The coming weeks it's all about "Soul Brother Number One," "the Godfather of Soul," "the Hardest Working Man in Show Business," "Mr. Dynamite" -- those are mighty titles, but no one can question that today's artist earned them more than any other performer. Other singers were more popular, others were equally skilled, but few other African-American musicians were so influential over the course of popular music. And no other musician, pop or otherwise, put on a more exciting, exhilarating stage show: his performances were marvels of athletic stamina and split-second timing. He is ranked seventh on the music magazine Rolling Stone's list of its 100 greatest artists of all time......N'joy
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Through the gospel-impassioned fury of his vocals and the complex polyrhythms of his beats, Brown was a crucial midwife in not just one, but two revolutions in black American music. He was one of the figures most responsible for turning R&B into soul and he was, most would agree, the figure most responsible for turning soul music into the funk of the late '60s and early '70s. After the mid-'70s, he did little more than tread water artistically; his financial and drug problems eventually got him a controversial prison sentence. Yet in a sense, his music is now more influential than ever, as his voice and rhythms have been sampled on innumerable hip-hop recordings, and critics have belatedly hailed his innovations as among the most important in all of rock or soul.
Brown's rags-to-riches-to-rags story has heroic and tragic dimensions of mythic resonance. Born into poverty in the South, he ran afoul of the law by the late '40s on an armed robbery conviction. With the help of singer Bobby Byrd's family, Brown gained parole and started a gospel group with Byrd, changing their focus to R&B as the rock revolution gained steam. The Flames, as the Georgian group was known in the mid-'50s, signed to Federal/King and had a huge R&B hit right off the bat with the wrenching, churchy ballad "Please, Please, Please." By that point, The Flames had become James Brown & the Famous Flames; the charisma, energy, and talent of Brown made him the natural star attraction.
All of Brown's singles over the next two years flopped, as he sought to establish his own style, recording material that was obviously derivative of heroes like Roy Brown, Hank Ballard, Little Richard, and Ray Charles. In retrospect, it can be seen that Brown was in the same position as dozens of other R&B one-shot: talented singers in need of better songs, or not fully on the road to a truly original sound. What made Brown succeed where hundreds of others failed was his superhuman determination, working the chitlin circuit to death, sharpening his band, and keeping an eye on new trends. He was on the verge of being dropped from King in late 1958 when his perseverance finally paid off, as "Try Me" became a number one R&B (and small pop) hit, and several follow-ups established him as a regular visitor to the R&B charts.
Brown's style of R&B got harder as the '60s began; he added more complex, Latin- and jazz-influenced rhythms on hits like "Good Good Lovin'," "I'll Go Crazy," "Think," and "Night Train," alternating these with torturous ballads that featured some of the most frayed screaming to be heard outside of the church. Black audiences already knew that Brown had the most exciting live act around, but he truly started to become a phenomenon with the release of Live at the Apollo in 1963. Capturing a James Brown concert in all its whirling-dervish energy and calculated spontaneity, the album reached number two on the album charts, an unprecedented feat for a hardcore R&B LP.
Live at the Apollo was recorded and released against the wishes of the King label. It was this kind of artistic standoff that led Brown to seek better opportunities elsewhere. In 1964, he ignored his King contract to record "Out of Sight" for Smash, igniting a lengthy legal battle that prevented him from issuing vocal recordings for about a year. When he finally resumed recording for King in 1965, he had a new contract that granted him far more artistic control over his releases.
Brown's new era had truly begun, however, with "Out of Sight," which topped the R&B charts and made the pop Top 40. For some time, Brown had been moving toward more elemental lyrics that threw in as many chants and screams as they did words, and more intricate beats and horn charts that took some of their cues from the ensemble work of jazz outfits. "Out of Sight" wasn't called funk when it came out, but it had most of the essential ingredients. These were amplified and perfected on 1965's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," a monster that finally broke Brown to the white audience, reaching the Top Ten. The even more adventurous follow-up, "I Got You (I Feel Good)," did even better, making number three.
These hits kicked off Brown's period of greatest commercial success and public visibility. From 1965 to the end of the decade, he was rarely off the R&B charts, often on the pop listings, and all over the concert circuit and national television, even meeting with Vice President Hubert Humphrey and other important politicians as a representative of the black community. His music became even bolder and funkier, as melody was dispensed with almost altogether in favor of chunky rhythms and magnetic interplay between his vocals, horns, drums, and scratching electric guitar (heard to best advantage on hits like "Cold Sweat," "I Got the Feelin'," and "There Was a Time"). The lyrics were not so much words as chanted, stream-of-consciousness slogans, often aligning themselves with black pride as well as good old-fashioned (or new-fashioned) sex. Much of the credit for the sound he devised belonged to (and has now been belatedly attributed to) his top-notch supporting musicians such as saxophonists Maceo Parker, St. Clair Pinckney, and Pee Wee Ellis; guitarist Jimmy Nolen; backup singer and longtime loyal associate Bobby Byrd; and drummer Clyde Stubblefield.
