James Brown, 1933-2006

James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul," passed away on Christmas morning at the age of 73. Born in Depression-era South Carolina, Brown cut his musical teeth singing gospel music. Idolizing Little Richard, Brown then veered into R&B and early rock and roll, getting his first hit in 1956 with "Please, Please, Please." It wasn't until the sixties, though, that Brown created his trademark sound, eschewing standard chord progressions for rhythm-heavy tracks full of syncopated bass and drum lines, lots of horns, and ad-libbed vocals. His style has influenced every black musical development since then, from funk to disco to hip-hop; indeed, it is hard to imagine any facet of contemporary R&B without Brown's indelible stamp on it.

Brown had a number of hit singles, most notably "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," "I've Got You (I Feel Good)," and the immortally titled "Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine (Part 1)." His strength, though, was not really as a song craftsman or a recording artist, and in the category of soul artists you can make the argument that Otis Redding and Smokey Robinson were both superior as singers and songwriters. Instead, James Brown's legendary status comes from his reputation as a showman and a bandleader. His concerts were spectacles, driven by Brown's non-stop energy, rapid fire footwork, and over-the-top antics. The 1963 LP Live At The Apollo is regarded by many as the greatest live album in the history of rock. His demands as a bandleader were very simple: to be the best, night in and night out. He wasn't considered the easiest guy to work for, but he got results. Nor was he any less demanding on himself; he easily earned the title "the hardest-working man in show business."

Regrettably, Brown spent much of the latter part of his life dealing with multiple run-ins with the law, but his status in the music world remained untarnished. He continued to tour regularly, and was even booked to play at B.B. King's club near Times Square this coming weekend. The end came quickly, however, in the form of a very severe case of pneumonia. James Brown is an American cultural icon, much like Johnny Cash. He and Cash both transcended their respective musical genres, earning the respect and admiration of people well beyond their target audiences. Likewise, he will be no less lamented or missed than Cash is.

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1 comment:

topbeagle said...

Great Work! Scott