the 1960s and opened the door for soul shouters such as Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. One of the first rock entertainers to gain complete control over his career, James Brown was certainly the first black artist to achieve independence from his record company in matters of arrangements, production, and packaging. In emphasizing poly rhythms from the late 1960s to early 1970s with instrumentalists Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, and William “Bootsy” Collins, Brown Africanized American rhythm-and-blues and originated funk music later pursued by Sly Stone and George Clinton. That influence extended into the 1980s and 1990s with the development of hip-hop and rap music, which regularly mimicked his style and sampled his early recordings. Moreover, Brown was one of the first blacks to champion black self-pride and political consciousness in the 1960s, while at the same time establishing himself as one of the nation’s first black entrepreneurs. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its inaugural year, 1986, James Brown endured a rocky period of health, financial, and legal problems in the late 1980s.

Brown, James “Buster”(1913–2002) - Dancer, choreographer, Moves from the Autumn Follies to Duke Ellington, Sees Bright Lights in Europe [next] [back] Brown, Howard Mayer

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

over 5 years ago

To see who The Famous Flames REALLY are, please check these clips:

No musicians. Just singers.

James Brown too, is a Famous Flame. He began his career as a member of The Flames, NOT as a solo act.





Vote down Vote up

over 5 years ago

THE FAMOUS FLAMES were NOT the name of JAMES BROWN'S "BAND" This is a common error that has persisted for DECADES, and needs to be corrected.

James Brown's BAND was called just that...the James Brown Band. They were a totally separate entity from THE FAMOUS FLAMES.

THE FAMOUS FLAMES are a SINGING GROUP.They are : BOBBY BYRD,BOBBY BENNETT, LLOYD STALLWORTH, and JOHNNY TERRY (who Stallworth replaced) . No instrument players. just singers. People like MACEO PARKER,FRED WESLEY, ST. CLAIR PINCKNEY,JIMMY NOLEN,JABO STARKS, etc. were NOT the Famous Flames, simply band members.

Here is what Wikipedia says about The Famous Flames:

"The Famous Flames were a SINGING GROUP, NOT a BACKING BAND".

Wikipedia goes on to say :

"During the earliest phase of the Flames' career, before they had a recording contract, each member of the group played an instrument; Bobby Byrd played the piano, while Brown himself played drums. However, in later years (aside from the brief exception of guitarist Nafloyd Scott) The Famous Flames consisted specifically of the SINGERS who backed Brown, NOT the instrumentalists in his band. (During the 1950s and 1960s the band was billed separately, first as the James Brown Band and later on as the James Brown Orchestra.) "

The FAMOUS FLAMES were just recently inducted into the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME IN 2012. The inducted members were: BOBBY BYRD,BOBBY BENNETT, LLOYD STALLWORTH, and JOHNNY TERRY.

That's all. No band members...Because The Famous Flames are a singing group...not a "Band" .