Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Godfather Of Soul, Dead at 73

It seems like just yesterday, that Summer night in 1967 when James Brown appeared live in Boston, simulcast on the local PBS station.

I loved the songs. I loved his theatrics. As the show was wrapping-up, fans in the front attempted to get up onto the stage to get down with him. He shouted indecipherable lyrics over a driving orchestra.

The policemen guarding the stage were beside themselves. Young and old, dressed in their buttoned-up blues of the day, with their caps stolidly in place, all white, all panicky. A few tried to stop the revellers from climbing onto the stage by holding their riot batons with both hands horizontally across their bodies, attempting to shove enthusiasm back into the bodies of the young men who would not be stopped from joining James Brown on stage.

Even the Godfather of Soul seemed a bit nervous about the surge, but he handled the situation with aplomb. He got some of the kids to dance, he got some to leave the stage, and he went on singing. The band went on playing 'ba-da-da-da-da-da-da-dum-dah-dum'. He was shouting really. There weren't any lyrics anymore. "Hey!" "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" "Hey!" "Wooooooah!"

In spite of the tension, the throng calmed back to a dull roar and the band continued 'ba-da-da-da-da-da-da-dum-dah-dum'.

I don't remember the specific songs, but we've all heard them again and again.

At the end of the show (or long after the show was supposed to have ended), James Brown was still strutting. No longer singing, but sort of humming and grunting. He was seemingly in a trance that would not allow his feet to stop sliding, or his hips to stop shaking. His torso shimmied. He shimmied. The audience shimmied. Boston Arena shimmied. The television shimmied. The whole world shimmied.

An assistant came out to escort the singer off the stage. He wrapped a cape around the singer's shoulders. The band continued 'ba-da-da-da-da-da-da-dum-dah-dum'


I don't think anyone witnessing the sight had ever seen or heard anything like it.

'Ba-da-da-da-da-da-da-dum-dah-dum'. "Hey!"

'Ba-da-da-da-da-da-da-dum-dah-dum'! "Yeah!"

This from Deathwatch Central:

Godfather of Soul' James Brown dies

By Matthew Bigg

James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul" whose frenetic singing style and bold rhythms brought funk into the mainstream and influenced a new generation of black music, died on Monday at age 73, his manager said.

Brown died at 1:45 a.m. (0645 GMT) at Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta after being admitted on Saturday for treatment of severe pneumonia, his manager, Frank Copsidas, said. Charles Bobbit, Brown's longtime friend and personal manager, was at his side, he said.

One of America's great showmen, Brown's innovative rhythms and soul-rending vocals defined funk and made him a revered figure among rap and hip hop artists who used his beats extensively as the backdrop to their own songs.

Brown emerged from a boyhood of extreme poverty and petty crime to become one of the biggest record-sellers in rhythm and blues and later achieved crossover success. His gospel-style voice backed by staccato horns brought a distinctive funky and frenetic sound to black and later white audiences.

He could never quite escape his troubled roots. By 1988 Brown, who had begun his music career in jail as a juvenile offender, was back behind bars, sentenced to six years for drug, weapons and vehicular charges after a high-speed car chase through Georgia and South Carolina which ended with police shooting out the tires of his truck. He left prison in 1991.

He was chosen to be a member of President Reagan's Council Against Drugs but was arrested several times in the mid-1980s and 90s and charged with drug and weapons possession.

"Soul is all the hard knocks, all the punishment the black man has had . . . all the unfulfilled dreams that must come true," he once said.


He had more than 119 charting singles and recorded over 50 albums, was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys in 1992. Big hits included "Please, Please, Please," "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "I Got You (I Feel Good)" "Get Up (I feel like being a Sex Machine)" and "It's a Man's World."

The singer, also known as "Mr. Dynamite," combined his music with a theatrical delivery, typically changing suits a dozen times during a show as he danced himself into a frenzy. He once said he aimed to wear out his audience and "give people more than what they came for -- make them tired."

"Feeling and flamboyance fused into calculated spontaneity," one critic wrote of a Brown performance, adding he danced like a dervish and sang with "an astounding range of primitive emotional sounds -- grunts, groans, screeches, screams, wails. . ."

Brown's hit "Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" became a civil rights anthem during the turbulent 1960s and he performed the song at Richard Nixon's inaugural in 1969 -- an act that temporarily hurt his popularity among young blacks.

Brown also built a successful business empire, including a string of radio stations and his own production company, and owned a fleet of expensive cars and his own plane.

He even played the role of a manic preacher in the hit 1980 movie "The Blues Brothers."

Every record he made during 1960-77 reached the top 100.

His 1985 monster hit "Living in America," which was featured in the movie "Rocky IV," brought him a whole new generation of fans and his first Grammy.

He also developed a trademark routine in which he would keep coming back on stage after a show and sing a few lines of "Please, Please, Please" with the sweat pouring from his bare-chested body.

His stage crew would throw a cape over his back and he would leave, only to reappear seconds later on his knees, moaning the song into the microphone. The routine would sometimes go on for 30-40 minutes and send his fans delirious.

(Additional reporting by Steve James)

Many thanks to Deathwatch Central for posting this obituary

Read the BBC article.

Reuters has an article.

A sad day.

May he rest in peace.

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