I can’t front and act like I was always down with the funky sound of JAMES BROWN. Yeah, I knew how often his music was sampled for the Hip-Hop music that I grooved to the most, but there was still a large disconnect that I had with JAMES BROWN’s music. It’s no small stretch to say that JAMES BROWN is the father of modern day popular dance music. When you listen to a J.B. song there are two things I can guarantee. It will be funky, and that funk will make you move your body.
Let me begin with my teenage years at the Times Square nightclub Latin Quarter. One of the popular songs for Red Alert’s Saturday night party was made by Super Lover Cee and Casanova Rud. The song was called ‘Do The James’ and it referenced the Hip-Hop dance called the James Brown. The dance was based on J.B.’s signature move of sliding across the stage on one foot. There were several dances that you had to do during those days including the head shaking Wop, the goofy Pee Wee Herman, The suave Cameo slide, the high jumping Fila and the energetic James Brown. When the Super Lover Cee song was mixed through the speakers was when you had to do your version of the James Brown. I wasn’t as good a dancer as the kids from I.O.U. were, but I had an extremely high flattop haircut and freshly ironed Girbaud slacks with a crisp Polo rugby so I wasn’t trying to play the wall either.
Even though so much of the music that I loved owed an unrequited debt to JAMES BROWN’s musical genius I had no greater appreciation for him than the skits performed by EDDIE MURPHY I remembered from Saturday Night Live. There was that song he did in Rocky 7 or whatever. It would be several years before I would come to understand exactly how influential JAMES BROWN was to everyone that was making music in the 1980′s from R & B to new wave, to disco and gospel. It was all contained within the evolution of jazz into funk. JAMES BROWN was that COUNT BASIE, DUKE ELLINGTON, LOUIS ARMSTRONG, MILES DAVIS type of musician and so much more. He also knew that music held the key to educate and inspire it’s listeners so he unabashedly tackled social issues like race, drug addiction and poverty.
When the 1990′s came around New York City was without a specific Hip-Hop club. Mars on West 13th Street tried to fill that void with their ‘TRIP’ parties while a host of promoters would have loft parties on Broadway in the SoHo area. One of these parties called ‘Payday’ had an interesting mix of promoters who were classic and current Hip-Hop fans. They hired a dee jay named FRANKIE INGLESE to spin for their small Monday night party at Brother’s Bar-B-Cue. The party was primarily a cool out for the music industry people that worked in the neighborhood. Doors opened at 10pm and there were free bar-b-cue wings along with quarts of Colt 45 sold for a ridiculous three dollars. Suffice it to say this was my Monday evening dinner party.
FRANKIE INGLESE kept it funky all night. Classic hits from Parliament Funkadelic, the Meters, Sly and The Family Stone, Average White Band, Rufus, Rick James and so many other great musicians played on through the night. FRANKIE had the original 12 inch vinyl records for all the music that rappers were sampling. He even had stuff that hadn’t been discovered yet by Hip-Hoppers. This was where I first heard the extended version of JAMES BROWN’s ‘The Big Payback’. It’s a song so rich and complex with melodies that several songs have been sampled from that record and most of them sound different from one another. It was as if you could get an endless amount of samples from one JAMES BROWN record.
If you wanted to become a Hip-Hop producer then Franky Jackson’s Soul Kitchen became the only party that you needed to attend. There was a moment when everyone who was involved in Hip-Hop was coming to this party. I credit this party with restoring the popularity of artists like GEORGE CLINTON, WILSON PICKETT, BOOSTY COLLINS and MACEO PARKER, but bigger than all of those guys was the man who inspired their music. Franky Jackson’s Soul Kitchen helped me appreciate why JAMES BROWN was called ‘The Godfather’.
JAMES BROWN deserved extra credit for his bandleading and musical composition abilities since he never learned how to read music. He employed classically trained musicians that were familiar in styles like swing and jazz and they would help him translate the desired notes and charts to the other bandmembers. The key to JAMES BROWN’s music were his rhythm tracks and the fact that he did not employ chord changes. His improvisational use of the horn section was also signature. Because his instrumentation was so uniform and tight there has been no one sampled in Hip-Hop more than JAMES BROWN.
In the summer of 1997 JAMES BROWN performed a concert in NYC’s Central Park. This was the only time that I saw him perform and it was worth twice the money of the ticket even though I snuck in. JAMES BROWN lived up to his other nickname as the hardest working man in show business. He never stopped dancing for his over two hour set. Hit after hit rained down from the stage and this might have been the one time in my life that I saw people in their twenties dancing with those in their seventies. JAMES BROWN’s groove was that universal and that transcendent. Heaven was already a swingin’ joint with a touch of jazz. This Christmas, GOD gave Heaven a funky president for a present.
R.I.P. JAMES BROWN