Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Godfather Takes It To The Bridge

No surprise that James Brown is my most posted artist..I've probably got 6 posts on him. I won't trouble you with all of them..although this one does have working tunes..
Early on in my MOG tenure (less than a month) the Godfather passed away..reprinted below is my post from the day after Xmas '06, w/ music added..

The Godfather Takes It To The Bridge

I wanted to write something right off the top of my head the minute I heard about James Brown, maybe a guide to his music, or a personal story about how his music affected me, but I couldn't. I needed a little time to let it sink in. My first thoughts, though, were about a book written by Greil Marcus, called Dead Elvis. Dead Elvis goes beyond the usual depictions of Elvis as a product of his environment and the mirror by which the country saw itself . The book is about the IDEA of Elvis; not as an avatar of American Culture, but as America in total . I'm not sure where I stand on Mr. Marcus' assertion about Elvis, but I do feel James Brown and the IDEA of James Brown are the ultimate embodiment of America, warts and all.

The U.S.A. is a country built on contradiction, blood, and myth, cards that James Brown held in a spade royal flush. Elvis may be America, but James Brown is what America makes out of its ultimate believers. James had talent to burn and an incredible drive to succeed, but most importantly he believed. He believed so much he changed the world. He believed so much he became a myth. He believed enough for all of us.

He did all of this within the framework of the record business, as an ex-con black man, during Jim Crow , and hailing from Augusta, Georgia, which makes his ascendance all that more unbelievable. That is, unless you know anything about James Brown, because if you do, there was never any question he would rise.

The folks who lead JB's bands over the years pretty much say the boss knew absolutely nothing about music from a technical standpoint, and yet this man is universally credited with pushing forward American popular music from where it was in 1950 to where it is today in 2006. he was a man  personally responsible for raising Black pride with his songs and yet he backed a man for president (Nixon) who was clearly no friend of Black people. He sided with the law and order folks when it came to quelling riots in Boston after Martin Luther King was assassinated, but he was no stranger to drugs, or violence, or shady business deals. All of this is textbook Americana.

More complicated than Shaft, JB was always headed toward the goal: a piece of the pie. It was always just ahead. One show away, One hit away..Got to keep on pushing. It is a wonder JB lived to be 73. In 1973 the man played shows in 51 weeks out of the year and dropped 5 LP's. Every minute of every day was committed to the dream. Getting money, women, and drugs, making records, hyping his songs at radio stations, lip synching on TV, running an empire, being a spokesman for a generation, performing, being the IDEA of James Brown, 24/7, his every movement, forward…

I've read interviews with JB and heard his pronouncements over the years and almost from the beginning he referred to himself in the 3rd person. The IDEA of James Brown was a myth almost from birth and everything he did was in the size and scope of myth. Though he may have been able to gauge the desires or feel the pulse of mortal men, he was surely not cut from their mold. Over the past few days I've gone back over his entire catalog trying to find a place where he let down his guard, where he was just James Brown. I landed on The Payback.

Cobbled together from various 1973 sessions, the remnants of a soundtrack to a movie that was never released, The Payback stands as Mr. Brown's most coherent album length statement. Clearly JB's constant touring was not geared toward making albums, most sessions were one day affairs done on the fly between gigs, and albums were necessary, but not the way he did things. For him it was all about the single, the radio play, and albums were often just a collection of his past (of that year) hits.

The recording process for JB basically consisted of him telling his band to show up at a studio and be ready to record. Normally, whoever was in charge of the band (Fred Wesley in '73) would gather the troops and come up with a groove, then at some point JB would arrive and tinker with it , bring out some lyrics, and in short order, make a record. The Payback was cut in 5 sessions, in studios from New York to Georgia to California, but the trip to the studio on August 4rth 1973, in his hometown of Augusta, might be closest we'll ever get to the real James Brown.

That day, one month after he buried his son, who had died in a car crash, he cut The Payback, Doing the Best I Can, and Forever Suffering. Its just a glimpse of a man who was a myth, but in true JB fashion (contradiction) these songs were cut for a blaxploitation soundtrack.
Doing The Best I Can

At the end of Doing the Best I Can, the song fades out with JB pleading, "I'm just a man, I'm just a man, I'm just a man.." For a minute maybe that was true, but then it was back to entourages, tours, and chasing the dream for 33 years (the only rest he ever got was in jail).By sheer will, talent and belief in this country (and its myth), James Brown achieved things few people have even conceived. He pulled quite a few people up and tore just as many down, but he left a mountain of music that will move people for ages. His is a legacy befitting a true American Myth. I won't miss him because he will never be gone.
The Payback

Stone To The Bone

Mind Power

Forever Suffering

1 comment:

jaggerandrea said...

Interesting and chock full of info....great one, Cody!