Brown was both a brilliant bandleader and a stern taskmaster, the latter leading his band to walk out on him in late 1969. Amazingly, he turned the crisis to his advantage by recruiting a young Cincinnati outfit called the Pacemakers featuring guitarist Catfish Collins and bassist Bootsy Collins. Although they only stayed with him for about a year, they were crucial to Brown's evolution into even harder funk, emphasizing the rhythm and the bottom even more. The Collins brothers, for their part, put their apprenticeship to good use, helping define '70s funk as members of the Parliament-Funkadelic axis.
In the early '70s, many of the most important members of Brown's late-'60s band returned to the fold, to be billed as the J.B.'s (they also made records on their own). Brown continued to score heavily on the R&B charts throughout the first half of the '70s, the music becoming more and more elemental and beat-driven. At the same time, he was retreating from the white audience he had cultivated during the mid- to late '60s; records like "Make It Funky," "Hot Pants," "Get on the Good Foot," and "The Payback" were huge soul sellers, but only modest pop ones. Critics charged, with some justification, that the Godfather was starting to repeat and recycle himself too many times. It must be remembered, though, that these songs were made for the singles radio jukebox market and not meant to be played one after the other on CD compilations (as they are today).
By the mid-'70s, Brown was beginning to burn out artistically. He seemed shorn of new ideas, was being out-gunned on the charts by disco, and was running into problems with the IRS and his financial empire. There were sporadic hits, and he could always count on enthusiastic live audiences, but by the '80s, he didn't have a label. With the explosion of rap, however, which frequently sampled vintage J.B.'s records, Brown became hipper than ever. He collaborated with Afrika Bambaataa on the critical smash single "Unity" and reentered the Top Ten in 1986 with "Living in America." Rock critics, who had always ranked Brown considerably below Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin in the soul canon, began to reevaluate his output, particularly the material from his funk years, sometimes anointing him not just "Soul Brother Number One," but the most important black musician of the rock era.
For the majority of his career, Brown carried around a strict drug and alcohol-free policy with any member in his entourage, including band members, firing people who disobeyed orders, particularly those who used or abused drugs and alcohol. Some members of Brown's vocal group the Famous Flames were fired due to alcohol use. Noting of the policy, some of the original members of Brown's 1970s band, The J.B.'s, including Catfish and Bootsy Collins, intentionally got high on LSD during a concert gig in 1971, causing Brown to fire them after the show because he had suspected them to be on drugs all along.
However, by the mid-1980s, it was alleged that Brown himself was using drugs. After meeting and later marrying Adrienne Rodriguez, she and Brown began using PCP ("angel dust"). The drug resulted in domestically violent outbursts from Brown and he was arrested several times for domestic violence against Rodriguez while high on the drug. Clearly Adrienne Rodriguez had a bad influence on him and his brain couldn't cope with drugs. In 1988, Brown's personal life came crashing down in a well-publicized incident in which he was accused by his wife of assault and battery. After a year skirting hazy legal and personal troubles, he led the police on an interstate car chase after allegedly threatening people with a handgun. The episode ended in a six-year prison sentence that many felt was excessive; he was paroled after serving two years.
Throughout the '90s Brown continued to perform and release new material like Love Over-Due (1991), Universal James (1992), and I'm Back (1998). While none of these recordings could be considered as important as his earlier work and did little to increase his popularity, his classic catalog became more popular in the American mainstream during this time than it had been since the '70s, and not just among young rappers and samplers. One of the main reasons for this was a proper presentation of his recorded legacy. For a long time, his cumbersome, byzantine discography was mostly out of print, with pieces available only on skimpy greatest-hits collections. A series of exceptionally well-packaged reissues on PolyGram changed that situation; the Star Time box set is the best overview, with other superb compilations devoted to specific phases of his lengthy career, from '50s R&B to '70s funk.
In 2004, Brown was diagnosed with prostate cancer but successfully fought the disease. By 2006, it was in remission and Brown, then 73, began a global tour dubbed the Seven Decades of Funk World Tour. Late in the year while at a routine dentist appointment, the singer was diagnosed with pneumonia. On December 25, 2006, Brown died at approximately 1:45 am EST (06:45 UTC) from congestive heart failure resulting from complications of pneumonia, at age 73, with his personal manager and longtime friend Charles Bobbit at his bedside. According to Mr. Bobbit, Brown stuttered "I'm going away tonight", and then Brown took three long, quiet breaths and fell asleep before dying.
After Brown's death, Brown's relatives and friends, a host of celebrities and thousands of fans attended public memorial services at the Apollo Theater in New York on December 28, 2006 and at the James Brown Arena on December 30, 2006 in Augusta, Georgia. A separate, private memorial service was also held in North Augusta, South Carolina on December 29, 2006, which was attended by Brown's family and close friends. Celebrities who attended Brown's public and/or private memorial services included Michael Jackson, Jimmy Cliff, Joe Frazier, Buddy Guy, Ice Cube, Ludacris, Dr. Dre, Little Richard, Dick Gregory, MC Hammer, Prince, Jesse Jackson, Ice-T, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bootsy Collins, LL Cool J, Li'l Wayne, Lenny Kravitz, 50 Cent, Stevie Wonder, and Don King, among others.
