Tuesday, December 26, 2006

James Brown: "I'm Going Away Tonight"

All day yesterday I heard a big chord. It wasn't one of those scratchy rhythm guitar chords with the built in funk. Sure, there were plenty of those as the tributes began, but this was just a straight ahead major chord. It was saying that a great man had passed away. Of course, those funk chords and beats were awesome, and through them James Brown gave us his spirit - dramatic, powerful, good, bad, clean and messy. Yes, it's true. At times James Brown's life was really messed up - this wasn't the first time he said he was going away. Okay, fine, but that part's over. It's really just a footnote now.

Sadly, the time has come to look back at James Brown. It's time to forget the footnotes and "Get on the Good Foot" - time to contemplate what an amazing force the guy truly was. Who put more life into music? Nobody. Who played it funkier and with a more electrifying stage show? Nobody. In a purely academic sense, very few musicians have invented a new musical genre, but James Brown did. Before they called it Funk Music they just called it James Brown. I never liked the Godfather of Soul trademark. There were others who helped create soul music, but there was only one Father of Funk. In my opinion he created that whole bag. And thankfully, the music will still be around - here on earth as long as we are. If anything in history ever had staying power, this music has staying power.

Remember how he used to conduct his band between actual songs? Incredible, intricate arrangements that would stop and start, dazzling the crowd with their precision? Then he would scream or yell out "Hit it" and the next monster groove would commence. Well, the band's still there ready to pounce but James Brown is gone. He said, "I'm going away tonight" and he left. The band was silent, but a big chord rose up and went around the globe. It's the sound the world makes when a great man dies.


At 1:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Bill,

I recall an appearance on Letterman around a decade ago. Mr. Dynamite came on about a half our into the show and proceeded to take over. Dave had no choice but to devote the rest of the show to him as he whipped the crowd into a frenzy for the remaining 30 minutes.
In my 30 yrs as a devoted follower of late-night TV ,
that was a first for me.
The entire studio was on their feet dancing as the show ended, while His Majesty rolled into another song as the credits ran....

That Man was unbeleivable....

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Jack Bog said...

With the Beatles, there were four of 'em, all cute and clean-cut, and Mom and Dad would have welcomed any of them for dinner.

James, on the other hand, was just one guy. A black guy from Augusta, Ga. A very black guy. Sweaty, with shiny tight pants, and so fast on his feet and physical that it was scary at times. Way funkier and more dangerous than any of those Motown cats. And yet we embraced him. We had to. Resistance was futile.

When he screamed, "Watch me! I got it. I got soul, and I'm super bad," that was all you needed to know.

At 4:08 PM, Blogger Jack Bog said...

Check these guys out.

At 4:27 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

Just part of what we've lost here is some living history of what the South was like in those decades. Think of what Little Richard went through. Can you imagine how unready the power structure of the South was for James Brown and Little Richard?
One part of the story was how Ray Charles got to Seattle. He said he wanted to go as far away from the South as possible and still be in the United States. That's sort of revealing, isn't it?


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