Tuesday, 24 November 2020

James Brown as Shaman: The Ultimate Showman

Picture if you will, 13 year old T. Watts being told by his Mother, the following:


"Thurman, go down to Music City and buy me a record.  Pick me out a good one."


Man, talk about adolescent empowerment. This was near heresy. My mom knew I liked hanging out at Music City. I bought my first record there. It was "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" by the Shirelles. At that tender age, I was already familiar and comfortable with the bittersweet aural taste of love and unrequited love. "Lonely Teenager' by Dion & The Belmonts, "Angel Baby" by Rosie & The Originals were some of those early sides that I bought at Music City. Jesus, I remember seeing Little Richard there one Saturday around this time doing a promotional appearance. I marveled at the fact that he was not a little man.


James Brown had a smash hit out at the time that was climbing the Billboard charts. James Brown Live At The Apollo. This record spent 66 weeks on the Billboard Pop LP chart. I didn't say R&B chart. I said pop. The record was a huge crossover hit. It peaked at No. 2 in the summer of 1963, right behind Andy Williams' Days Of Wine and Roses.


So, as I walked the few short blocks to Music City that day, I already knew what I would buy for Mom. It was a no-brainer. All my friends were talking about it. When I returned home and presented the album to Mom, the unusual began to happen. She took about a half a listen to one side and declared to me angrily, in the tone that only she could muster, “You know I don't like all that hollerin' and screamin'. What's wrong with you?”


Ow. Cut my little brain to the quick. Yet, youth is so resilient. I quickly forgot about it. And it was on to the next adolescent thing.


A few weeks later, I came home from school one day and entered through the back door. No one was home but my Mom. As soon as I opened the door, I heard the Hi Fi, CRANKED WAY UP! So loud in fact that Mom didn't hear me come in. I observed her washing dishes, dancing and swaying to The Amazing Mr. Please, Please, Himself, James Brown & The Famous Flames. Our family is still laughing.


Of course, later in my teenage years, I saw the James Brown Revue several times at venues like The Oakland Auditorium and Winterland in San Francisco. The Godfather of course, was a young man at the time. For those of you who perhaps saw him in later years, he was good - he still had fast feet and amazing energy.


But I'm here to tell you that if you didn't see him in the 60's or 70's you really missed the hardest working man in show business at his peak. I remember devouring a music magazine during high school with a story entitled, “James Brown: I've Got To Quit.” The story told of how much energy James expended, working something like 330 one nighters a year, sucking on lemons constantly to combat dehydration and such. Losing 5 pounds per show was normal for him. The story made good copy. But of course, he couldn't quit.


James Brown was a hit making machine. His creative output was/is astounding. I could go on and on. He was a shaman. He could change the culture. This man totally eradicated the word “negro” from the American vocabulary (or at least, made it an unpopular colloquialism, with the release of the single, "I'm Black And I'm Proud").


Of course he was human. He ran afoul of the law. Though a staunch anti-drug spokesman early on, he too, eventually had problems in that area. There were spousal abuse allegations recently. He tended to bounce back though. He did his time in jail and went back to work without missing a beat.


Yes, James Brown will be sorely missed. I'm told the lines at the Apollo yesterday, where his body lay for public viewing, were 15 blocks long and 10 people deep. His public continues to adore him. I certainly shed some tears myself. For spent youth. The end of an era. We remain blessed though to have been around for this phenomenon of a man.

 

E-mail Thurman Watts at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

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