Singer, songwriter, band leader, dancer, musician, producer… there really isn’t much that James Brown can’t do.
With a career that spanned over 50 years, from the mashed potato to social commentary and activism, Brown is nothing short of a legend.
I Got You (I Feel Good)
If you haven’t heard this song before, where have you been?!
Perhaps one of Brown’s most well-known tracks, this song was also the highest charting of his career too. It was originally recorded for the Out Of Sight album, but was eventually released on his live album, Live At The Apollo. Believe it or not, James was actually advised not to release Live At The Apollo because “live albums are bad sellers” … Needless to say, it became an immediate hit on its release. Have a listen below!
“I Got You (I Feel Good)” was the track that we chose to include in our Bass grade 4 syllabus, and the reasons for this should come as no surprise. The relentless bass riff that runs throughout the song acts as both a harmonic and rhythmic driver of the 12-bar blues. Throw in some funky drum patterns, syncopated rhythmic unisons and an outstanding Maceo Parker sax solo, and you’ve got yourself a masterpiece. Of course, no James Brown song would be complete without his characteristic screams and shouts too, of which there are plenty.
Brown the Performing Perfectionist
Despite his fun-loving demeanour on stage, James was known to pile on the pressure behind the scenes. He had high expectations for his band members and required extreme amounts of discipline from them. James would give out fines or even fire band members who did not adhere to his strict commands!
Brown’s explosive and lively performances were highly acclaimed, and thus his shows needed a big band to match his even bigger stage presence. His final show had an incredible 3 guitarists, 2 bassists, 2 drummers, 3 horn players and a percussionist all onstage! Of course, all his signature dance moves were on display too: leaps, splits, slides, and even the mashed potato (yes, the dance kind, not the vegetable kind!). To be in the crowd for a James Brown show was to be in for a dramatic ride!
For a long time, Brown was nervous to speak on civil rights issues in his music, for fear of losing some of his audience. However, after some pressure from other black activists to use his platform to say more on these issues, Brown really began to immerse himself in social activism too. His song “Say It Loud – I’m Black And Proud” became an anthem for the civil rights movement.
After growing up in extreme poverty himself, Brown was hugely passionate about keeping young people in school. He released a song called “Don’t Be A Drop Out”, and donated all royalties to a drop-out prevention charity. He also wrote “Killing Is Out, Schooling Is In”, the title of which speaks for itself. In 1971, James began touring Africa, and in Lagos, Nigeria, he was made “freeman of the city” for his “influence on black people all over the world”.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of James Brown’s career in this blog as his successes are hard to quantify in so few words. However, being number 7 in the Rolling Stone “100 Greatest Artists of All-Time” list goes some of the way to demonstrating this. Up there with The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley, Brown belongs among some of the greatest musicians that the world has ever seen.
Thanks for joining us for another week of Artists in Focus. We love putting the spotlight on one of our favourite musicians each week, and we hope you do too! If you haven't checked out last week's addition, you can view that here.