Christmas day, 2006: James Brown is dead and all of a sudden the world lost its rhythm. For a second, no more funky beats, no more incredible bass lines, no more syncopated drumming. James leaves this world without having reached the #1 spot in the Billboard Singles Chart but always wandering around the Top 10. Here in CacaoRock we mourn the loss of a true innovator and a great, great influence in popular music of the 20th century. His influence is so big one can’t tell exactly where JB stuff can be spotted because he is all around. R&B, Rap, Funk, Disco… Brown said he single-handed invented it all. If you think for a few minutes, that might be true. Before James Brown, was there anything like R&B? Yes, but it was a variation of jazz, with standard structures pretty much like swing and played by small groups like Louis Jordan and His Timpani Five. Brown acknowledged Jordan as a major influence in his music (specially, Jordan’s classic “Caldonia”). There was no funk before Brown, and that’s what he gave to the world. Prince and Michael Jackson are his apostles, the Rolling Stones his disciples, as well as the huge legion of rappers, R&B singers and reggaetoneros from all over the world.
Funk is energy, passion, electricity, played in reverse beats and repetitive bass lines and guitar riffs. It was like all instruments were behaving like drums. Even James’ voice was like a drum: banging hard, rolling, expressing a life force it couldn’t be measured, or surpassed. You just had to dance to it.
Brown’s band had to suffer his perfectionism throughout the years. Being fined and fired for missing a beat or a cue, they were going back and forth from Brown’s tutelage. Trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Maceo Parker protected themselves the way a union would be formed to avoid abuses from an employer and eventually formed the J.B.’s, a steady backup band that also had several hits on Brown’s label.
The amazing singer, composer and arranger was born in Barnwell, SC on May 3, 1933 and his childhood was as hard as you can imagine. Poor as a third world country, Brown pushed himself to come out of poverty and became a hard working music man and a tough boss. He worked hard to create not only a sound but an attitude, a proud attitude of black musicianship, not pleasing the white audiences anymore. Maybe that’s why he never reached the Billboard Singles top. The Godfather was too busy developing a true, honest, no-bullshit funky black sound.
Too bad we didn’t have the chance to see him live. Too bad his devastating performance on the T.A.M.I. show is not available on DVD yet!
Brown lives forever.