The Godfather of Soul, James Joseph Brown, Jr., died overnight. He was 73 years young. Brown was initially hospitalized with pneumonia this weekend in Atlanta, and as recently as Sunday, his agent said he would be ready to perform at a scheduled concert the following Saturday. The cause of his death was uncertain.
James Brown will be remembered as one of the greatest bandleaders, performers,and tastemakers in modern music. As the man himself once said: “Disco is James Brown, hip-hop is James Brown, rap is James Brown; you know what Iâ€™m saying?” Like Elvis, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Prince, redefined and influenced the role of the frontman with raw emotion and a frenetic stage presence.
Little Richard, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles and their gospel-cum-R&B stylings were notable influences on James Brown, who started performing in 1955 with the guitarist Bobby Byrd and The Famous Flames.
Brown made his name in the mid-60â€™s, with the classic funk-soul hits, including â€œI Got You (I Feel Good),â€ and â€œPapaâ€™s Got a Brand New Bag.â€ By the late â€™60s and early â€™70s, Brown struck a groove with his backup band, the JBâ€™s, which included now-legendary musicians such as Bootsy Collins and Fred Wesley, recorded â€œNumber One Soul Brother,â€ â€œSex Machine,â€ â€œFunky Drummer,â€ and the social-rights-themed black power anthem, â€œSay it Loud, Iâ€™m Black and Iâ€™m Proud.â€ His brand of funk and swagger combined with an irresistible vibe produced a string of Billboard hits through the 60’s and early 70’s that helped build a bridge to funk, soul, disco, and modern R&B.
That “James Brown Sound” spread infectiously across the music spectrum, and directly influenced Miles Davis’ 1972 “On the Corner,” the music of the Jackson 5, The Rolling Stones, Sly & the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, Parliament, Etta James, Kool & the Gang, Cameo… and later, Outkast, the jazz/funk fusion sounds of Medeski, Martin, & Wood, Galactic, and Charlie Hunter, and today’s direct descendants of the Godfather, such as Breakestra, !!!, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. The list goes on and on.
James Brown had run-ins with the law, drug problems and health issues in recent decades, but his death came suddenly and early. His Web site lists tour dates that were scheduled to begin December 27 in Waterbury, CT and included gigs through August 2007.
The most recent interview I can find was last week, with Hour Magazine, previewing Brown’s planned January Canadian tour. Read it here. Read on for more intriguing interviews, etc…
Listen to JB’s “Christmas in Heaven” (MP3).
Have yourself a Soulful Christmas.