James Brown. The Godfather of Soul. Perhaps the only mother funkster able to make my hairs stand on end purely on a groove. By 1984 I was frequenting bars, clubs and dives and if there was a dude I’d love to dance to it would have to be James Brown. As a 17 year-old virgin it was the Maison Royale or The Outlook, as an impure, gel-haired, ‘tryin-so-hard-to-be-cool’ 18 year-old it was most likely the Centurion or posers paradise, Micawber’s. Compared to my compadres I was a sensitive, introverted soul, but as the months went by my confidence was growing as fast as my social life.
James Brown is a musical idol; a true genius who from his own childhood spent in extreme poverty became not just the pioneer of funk, but one of the most important musical artists of the 20th century. His early gospel and R&B roots produced some classics, but for me his five year spell as Soul Brother No.1 starting in 1967, producing a stream of stone cold masterpieces, is his undoubted peak. I had devoured Motown and soul, and now on the back of the legendary Superbad vinyl on K-Tel, funk was my new obsession and with it came my first JB purchase, the super cool part-live double LP Sex Machine.
From ’67-‘72 he recorded Soul Power, Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, Super Bad, Cold Sweat, There Was A Time, Make It Funky, Get On The Good Foot, Hot Pants, Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose, Say It Loud – I’m Black & I’m Proud, Ain’t It Funky Now, Funky Drummer… everyone a absolute groove, thanks in no small way to Clyde Stubblefield and John ‘Jabo’ Starks, the most sampled drummers ever. An absolute star performer, JB influenced the likes of Michael Jackson and Prince with his stage persona and routine, as well as the intensity and length of his shows.
In 1984 I couldn’t get enough James Brown. For the previous few years the Top 40 had been littered with brit-funk; the likes of Level 42, Shalamar, Linx and Beggar & Co were all producing decent stuff, but my obsession with the late ‘60s and early ‘70s quickly lead me to Earth Wind & Fire, Sly & The Family Stone, Brass Construction, Roy Ayers and the immense Gil Scott-Heron, whose The Bottle is the ultimate groove.
In 1984, and for many years after, I had no idea James Brown was capable of horrific crimes like domestic abuse and assault. I say this almost as a disclaimer. He’d fine or sack anyone who missed a beat or disobeyed his orders regarding drink and drug use. His own drug addiction would soon become horrific. On the flip, he actively supported civil rights organisations and advocated the importance of education for disadvantaged kids for who he was seen as a role model. For me, in ‘84 JB was THE MAN and as a performer his legend lives on.