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James Brown: A Tribute
The music industry lost a legend last December: the man who engineered the Soul Train, James Brown.

“Are you ready for Star Time?” These words were frequently used by emcees to introduce James Brown and what followed couldn’t have been described better. A live act that earned him the name Mr. Dynamite, superhuman dedication that led to him being called The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, a fan following who considered him Soul Brother Number One and a formative influence on most black musicians justified his title ~ Godfather of Soul. Star Time got over on the Christmas morning of 2006, when congestive heart failure and complications from pneumonia claimed Brown, but he continues to live in every piece of funk music ever created.

Brown is an inspiration in many ways to many people. He remains, to this day, the world’s most sampled recording artist, with his song Funky Drummer becoming the most sampled individual piece of music. His showmanship remains equally timeless. His life was full of tragedies and triumphs. Many of his kind gave up, some slowed down after success but Brown was relentless and passionate in everything he did. Even when he crossed the age of 70 and survived prostate cancer, his stage act was as electrifying as ever.

The Low Side
Born in 1933 in poverty-stricken Augusta, Georgia, Brown didn’t have it easy. His parents separated when he was four. He lived with his aunt who ran a brothel. During his childhood, Brown danced for pennies, shone shoes, picked cotton and hustled his way through. He learnt to play guitar from blues musician Tampa Red, who was dating one of the girls who worked at Brown’s aunt’s house. He also learnt to play the piano and drums. Brown spent most of his time polishing his skills and committing petty crimes to get money. At the age of 16, he was sentenced to serve time at a juvenile detention centre for burglarising cars and armed robbery. His skirmishes with the law continued even after he became a successful musician.

While in prison, Brown formed a band and performed for local prisoners and other prisons around the area. He was spotted by Bobby Byrd who, impressed by Brown’s skills, decided to help him get an early release by supporting him financially. Brown was released after serving three years in prison. Byrd later sang with Brown in his band called The Flames.

The High Side
Brown started his career in music by relentlessly performing on the Chitlin’ Circuit ~ a string of clubs that were safe for black musicians to play at, as the days of racial segregation weren’t over in America then ~ and making random appearances in television shows. The group eventually got signed on to King Records. In 1956 they released the single Please, Please, Please that became a #5 R&B hit and sold over a million copies. Brown’s struggle wasn’t over yet as nine subsequent singles failed to make much of an impact; but Brown persisted and finally hit the top spot in the R&B charts with Try Me.

You can read the rest of feature on James Brown in the March 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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