Today's artist started singing in doo-wop and R&B groups as a teenager in his hometown of Buffalo, New York. More than a decade later, in the late '70s, when the fortunes of Motown Records seemed to be flagging, our man came along and rescued the company, providing funky hits that updated the label's style and saw it through into the mid-'80s. His epitath states "I've had it all, I've done it all, I've seen it all. It's all about love – God is love ..... ..... N'joy
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James Ambrose Johnson, Jr. was born on February 1, 1948, in Buffalo, New York, to Mabel (née Sims) and James Ambrose Johnson, Sr. He was one of eight children. James' father, an autoworker, left the family when James was ten. His mother was a dancer for Katherine Dunham, and later ran errands for a Mafia-connected mob, just to feed her family. James' mother would take him on her collecting route, and it was in bars where she worked that James got to see performers such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Etta James perform. James claimed later in the autobiography, Glow, that he lost his virginity at "age 9 or 10" to a 14-year-old local girl, claiming his "kinky nature came in early". James eventually attended Orchard Park High School and Bennett High School prior to dropping out. James was introduced to drugs at an early age and, as a young teen, was busted for burglary. Due to his stints in jail for theft, James entered the United States Navy at 14 or 15, lying about his age, to avoid the draft. During that time, he also became a drummer for local jazz groups in New York City. Due to him missing his twice-monthly Reserve sessions at the USS Enterprise, he found himself ordered to Vietnam.
In 1965, he fled for Toronto, where he made friendships with then-local musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. To avoid being caught by military authorities, James went under the assumed name, "Ricky James Matthews". That same year, James formed the Mynah Birds, a band that produced a fusion of soul, folk and rock music. In 1965, the band briefly recorded for the Canadian division of Columbia Records, releasing the single, "Mynah Bird Hop"/"Mynah Bird Song". At one point, Nick St. Nicholas of later Steppenwolf fame was a member; eventually bassist Bruce Palmer replaced him by the time "Mynah Bird Hop" was recorded. James and Palmer would recruit guitarists Tom Morgan and Xavier Taylor and drummer Rick Mason to form a new Mynah Birds lineup, and soon traveled to Detroit to record with Motown. Before the group began recording their first songs for the label, Morgan left, unhappy about the label's attitude towards the musicians. Neil Young eventually took his place. It was while in Detroit that James met his musical heroes, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. After meeting Wonder and telling him his name, Wonder felt the name "Ricky James Matthews" was "too long", and instead told James to shorten it to "Ricky James".
After James got involved in a fight with the group's financial backer in Toronto, the Navy was given a tip regarding James' whereabouts and the singer was soon arrested. Afterwards, Motown dropped the band from the label, and James spent a year in prison. After his release, James moved to California where he resumed his musical career. After forming a duo with musician Greg Reeves, Reeves was soon hired to work as a musician for the rock supergroup, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. James returned to Motown as a songwriter in 1968, under the assumed name "Rickie Matthews", and worked with acts such as The Miracles, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, and The Spinners. According to James, he briefly got involved in pimp activity during this time, but stopped because he felt he wasn't qualified for it due to the harsh activity and the abuse of women there. Returning to California from Toronto in 1969, James got involved with hair stylist Jay Sebring, who agreed to invest in James' music.
In late 1968, James formed the rock band Salt and Pepper. James and S&P member Ed Roth later were included in Bruce Palmer's solo album The Cycle is Complete. The duo also recorded as part of the group Heaven and Earth in Toronto. Heaven and Earth eventually changed their name to Great White Cane and recorded an album for Los Angeles label, Lion Records, in 1972, though it was later shelved. James formed another band, Hot Lips, afterwards. In 1973, James signed with A&M Records, where his first single under the name Rick James, "My Mama", was released, becoming a club hit in Europe. In 1976, James returned to Buffalo, New York, and formed the Stone City Band and recorded the song "Get Up and Dance!", which was his second single to be released. In 1977, James and the Stone City Band signed a contract with Motown's Gordy Records imprint, where they began recording their first album in New York City.
In April 1978, James released his debut solo album, Come Get It!, which included the Stone City Band. The album launched the top 20 hit, "You and I", which became his first number-one R&B hit. The album also included the hit single, "Mary Jane". It eventually sold two million copies, launching James' musical career to stardom, and helping out Motown Records at a time when label fortunes had dwindled. In early 1979, James' second album, Bustin' Out of L Seven, followed the previous album's success, eventually selling a million copies. A third album, Fire It Up, was released in late 1979 going gold. Around that same period, James launched his first headlining tour, the Fire It Up Tour, and agreed to invite the then-upcoming artist, Prince, as well as singer Teena Marie, as his opening act. James had produced Marie's successful Motown debut album, Wild and Peaceful and was featured on the hit duet, "I'm a Sucker (For Your Love)". James was credited with naming Marie, "Lady Tee", on the song, a nickname that stuck with Marie for the rest of her career. The Fire It Up tour led to James developing a bitter rivalry with Prince, after he accused the musician for ripping off his act.
