If music is the bread of life, and it is for me, it’s James Brown that separated the wheat from the chaff. No matter what is happening in my life, The Godfather of Soul lifts me higher and ensures that I have a funky-good time. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of one of his most famous releases, “I Got You (I Feel Good”) and I still can’t help but “get on the good foot” when I hear him drop the one. If you’ve never heard of James Brown – I pity you.
This actually happened once in my presence and I was no less than shocked, gob-smacked and questioning if the person asking had circuitry for innards. I immediately pulled up a video of James Brown for the wretched soul who had yet to hear soul music. That’s good stewardship, people. If you don’t know, I’m here to let you know. If you haven’t heard of James Brown and are open to listen to the most masterful entertainer of the modern era, come sit beside me and listen. If you know who James Brown is and don’t think he’s an incredible talent, you’ve crossed over into a dark realm, my dearheart. I can hear the angels and saints weeping for you, pleading, “Please, Please, Please!”
I first heard James Brown’s music on KOMA, a once solid source oldies radio. I was just twelve years of age when I first called the station and spoke with DJ Danny K. I wanted to request more James Brown, but was unaware that a contest was taking place. After a brief moment of confusion that accompanied me hearing my own voice during the live on-air broadcast, Danny K told me that if I sang “I Feel Good” that I’d win a dozen roses. To this day that is my only and favorite radio prize ever. (Ok, that’s not entirely true. I also won a similar contest for naming what part of George Harrison was removed and saved, but I’m not telling you the answer.) To date, me singing like James Brown, sliding in my socks across the kitchen linoleum sans audience and dropping to my knees as a finale remains my favorite radio prize memory. James Brown’s voice is like a prism reflecting emotion, converting both the beautiful and terrible into a mirage of sound. Heaviness reached out and grabbed me by my spine – there was something in this music that moved the very center of my being. Rasping wails punctuated by ear-ripping shrieks, Brown captivated my senses – I didn’t know humans were capable of such raw emotion. No question in what he meant when he croons “Bewildered”. It is as evident as conjugating a verb.
All this and we haven’t even scratched the surface. If someone can’t share that feeling when hearing James Brown, then go on and pick out a plot, dearheart. He wasn’t just a showman – look at his band. Bobby, Fred, Macio, Bootsy: all top-artists at the height of their game. The Godfather drew in the best and was musically, if nothing else, solid. If you were fortunate enough to have seen him live, you know how his band members’ eyes clung to their leader’s every move. His body like a conductor’s wand. A dip back and to the left meant, “take me to the bridge.” Plunging down with the mic meant, “Hit me!” For those unfortunate souls who didn’t witness The Man live, thankfully there are videos available. Watch him. Watch his band. Who else could command such attention?
“Talk about movin’ it and doin’ it”, Brown’s style of dancing has been emulated since he began. One biography mentions a scuffle after JB found out that someone was mocking his cape routine. Guess how that turned out? Often imitated by acts like Prince and Michael Jackson, both of whom performed impromptu with JB, his signature moves are as recognizable as Santa Claus and as welcome as Christmastime.
Now grown, when I have folks over, they’ are all vetted through the sounds James Brown. Some are already of the faithful, others – initiates to the gospel – leave catechumen, but few turn away or dare deny his name. If they don’t already know my fascination or deep admiration for The Godfather of Soul before arriving, they soon learn that he is as important to me as cream in my coffee or the devil in my eggs. It’s a litmus test of sorts. I’ll know straight away those who may graciously stay for the company or if they really dig it and feel the power of the man James Brown as an artist, performer, and musical master. If you don’t feel it, well, ‘round my place we don’t stand much on ceremony. It’s easy to find the door – just past the kitchen and out you go. But if you’ve “got that feelin’” stay a while and listen. Get yourself comfy while I set the mood. How do you like your Maker’s?
By the Right Reverend E. Mann