Alexa

Godfather of Soul is simply unforgettable

Godfather of Soul is simply unforgettable

I was just 14, a lowly freshman, when I met James Brown, thanks to my mentor in all things hip: a drummer named Mojo Miller, a popular senior in a local band called the Jaguars.
It was 1964, during that hazy R&B interlude between doo-wop and Motown.
The Jaguars were to open for the James Brown Revue at a venue called Wampler's Barn in Dayton, Ohio. It was a converted barn that hosted touring acts like Brown who, this being the mid-1960s, did not play the area's primary pop concert venue, downtown's Memorial Hall. Yet he could sell 1,000 tickets on the strength of a few posters stapled to telephone poles in the right neighborhoods.
So it was that Mojo bestowed upon me a great gift: He pretended I was his roadie, so I could see the show free from the side of the stage and be in proximity to the man himself in what was a shared dressing-room area.
I was thrilled and scared to death, especially when - after one of the most amazing spectacles I had ever seen, the performer known as the "hardest working man in show business" being led off stage in a cape and a cold sweat after one of his resurrections by the members of his Famous Flames - I was introduced to the Great Man Himself.
"How long have you been singing?" I stammered, even though I had memorized his sanitized biography from the back of album covers. "Since I was tall enough to get my mouth beside a microphone," he replied.
While I was silently pleading with my knees not to betray me, Brown was being attended to by an assistant who, at Brown's pointed-finger request, rolled one of those old wooden valets next to the bench where he was sitting.
On one side of the valet was a selection of colognes, one of which Brown applied liberally to his thick neck. On the other was a variety of refreshments. If I remember correctly, he chose cognac.
Twenty minutes later, Brown, his band, entourage and a few female admirers were on a bus, presumably to a hotel and his next destination. I may still be frozen in place had Mojo not broken my reverie.
"Well, now you've met the Man," he said, pleased with his role in this momentous event in my young life.
The next 10 years were gravy for James Brown.
He would spend the 1960s being to soul music what Louis Armstrong had been to jazz. He ruled the Top 40 with one incredible hit after another - "I Got You ("I Feel Good"), "Cold Sweat," the majestic "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." And he ruled it with the same sense of entitlement that he had brought to the R&B charts, where mind-blowing recordings like "Try Me" and "Prisoner of Love" had been relegated.
Brown's 1962 album "Live at the Apollo" was routinely found in stacks otherwise including LPs by the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones.
The Stones would turn out to be the beneficiaries of one of the greatest performances in showbiz history.
Not long after my encounter in 1964, they were scheduled to be the final act in a live concert in Santa Monica, California, filmed for posterity and released a few months later as "The T.A.M.I. Show." (It stood for Teen-Age Music International.)
Unfortunately, they were preceded in what is now considered one of the greatest concerts ever staged by Brown, who was even more electrifying than usual, destroying the audience.
Brown skated on stage with that trademark one-foot glide and went into a frenzied "I'll Go Crazy," dropping to his knees, screeching like a man possessed and doing footwork that Fred Astaire would later declare astounding. He was called back, cape and all, for two encores, and in the film, you can see the members of the studio band standing up in dazed adoration.
It is said that when he walked by the Stones, he winked, as in, "Follow that, you little English schoolboys." To their credit, they did, giving one of the best performances of the band's young career.
The last time I saw him perform was in the 1980s, when Brown was about 50. After that 1980s show, I spoke to Brown again, professionally this time, but still so in awe that after the interview was over, I allowed myself a piece of appreciation.
"You know, there will never be another one like you," I said.
"I know," he said, placing his sweaty hand on my arm. "I know that for sure."