James Brown: How the Godfather of Soul got on, got on up the charts

James Brown

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The Godfather of Soul. Mr Dynamite. The Hardest Working Man in Show Business. Whatever you called him, James Brown was a music legend.

With songs that ran the gamut from R&B to soul to a bit of rock and roll — and generally considered the originator of funk music, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t familiar with him.

With notable albums released in four different decades, and even an appearance in 1986’s Rocky IV, James Brown was a true American cultural icon.

While Brown is often remembered for his vocal and instrumental prowess, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the man could straight-up dance — which is clearly evident in the below videos from his early career. Look at that footwork!

James Brown: I Got You (I Feel Good) (1965)

… Strikes again with his biggest single ever

James Brown I Got You (I Feel Good) (1965)

James Brown: An explosive entertainer (1965)

By Eva Dolin – The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) July 10, 1965

In an era when adventure is sound, merely means a flip of the dial for a succession of musical expressions ranging from the exotic, to a “talking guitar,” to a “swinging” Bach, James Brown, multi-talented creator of musical magic, has emerged.

He weeps the blues into a flaming torch, and in a breathless change of pace, swings his magic into a bouncing, rollicking song explosion of the power and blaze of an atomic blast-off.

An accomplished musician, he plays the organ with startling brilliance, drums, bass guitar and piano. A talented songwriter, currently, he is making a big hit in the film, “Ski Party.” [See a video clip below.]

Year after year, James Brown produced record scores on the national pop and rhythm and blues hit charts, making him one of the record industry’s ace producers.

James Brown - Soul Brother No 1

On stage, he is producer and star of the popular James Brown Show. Along with his troupe of singers, comics, dancing chorus and his. band, his own dancing makes the James Brown Show pack a punch.

Grossing well over $1 million yearly, the James Brown Show is “big business” and big talent. James won national acclaim not only for his exciting performances, but for unbelievable endurance on stage. He has been known to sing and dance a single routine or song for over 40 minutes.

When asked why he stays on stage for repeated encores, why he will sing 12 or 14 songs in one set, compared to six by other performers, James replies: “Because the people who come to see me, are the ones who put me where I am today, and satisfying them, is the only way I can thank them.”

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He has not forgotten that not too many years ago, he hustled nickels and dimes on street corners as a shoeshine boy in Augusta, Ga., where he was born.

Nor has he forgotten that his father, a talented blues singer, and guitar player, had to move his family from town to town, looking for the “break” that never was to come.

Classic James Brown LP cover

James Brown learned, early, the lessons of hard work and showmanship, selling newspapers after school, and far into the night, to help his father support the family.

Although James inherited his father’s musical ability, he was far more interested in pursuing a career in sports, during his early youth. Perhaps, his father’s defeat in the entertainment world, that refused to recognize him as a star, was responsible for James’ own lack of enthusiasm for show business.

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Instead, the youth turned to the neighborhood gym, and an intense interest in boxing. In Macon, Ga., where the family had moved, James met Beau Jack, former boxing great, while working out in the gym.

Impressed with the youngster’s boxing skill and fast footwork, Jack offered to help the boy, and encouraged him to become a professional boxer.

However, destiny was reaching out for the hand of talent and, without reason, James suddenly lost interest in boxing. He turned, next, to an- other sport, in which he excelled — baseball.

He was at his peak on the baseball, as a pitcher, with a professional baseball team, when he suffered a severe leg injury, and was forced to give up his sports activities.

The soulful world of James Brown (1969)
The soulful world of James Brown (1969) – Doin’ the Popcorn, with the James Brown band

It was then, that James turned, seriously, to his musical gifts, and a career in show business.

However, today, he gives credit to his early boxing training, footwork drills and swinging pitch on the baseball diamond, as being responsible for his unique dancing style on stage, and endurance.

Encouraged by his parents, James formed his own musical group, and called it, “The Famous Flames.” Singing jobs for the group were scarce in Macon, but the talented leader managed, somehow, to pick up enough odd jobs to keep The Flames working, regularly. 

Leaning towards gospel and Spirituals, he built his early reputation in this field. But, slowly, the musical excellence Of the group caught the attention of local critics, and rave reviews began appearing after each local appearance.

James decided, in January 1956, that his group would get nowhere, unless the world outside of Macon, could listen and judge. So, he arranged to cut an audition record in a local radio station, without musical accompaniment.

He found that after the quartet pooled its resources for the waxing, its depleted funds amounted to a one-way bus fare home.

Immediately after the recording session, hurriedly he wrapped the freshly waxed “dub,” and rushed to a disc jockey friend, pleading that play it on the air. As a favor, the song went on the air.

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James Brown Dynamite & Prisoner of Love (1963)
James Brown: Dynamite & Prisoner of Love (1963) – … with a new pop teenage sound, singing sweet as he did in “Lost Someone,” with a full orchestra and nine voices

The tune was “Please, Please, Please.” Minutes after it was aired, the station’s switchboard was ablaze with calls and requests for airplay of the sensational recording. The James Brown success story had begun.

Within a week, the group was pacted to a contract and, once again, waxed, ‘Please, Please, Please,” in a recording studio — this time with full accompaniment.

Four days after the platter was released, it was a national hit. The Famous Flames returned to the recording studios and recorded another group of songs, which were to become follow-up, smash hits. Offers for personal appearances poured in, and one successful, cross-country tour followed another.

Today, the big, traveling show carries not only The Flames, Singers, comics, dancers and a big band, the James Brown entourage includes his personal hair-stylists, his valet, bus driver, road manager, publicity man, a wardrobe mistress, a personal secretary, a personal driver and a bodyguard.

It is not amazing to find that many of the troupe have been with James Brown for many years, some since the lean beginnings.

ALSO SEE: Early Aretha Franklin: How her career began back in the ’60s

James Brown Papa's Got a Brand New Bag (1965)
James Brown: Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (1965) – James “Mr Dynamite” Brown – The most fabulous record in years!

Asked why he carries s0 many people with the show, James, promptly, answers, “Well, to tell the truth, most of them need jobs, and want to be in some part of show-business, but most important, I need them.

“I believe in building a team. the more things someone else does, the more time I’ll have to think and develop new ideas to write new songs.

“I suppose a lot of people will say I’m trying to prove something or other, with all these people, but believe me, when you do 60 straight days, and over 100 shows without a day off, it takes a lot of people to keep things going.

“It is just like an army — each one must know his job and do it; otherwise, the whole thing fouls up and, pretty soon, the show suffers.

“My philosophy is to try to give the people a little more for their money, when they come to see the James Brown Show. To do this, I must be at my best, and so must all our people, all of them, not just those on stage. Yes, I believe in giving people their money’s worth.”

James Brown: I Feel Good (From the 1965 movie “Ski Party”)

YouTube video

Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag

Also check out his performance of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” on the 1964 TV show “Shindig!”

YouTube video

James Brown – Living in America (1985)

James Brown - Living in America

YouTube video

NOW SEE THIS: Misheard lyrics from hit songs: Mondegreens from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s

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