Following the end of the tour in 1980, James released the ballads-heavy Garden of Love, which became his fourth gold record. In 1981, James recorded his best-selling album to date, Street Songs, which like his previous four albums, was a concept album. Street Songs featured a fusion mix of different genres, including rock and new wave, as well as James' brand of crossover funk, enabling James' own style of "punk funk". The album featured hit singles such as "Ghetto Life", the Teena Marie duet "Fire and Desire", "Give It to Me Baby", and his biggest crossover hit to date, "Super Freak", which peaked at number sixteen on the Billboard Hot 100, and sold over a million copies. Street Songs peaked at number one R&B and number three pop, and sold over three million copies alone in the United States. Following up that success, James released two more gold albums, 1982's Throwin' Down and 1983's Cold Blooded.
During this period, envious of Prince's success as producer of other acts including The Time and Vanity 6, James launched the acts Process and the Doo-Rags, and the Mary Jane Girls, featuring his former background singer Joanne "JoJo" McDuffie as the lead vocalist and background performer, finding success with the latter group, due to the hits, "All Night Long", "Candy Man", and "In My House". In 1982, James produced the Temptations' Top Ten R&B hit, "Standing On The Top". In 1983, James recorded the hit duet, "Ebony Eyes", with singer Smokey Robinson. In 1985, James produced another hit for entertainer Eddie Murphy with the song "Party All The Time". That same year he appeared on an episode of The A-Team with Isaac Hayes. After the release of his ninth solo album, The Flag, in 1986, James signed with Warner Bros. Records, which released the album Wonderful in 1988, featuring the hit, "Loosey's Rap".
James' controversial and provocative image became troublesome sometimes. During his heyday, James had presented his songs to the then-fledging music video channel, MTV, only to be turned down because James' music didn't fit the network's rock playlist. James accused the network of racism. When MTV and BET both avoided playing the video for "Loosey's Rap" because of its graphic sexual content, James considered the networks hypocritical in light of them still playing provocative videos by Madonna and Cher.
In 1989, James' eleventh album, Kickin', was released only in the UK. By 1990, he had lost his deal with Warner Bros. and James began struggling with personal and legal troubles. That year MC Hammer released his hit signature song, "U Can't Touch This", which sampled the prominent opening riff from "Super Freak". James and his co-writer on "Super Freak", Alonzo Miller, successfully sued Hammer for shared songwriting credit and all three consequently received the 1990 Grammy Award for Best R&B Song. In 1997, James released Urban Rapsody, his first album since his release from prison on assault charges, and he toured to promote the album. That same year, he discussed his life and career in interviews for the VH1 musical documentary series, Behind the Music, which aired in early 1998. James' musical career slowed again after he suffered a minor stroke during a concert. In 1999, James accepted an offer by Eddie Murphy himself to appear in his film, Life
James had three children. With Syville Morgan, a former singer and songwriter, he had daughter Ty and son Rick, Jr. In 1989, James met 17-year-old partygoer Tanya Hijazi. The two began a romance in 1990. In 1993, the couple welcomed the arrival of their only child and James' youngest, Tazman. Following their releases from prison for assaulting Mary Sauger and Frances Alley, the couple married in 1996 and divorced in 2002. On the morning of August 6, 2004, James' caretaker found him dead in James' Los Angeles home at the Oakwood Toluca Hills apartment complex, just outside Burbank. He had died from pulmonary failure and cardiac failure, associated with his various health conditions of diabetes, a stroke, pacemaker, and heart attack. His autopsy found alprazolam, diazepam, bupropion, citalopram, hydrocodone, digoxin, chlorpheniramine, methamphetamine, and cocaine in his blood.
