Joining Bobby Byrd’s vocal group The Famous Flames, in 1955, Brown’s early mid-50s recordings were fairly straightforward gospel-inspired R&B compositions, heavily influenced by contemporaries, including: Ray Charles and Little Richard, who was particularly significant in Brown’s development as a musician and showman.
Brown followed his successful Live At The Apollo (1963), with a string of singles that - along with the work of Allen Toussaint, in New Orleans - essentially defined the foundation of funk music. During the mid-1960s, two of Brown’s signature tunes Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag and I Got You (I Feel Good) (both from 1965), were his first Top 10 pop hits, as well as major #1 R&B hits - each remaining the top-selling singles, in black venues, for over a month. As the 1960s neared their end, Brown continued to refine the new funk idiom. His 1967 #1 R&B hit, Cold Sweat - sometimes cited as the first true funk song - was the first of his recordings to contain a drum break and harmony reduced to a single chord change.
His recordings influenced many contemporaries / followers, most immediately: Sly & The Family Stone, Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Edwin Starr, The Temptations, David Ruffin, Dennis Edwards and The Jackson 5’s young lead singer, Michael Jackson, took Brown’s shouts / dancing into pop mainstream. Many Clyde Stubblefield (drums) / The Famous Flames tracks were resurrected, from the 1970s onward, by countless hip-hop musicians. As a result, Brown / Stubblefield quickly became, and remain, the world’s most sampled recording artists, with their Funky Drummer break becoming the most sampled individual piece of music, the Funky Drummer break.
By 1970 Brown and Byrd employed a new band that included future funk greats, such as bassist Bootsy Collins, Collins’ guitarist brother Phelps ‘Catfish’ Collins and trombonist and musical director Fred Wesley. This new backing band was dubbed The J.B.’s, and the band made its debut on Brown’s 1970 single Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine.
Many of his sidemen and supporting players, such as Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins, Vicki Anderson and Hank Ballard, released records on Brown’s People label. The recordings on the People label, almost all of which were produced by Brown himself, exemplified his “house style”. Songs such as I Know You Got Soul by Bobby Byrd, Think (About It) by Lyn Collins and Doing It To Death by Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s are considered as much a part of Brown’s recorded legacy as the recordings released under his own name.
Although he would continue tour and rack up hit records into the 2000s, By the mid-1970s Brown’s star-status was on the wane, and key musicians in his band such as Fred Wesley left to join Parliament and Funkadelic. The onslaught of the slickly commercial style of disco caught Brown off guard, as it superseded his raw style of funk music on the dance floor.
Brown is recognized by a plethora of (mostly self-bestowed) titles, including “Soul Brother Number One,” “Mr. Dynamite,” “the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business,” “Minister of New New Super-Heavy Funk,” “Universal James,” and the best-known, “the Godfather of Soul.” He is renowned for his shouting vocals, feverish dancing and unique rhythmic style.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Brown was a presence in American political affairs, noted especially for his activism on behalf of African Americans and the poor. James Brown died early on 25 Dec 2006, having been admitted to hospital suffering from pneumonia.
Edited by IanAR on 18 Aug 2013, 02:37
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