James Brown for Dummies

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James Brown for Dummies

We are just six weeks away from the premiere of the amazing new James Brown biopic that through its preview trailers has taken the entertainment world by storm. I will go on record now as predicting major box office success for the picture, as well as Academy Award nominations for several of its top stars. I also predict a wild resurgence in the popularity of the James Brown catalog, and great interest in everything else connected to JB, including his hometown of Augusta.

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In the first season of “The Monkees,” there was only one time the group mimicked another act. Michael Nesmith plays the part of Danny Ray, while Micky Dolenz does his best James Brown.


I was amused at first, then actually annoyed, when I read an anonymous rant this week in the daily paper questioning “what the big deal was” about The Godfather of Soul. Just for fun, I amassed a few quotes and stats for you people to stick in your pocket. The next time some damn fool questions the value of James Brown’s legacy, hit them with this, and then walk away while their small minds quiver in a puddle of their own ignorance.

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When asked if The Beatles were “the best musical act ever,” only one other name immediately came to Paul McCartney’s mind:

“OK, stack us up against James Brown, record for record, he’s definitely hotter because he’s James Brown. But he didn’t do the stuff we did. He’s James Brown and he’s sodding fantastic. We can all agree on that. But there’s something else to The Beatles.”

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George Harrison on his favorite Beatles “cover”:

“At last count, which was years ago, there were 140 covers of “Something.” Sinatra, Smokey Robinson, Ray Charles. My personal favorite is the version by James Brown. It was one of his B sides. I have it on my jukebox at home. It’s absolutely brilliant.”

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TV’s most prolific band leader, Paul Shaffer, on performing with JB:

“James Brown was my favorite, my absolute idol. Every time I played with him was like a music lesson, and I never thought I could be so funky! I mean, a white boy from Canada — a Jew — getting down with his funky bad self!”

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Rolling Stone Magazine called JB’s “Live At The Apollo” album:

“Perhaps the greatest live album ever recorded. From the breathless buildup of the spoken intro through terse, sweat-soaked early hits such as ‘Try Me’ and ‘Think’ into 11 minutes of the raw ballad ‘Lost Someone,’ climaxing with a frenzied nine-song medley and ending with ‘Night Train,’ ‘Live at the Apollo’ is pure, uncut soul.” (It charted for 66 weeks, setting a record at the time)

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A quick glance at JB’s Wikipedia page reminds us of these milestones:

JB was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 34th annual Grammy Awards. Exactly a year later, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Fourth annual Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards.

In 1997, entertainment legends gathered as he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

On August 6, 2002, James Brown was honored as the first BMI Urban Icon at the BMI Urban Awards. His BMI accolades include an impressive 10 R&B Awards and six Pop Awards.

He appeared on the BET Awards June 24, 2003, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Michael Jackson, and he would perform with him.

In recognition of his accomplishments as an entertainer, Brown was a recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor on December 7, 2003.

In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked James Brown as No. 7 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In an article for Rolling Stone, critic Robert Christgau cited Brown as “the greatest musician of the rock era.”

On November 14, 2006, Brown was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, and he was one of several inductees who performed at the ceremony.

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And of course, there is his biography at the website for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, of which he is a charter member. JB beat The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones into “The Hall” by a few years:

“James Brown had more honorifics attached to his name than any other performer in music history. He was variously tagged ‘Soul Brother Number One,’ ‘the Godfather of Soul,’ ‘the Hardest Working Man in Show Business,’ ‘Mr. Dynamite’ and even ‘the Original Disco Man.’ This much is certain: what became known as soul music in the Sixties, funk music in the Seventies and rap music in the Eighties is directly attributable to James Brown. His transformation of gospel fervor into the taut, explosive intensity of rhythm & blues, combined with precision choreography and dynamic showmanship, served to define the directions black music would take from the release of his first R&B hit (‘Please Please Please’) in 1956 to the present day.

What Elvis Presley was to rock and roll, James Brown became to R&B: a prolific and dominant phenom. Like Presley, he is a three-figure hitmaker, with 114 total entries on Billboard’s R&B singles charts and 94 that made the Hot 100 singles chart. Over the years, he amassed 800 songs in his repertoire while maintaining a grueling touring schedule.”

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Just for fun, the picture accompanying this column is from “The Monkees” TV episode called “The Monkees on Tour.” From early 1967, it shows Micky Dolenz wrapping up his bit on stage as “JB” with Michael Nesmith playing the role of “capeman” Danny Ray. This clip was this white boy’s introduction to a performing phenomenon that I was not fortunate to see in real life until a few decades later. I asked Mr. Brown about this tribute in an interview once, and he was not only aware of it, he was pretty amused by it. His words on the topic, “…what can I tell you my friend, even the Monkees wanted to be James Brown…”