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James Brown recorded the pet project Gettin' Down to It in Cincinnati, OH, at King Studios, between December 1968 and March 1969. Although you can't tell by the album's title, it reflects Soul Brother Number One momentarily stepping back from the fiery racial and political atmosphere of the times. Following the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., the riots sparked by that event, and his calming effect on it, Mr. Dynamite replaced "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" with his love of standards utilizing the melancholy phrasing of his favorite male vocalist, Frank Sinatra. Aided by the acoustic piano trio led by Dee Felice, Brown tackles such romantic chestnuts as "Strangers in the Night," "That's Life," "It Had to Be You," "Willow Weep for Me," and "All the Way." Although laid-back could be applied to the album's overall tone, these 12 tracks are by no means "mellow." After all, this is James Brown! For instance, "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons," clocking in at 7:40, combines pianist Frank Vincent's percussive vamping with James testifying as if he had this tune confused with "Ain't It Funky Now." While the disc is made up of mainly standards, that doesn't stop Brown from including two of his compositions, "Cold Sweat" and an instrumental take of "There Was a Time," reworked to fit the album's easygoing mood with jazzy elements intact. Even though there aren't any bonus tracks, this Verve reissue does include the original packaging and liner notes with Marc Eliot's insightful addendum tacked on. A curious entry in the James Brown catalog, Gettin' Down to It is a savory listen.
James Brown - Gettin' Down To It (flac 301mb)
01 Sunny 3:17
02 That's Life 4:29
03 Strangers In The Night 3:26
04 Willow Weep For Me 4:39
05 Cold Sweat 5:02
06 There Was A Time 2:59
07 Chicago 2:51
08 (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons 7:51
09 Time After Time 4:49
10 All The Way 3:40
11 It Had To Be You 2:42
12 Uncle 2:35
James Brown - Gettin' Down To It (ogg 113mb)
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Although historical evaluations of James Brown's work during the last half of the '60s tend to focus on the innovative funk of his biggest hit singles, his repertoire -- both live and on record -- in fact remained pretty versatile. Like his other '60s studio albums, Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud is more R&B/pop-conscious than a lot of listeners would expect, mixing the funky monsters "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" and "Licking Stick" with soul ballads. It's a notch above similar albums from earlier in the decade, however, in that the slow numbers are usually gritty slow-burns that eschew syrupy orchestration.
James Brown - Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud (flac 208mb)
01 Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud (Parts 1 & 2) 4:46
02 I Guess I'll Have To Cry, Cry, Cry 3:33
03 Goodbye My Love (Parts 1 & 2) 5:31
04 Shades Of Brown 2:45
05 Licking Stick 2:52
06 I Love You 3:33
07 Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye 3:52
08 Let Them Talk 4:01
09 Maybe I'll Understand 3:17
10 I'll Lose My Mind 2:44
James Brown - Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud (ogg 84mb)
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This live outing from Brown's seminal 1970 J.B.'s lineup features Bootsy Collins, Clyde Stubblefield, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Bobby Byrd, and many more. While it's a cut below Love Power Peace in documenting this lineup live, Brown and his band still smoke, tearing into extended versions of funk classics like "Sex Machine" (nearly 11 minutes), "Brother Rapp," "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose," and "Mother Popcorn," plus a healthy quotient of earlier soul material sprinkled in between. Sex Machine purports to be a live recording. However, the first LP's worth of material consists of tracks recorded in studio settings with added reverberation and overdubbed applause (some of which subsequently were released in unadulterated mixes, most notably on the 1996 Funk Power compilation CD.). All but one track of the second LP apparently were recorded live in concert in Brown's hometown of Augusta, Georgia, although this material, too, features added reverb and overdubbed applause.
Sex Machine was ranked 96th in a 2005 survey held by British television's Channel 4 to determine the 100 greatest albums of all time
James Brown - Sex Machine (flac 410mb)
01 Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine 10:48
02 Brother Rapp (Parts I & II) 5:09
03 Bewildered 6:09
04 I Got The Feelin' 1:07
05 Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose 6:26
06 I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I'll Get It Myself) 4:31
07 Licking Stick - Licking Stick 1:19
08 Lowdown Popcorn 3:25
09 Spinning Wheel 4:02
10 If I Ruled The World 4:03
11 There Was A Time 4:04
12 It's A Man's Man's Man's World 3:42
13 Please, Please, Please 2:26
14 I Can't Stand Myself (When You Touch Me) 1:28
15 Mother Popcorn 5:50
James Brown - Sex Machine (ogg 150mb)
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