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Listening to James Brown and His Followers

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

 

James Brown: Live at the Apollo (Polydor)

JB in Harlem, 1962: Rock music’s greatest live recording.

James Brown: Live at the Apollo, Vol. 2 (Polydor)

Back in Harlem four years later, the music of James Brown has undergone a radical transformation: from Southern R&B and soul to hard-driving funk.

James Brown: Revolution of the Mind (Polydor)

Once again at the Apollo, here is Brown in 1974, unconstrained by the conventions of the 1960s. Sex Machine is a grooving riot, but it’s not the sexiest thing on this recording: get a load of those basslines.

James Brown: The Payback (Polydor)

“You might know karate, but I know ka-razor … “

James Brown: Hell (Polydor)

Brown slows down for some grinding, post-funk soul and blues, including a surreal version of Stormy Monday.

James Brown: In a Jungle Groove (Polydor)

Want to hear one of the origins of hip-hop? Drop the needle on “Funky Drummer”.

James Brown: 50th Anniversary Anthology (Polydor)

You can’t do justice to JB on a single collection, even if it contains 50 songs. But this one comes close. I’ve been listening to it all week and have come to the conclusion the breadth of Brown’s music is unmatched in rock music. Perhaps only Miles mastered as many styles of music as Brown. At one time, JB rocked harder than Little Richard.

Miles Davis: On the Corner (Columbia)

From Miles’s Autobiography: “It was with Sly Stone and James Brown in mind that I went into the studio in June 1972 to record “On the Corner.” During that time, everyone was dressing kind of “out street,” you know, platform shoes that were yellow, and electric yellow at that; handkerchiefs around the neck, headbands, rawhide vests and so on. Black women were wearing them real tight dresses that had their big butts sticking way out in the back. Everyone was listening to Sly and James Brown and trying at the same time to be cool like me. I was my own model, with a little bit of Sly and James Brown and the Last Poets.”

Funkadelic: America Eats Its Young (Westbound)

In 1971, Brown fired his bass-player Bootsie Collins, after Collins freaked out on stage during a bad LSD trip. Collins landed in Detroit where he hooked up with George Clinton and Funkadelic. Collins’ bass-lines are in many ways the sound of post-Brown funk, as well as disco, heavy metal, grunge and hip hop. Does it get any weirder or funkier than “I Call My Baby Pussycat” or “Miss Lucifer’s Groove”?

Cameo: Cameosis (Mercury)

For better or worse, funk led to disco. In a particularly low period, Brown anointed himself “the Original Disco Man.” I love black dance music of almost every kind, but disco left me cold. For me, Cameo is as warm as it got.

Prince: Love/Sexy (Warner Brothers)

When I first heard Prince in 1980, I thought rock still had a future. He was equal parts Sly Stone and James Brown, with an occasional Hendrix riff thrown in to rattle the cage. LoveSexy, despised by many, is as close to a true evolution of the JB sound as you’re likely to get. GenderBender funk.

Geto Boys: We Can’t Be Stopped (Asylum)

A few minutes after James Brown died, Snoop Dogg announced that Brown’s legacy would live on through Snoop’s own music. There’s no question that the hip-hop generation owes much to Brown, but, frankly, I don’t hear much of Brown’s music in West Coast rap. But it punctuates the sound of the Geto Boys and other southern hip hop groups. Not much music these days sounds as dangerous as Brown’s music from the late 60s and early 70s. The Geto Boys–hated by the cops, targeted by Tipper and dropped by David Geffen–come close.

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR’s music writings (as well as CPers Ron Jacobs, David Vest and Daniel Wolff) can be found in Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

 

 

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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