James Brown (and Afrika Bambaataa): Sex Machine Today

WHAT DO you think of when you think of James Brown?
A stretcher case raddled with emotional pain dragging himself back from endless encores of ‘Please Please Please’?

The self proclaimed, undisputed Godfather of Soul roving across his kingdom in his robes and finery giving strength and supplication to the weak and weary masses? The man who stopped a race riot? A pompadour quiff dripping a sheen of sweat over his face? Rubber limbed knee jerks, full length splits and heel swivels? One of the finest musical brains of the past 25 years? A larger than life presence. The speed. The grace. The glory?

Laydeez and gennelmen – the star of the show, hardworking, Mr Dynamite…Jaaaaaymes Brown.

Or, are you ready for this James Brown wrapped in a bathrobe, cooly appraising himself in front of his bedroom mirror with his hair wrapped in pink rollers. Would you believe it? The Man’s Man Sex Machine Brother Rapp Minister of The New Super Heavy Funk with huge plastic combs to give his nylon textured locks that permed flounce and parting!

IF YOU were around his hotel room the morning before the start of his three day assault on The New Music Seminar in New York’s Hilton Hotel, you’d see how the rollers are just part of his elaborate and well established process of readying himself to meet the press and public.

Inside their bedroom, his wife Alfie busies herself with the various make-ups, toners and highlighters that will improve his features without making him look like one of those over-painted honky faggots who seemed to have colonised the charts while James has been elsewhere.

Then there is the extensive wardrobe of clothes designed to make this small, corpulent 56-year-old look solid and imposing rather than the glutinous overweight mass that one suspects lies under the carefully tailored cloth. He is also on a diet specially planned by Gertrude Stein, his wardrobe mistress and weight watcher for the past 20 years.

Obviously no spring chicken herself Ms Stein, a tall quiet lady in a white crimpolene frock with a mild case of varicose veins had quite a hard task. Because while Mister Brown, as everyone in his select entourage refers to him, nibbles on cornflakes and sliced bannanas at breakfast and delicate little canapes for a lunchtime snack as he plays Funky President in waiting, when at home in his Augusta Georgia mansion, he is no stranger to the joys of Southern style home cooking.

The extra flesh is there to prove it but the careful preparation pays off and Mr Brown looks smart, cool and, yes, imposing.

It’s still a bit disconcerting when you see him swagger across the floor of his hotel suite or strutting downtown New York with the butt wriggling and that rolling cowboy gait in full swing. Still, pink rollers! That wasn’t going to be too easy to forget. That was a real shocker.

ON THE Hilton’s 44th floor is the Presidential Suite. Richard Nixon stayed here with his wife Pat in the middle of some of his corrupt dealings. The main room has oak panelled book shelves with a veritable library of American literature, various items of engraved antique furniture and a swish polished ballroom floor. Windows the size of a small football pitch look over the broad sweep of the Manhattan skyline, and beside the windows sits a large Steinway.

Various people from Tommy Boy Records and The James Brown entourage mill around the main room and kitchen (where there’s a bar with an extensive supply of Perrier water). At the top of the spiral staircase James finishes off his preparations.

As I wait for his arrival the girl from Tommy Boy introduces me to Alfie, the fourth or fifth Mrs Brown who’s now busying herself with some knitting. A good few years JB’s junior she’s fairly plump and squat with a bouffant of back-combed black hair and a well powdered white face. Later in the day somebody tells her she looks like Joan Collins and she’s not amused, at all.

Also there throughout the three days is Mr Henry Stallings, hardest working manager of the hardest working man in show business, and Willie Glenn, a friend of James since schooldays, now employed as a general assistant. His chief function seems to be to give wholehearted support and agreement to the craziest statements and conjectures made by his friend and keeper. Some of Brown’s male offspring by previous marriages and his newset colloborator – Overlord of The Zulu Nation, self proclaimed, undisputed King Of Hip Hop Afrika Bambaataa – are also present.

It’s only after flying 3,000 miles from London and about three minutes before the interview that I’m taken aside by the girl from Tommy Boy and told there are three areas to avoid – politics, religion and colour. A James Brown interview without politics or religion wasn’t exactly the sort of interview I’d been preparing for. The thought that I’d had when the trip was first proposed began to niggle. It was that Brown had only decided to do interviews as part of the deal struck with Tommy Boy for his collaboration with Bambaataa on the megamix ‘Unity’ (it was rumoured he was given an unconditional payment of 30,000 dollars for his part in the recording) and not to delve into the brilliance and complexity of one of the most amazing success stories and catalogues of recorded work in the whole of history.

