Monday, December 25, 2006

James Brown RIP: Jump back, Jack, see you later, alligator

(Fantastic graphic from DarkBlack)

From the AP:
James Brown, the dynamic, pompadoured "Godfather of Soul," whose rasping vocals and revolutionary rhythms made him a founder of rap, funk and disco as well, died early Monday, his agent said. He was 73.

Brown was hospitalized with pneumonia at Emory Crawford Long Hospital on Sunday and died around 1:45 a.m. Monday, said his agent, Frank Copsidas of Intrigue Music. Longtime friend Charles Bobbit was by his side, he said.

James at times danced perilously close to self-parody, but when he was at the height of his powers, there was no tighter, hotter, funk & soul on this planet.

I've been lucky to have worked with some of the pioneers of modern R&B, funk & blues: Little Richard, Solomon Burke, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, B.B. King, Bobby Womack, Billy Preston, and others. But sadly I never worked with James.



From his Wikipedia:
Brown's recordings influenced musicians across the industry, most notably Sly and his Family Stone, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, and soul shouters like Edwin Starr , Temptations David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards, and a then-prepubescent Michael Jackson, who took Brown's shouts and dancing into the pop mainstream as the lead singer of Motown's The Jackson 5. Those same tracks would later be resurrected by countless hip-hop musicians from the 1970s on; in fact, James Brown remains the world's most sampled recording artist, and "Funky Drummer" is itself the most sampled individual piece of music.

Indeed.

While to some non-R&B lovers his music might seem primitive, this was far from true. He ran a tight ship as a band leader, and his arrangements were far more clever than most of the contemporary R&B bands. In fact, while we can trace the tradition of the black band leader through Louis Jordan, Cab Callaway and others back to Louis Armstrong and other jazz pioneers, Brown's band was filled with extremely talented jazz players and musical sophisticates.

For proof, see this little clip of James and The Famous Flames doing "Night Train" (credited to Duke Ellington/Johhny Hodges/Jimmy Forrest):



When he did his famous Cape Thing in "Please, Please, Please" he created one of several signature 'moves' that would help define his performances as art of a sort. This particular piece of theatre indirectly predicted Elvis's sweaty scarves, and more recently has been either parodied or paid tribute by Paul Schaffer on David Letterman's The Late Show.

Here he is just back in October doing the Cape Thing:



And here he is doing it "back in the day" at the TAMI show in 1964: