I feel good! And so does my PC. Following a series of bangs, crashes, lost passwords and mis-firing emails, my old 20th century steam powered computer is back in the land of the living. So whilst the Antiques Roadshow were valuing it as a contemporary classic I’ve been busying myself listening to James Brown, the really early doo-wop influenced James Brown. Lo and behold, I get myself back online and discover that one of my pals has posted this on his Facebook page:
Mr Big Stuff, it’s surely a divine sign! I love the way he lets out one of those involuntary phlegmy ‘Huh!s’ towards the end. That’s why James Brown will never be bettered, if you ask me. Sadly, the self-styled Soul Brother #1 would never have done the Mashed Potato or the Tap Dancer to ‘Try Me’ or ‘Please Please Please’. Those dances were reserved for the BAM! 2,! 3! 4! BAM! 2,! 3! 4! funk-soul nuggets that earned him all those superlative-filled outrageous nick names. Tunes like ‘Cold Sweat’ or ‘There Was A Time’ or ‘Say It Loud (I’m Black & I’m Proud)’ sound great, but they look fantastic when The Entertainer breaks out one of his dance routines mid-song (Go to YouTube. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200. Just Go! Now!)
The James Brown Revue began touring in 1960. Brown hired a tight, tight band who played for their lives with one eye on the crowd and both eyes on their leader. He’d point to the horn player at any given moment and expect him to blast out a note-perfect solo. He’d jab a finger at the drummer and expect him to ‘get wicked’ just like that. His band quickly learned to do just that because he’d fine them if they missed the first bar in any one of those jerky four-to-the-floor masterpieces. If they couldn’t take it to the bridge, it was the end of the road for them as musicians. But you knew all that already. In his Revue he’d always have some female company who would do a set at the start. Many of these women learned to give it up or turn it loose, so to speak, and they became on-the-road girlfriends of James Brown.
‘Marvellous’ Marva Whitney was one such lady. James Brown chose her set, sang duets on stage with her before his performance and generally did with her what he’d do with his other female singers. After a bit, Marva got fed up of Brown choosing her material and after trying but failing to become Mrs James Brown she left in a bit of a huff, though not before she’d recorded half a dozen or so funktastic solo tracks and the odd duet with James. She swapped one religious experience for another by becoming a God-fearin’, soul-stirrin’ minister in Kansas City. Here’s 3 of the most soulful and funkiest (and longest titled) she recorded with JB’s backing band.
You’ll probably recognise riffs, melodies and tunes from elsewhere, not least other James Brown records.
I got to see James Brown live just the once. It was kinda tragic. Half way throught his set, Soul Brother #1 left for a quick costume change and while he did so, a magician came out and sawed a woman in half to the sound of Brown’s band playing furious funk. No kiddin’! It wasn’t that great really. The time I saw Prince, he was far better. Irony, huh?