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After returning to the U.S. from London, where he fronted the blues band Mainline, Rick James cut one album with White Cane before he turned to his own solo venture. By 1977, he'd begun working with the Stone City Band, emerging at the end of the year with an album's worth of delicious funk-rock fusion. Released in spring 1978, Come Get It! was a triumphant debut, truly the sum of all that had gone before, at the same time as unleashing the rudiments of what would become not only his trademark sound, but also his mantra, his manifesto -- his self proclaimed punk-funk. Packed with intricate songs that are full of effusive energy, Come Get It! is marvelously hybridized funk, so tightly structured that, although they have the outward feel of funk's freewheeling jam, they never once cross the line into an uncontrolled frenzy. This is best demonstrated across the monumental, eight-plus-minute "You and I." With enough funk bubbling under the surface to supplant the outward disco sonics of the groove, but brought back to earth via James' vocal interpolations, "You and I" became James' first R&B chart hit, effortlessly slamming into the top spot. "Mary Jane," meanwhile, was James' homage to marijuana -- honoring the love affair through slang, it dipped into the Top Five in fall 1978. More importantly, though, it also offered up a remarkable preview of his subsequent vocal development. With nods to Earth, Wind & Fire on "Sexy Lady," Motown sonics on "Dream Maker," the passionate "Hollywood," and the classic club leanings of "Be My Lady," it's obvious that James was still very much in the throes of transition, still anticipating his future onslaught of hits and superstardom. Many of the songs here have a tendency toward the disco ethics that were inescapable in 1978, and have been faulted as such; nevertheless, what James achieved on this LP was remarkably fresh, and would prove vitally important to funk as it grew older during the next decade.
Rick James - Come Get It (flac 242mb)
01 Stone City Band, Hi ! 3:27
02 You And I 8:04
03 Sexy Lady 3:50
04 Dream Maker 5:14
05 Be My Lady 4:47
06 Mary Jane 4:58
07 Hollywood 7:27
08 Stone City Band, Bye ! 1:11
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Rick James' second album, Bustin' Out of L Seven, maintained his status among R&B fans, almost topping the LP chart and spawning hits in the title track, "High on Your Love Suite," and "Fool on the Street," though none of them matched the popularity of the debut album's "You and I" or "Mary Jane." James managed an effective amalgam of recent R&B big-band styles, from Sly & the Family Stone to Earth, Wind & Fire and Funkadelic, overlaying the result with his jeeringly rendered sex-and-drugs philosophy. What was missing this time was a real pop crossover -- if Come Get It! had suggested he could have the pop success of Earth, Wind & Fire, Bustin' Out of L Seven threatened that his work would find as restricted an audience as Funkadelic, and without the critical cachet.
Rick James - Bustin' Out of L Seven (flac 319mb)
01 Bustin' Out 5:20
02 High On Your Love Suite / One Mo Hit (Of Your Love) 7:26
03 Love Interlude 1:52
04 Spacey Love 5:24
05 Cop 'N' Blow 5:03
06 Jefferson Ball 7:20
07 Fool On The Street 7:47
08 Bustin' Out (12 Extended Mix) 7:19
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With Art Stewart gone, from this point on James produced all his own work. All the experimentation of the previous release is gone, but the P-Funk ripoffs continue. Rick's third album in 18 months may have spread the funk a little thin (or saturated the market), since Fire It Up was not as effective as his first two efforts. The usual mix of rock and R&B had some disco added, which dulled the music's edge and made it more formulaic. At the same time, James's single-entendre come ons, notably the album's biggest single, "Love Gun," were beginning to sound less provocative than just smutty. James had all the weapons for success in his arsenal, but he hadn't yet figured out a unified plan of attack, and Fire It Up was a holding action.
Rick James - Fire It Up (flac 346mb)
01 Fire It Up 3:59
02 Love Gun 5:44
03 Lovin' You Is A Pleasure 4:08
04 Love In The Night 6:22
05 Come Into My Life 7:10
06 Stormy Love 2:05
07 When Love Is Gone 7:32
08 Love Gun (12-Inch Version) 10:46
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Without a doubt, Garden of Love was Rick James' most underrated release. The album went gold and was far from a flop, but Motown wanted double- or triple-platinum, and anything less was disappointing. And when funk fans reminisce, Garden isn't one of the albums they mention. A departure from the type of hard and rowdy funk that defined Come Get It!, Bustin' Out of L Seven, and Fire It Up, Garden boasted only one major hit ("Big Time") and was surprisingly laid-back by James' standards. The album contains more ballads than usual, and James uses subtlety to his artistic advantage on songs ranging from the clever "Mary Go Round" to the haunting "Summer Love." Unfortunately, some mistook subtlety for wimpiness. But make no mistake: the songs are first-rate, though they lack the type of immediacy he was known for. Those who overlooked Garden need to give it a closer listen.
Rick James - Garden of Love (flac 343mb)
01 Big Time 6:25
02 Don't Give Up On Love 6:08
03 Island Lady 4:07
04 Gettin' It On (In The Sunshine) 3:03
05 Summer Love 6:18
06 Mary -Go- Round 6:59
07 Gettin' It On (In The Sunshine) Reprise 1:39
08 Big Time (Extended Version) 11:40
09 Gypsy Girl (Demo) 3:41
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