Suddenly there he is descending the the stairs in a wide flapping casino hustler suit, aviator shades, and a ruffled red shirt. Patent leather shoes click on the floor as he strides over to the piano to run through an old song that he never got round to recording. Tune called ‘Honeydripping’ and it’s a fine version.

“Boogie Woogie,” yells James as he goes for an extended run between verses.

“I wish I could see his eyes; his eyes say it all,” sighs Alfie.

He looks in my direction. “You wouldn’t know ’bout things like that, recorded before you was even born,” he says removing his shades and coming down to sit beside me. Afrika Bambaataa takes a stool on my other side, but remains mute while Brown is speaking. Although it was his idea to approach Brown to make ‘Unity’ and he’s followed him for years, it soon becomes clear that there are several issues on which Bam is prepared to be more forthright than The Godfather. His silence seems only to avoid contradiction and ensures the courtly respect flows smoothly.

IN THE past you’ve been critical of new funk groups, why have you decided to work with Bambaataa?

“No, I’m not critical. It’s an extension of what we’ve done and it’s another way to get to it. I’m never critical of no one. One thing we are critical of, Bambaataa and myself, is people killing each other. Now you live as long as you can and die when you can’t help it but we don’t want you to plan nobody’s death.”

But you must have had offers from people before?
“Yeah, I have; I won’t call their names, they’re good people, good faith. I think one of The Rolling Stones wants to do an album with me now, Nona Hendryx also. They want me to work with Aretha, but I choose Bambaataa. When I first talked to him I knew it was what I wanted to be involved in. He’s about people looking out for the underdog and looking out for the small man. That’s what I get from him, that’s what he told me, anything else he’s thinking I don’t know about but that’s what he told me. He’s got a reputation for helping the young and that’s what I’m about also.”

The sound of inner city hip hop is an extension of the sound of American geography. When you began making music the various regions had clearly defined ‘sounds’. Were you conscious of wanting to integrate all these elements?

“It’s like travelling, some takes the autobahn, some takes the service road, some take a train, some take a plane. Everybody’s going the same place – survival.”

Baffled, I repeat the question.

“No, I wasn’t. I was conscious about eating and sleeping. I wanted to live. All that came after. But once you get what you want you shouldn’t be so hung up on yourself that you won’t help other people. That’s why I love him because he’s concerned about people other than himself.”

Weren’t you influenced by people. I hear you like the blues singer Little Willie John?
“No, he didn’t influence me. I like some of the things he was doing but he didn’t influence me. Louis Jordan influenced me, Lew-iss Jordan. It was the show as well as the music, very vibrant, very entertaining.”

Your show was very stylised, how did you go about putting it together?
“I think organisation is the key to everything. Organise – that’s what Bambaataa’s talking about. Organise people’s minds toward peace. Organisation. What’s wrong with the entertainers today is that they walk onstage and they’re not organised, then they ask the audience which one shall we play. We know which one we’re going to play when we get up there. Entertainment, that’s what its about – E-N-T-E-R-T-A-l-N-M-E-N-T, entertainment.”

Was it important that your show was very rootsy; it came from local communities and ordinary folks could relate to it.

“I don’t understand your terms of words so I’m not going to agree with you.”

AFTER A while it becomes clear that James Brown isn’t so much interested in answering questions as using the spaces in the conversation as an opportunity to propagate his flaccid, ecumenical clichés. He tells me later that I’m too young, got no wisdom, that I’m dragging down the horizons of the interview. Well, excuse me.

I’m not quite used to adjusting to the neo mystical rareified verse required by Ye Gods of entertainment. Oh sure we could get into one of those dopey religous flip top dialogues but it would get us nowhere fast. This is JAMES BROWN forgodsakes, a real bleeding hero. I want to grapple with the reality of the man who had me motivated and fortified with his music for as long as I remember. A man whose music has travelled further and stayed sharper than anyone involved in the (r)evolution of modern music, whose gut bottom pained shriek on ‘Cold Sweat’, ‘Please Please Please’, ‘Bring It On’ (fill in your favourite) is the epitome of soul music’s sonic powerdrive. A man whose esteem seems to diminish everytime he opens his mouth to do anything other than use The Steinway. I decide I might have more success with a reverential pitch

You went through a lot of hard times touring the south, recording great music that never charted, getting ripped off. Did you always feel that you’d be popular?

“I thought I would get to the top. I knew I had something to offer and that I was a good as any man that wanted to do something and a whole lot better than those that didn’t want to do nothing. Heh heh heh. You understand?”

You became a real hero to many, like young Bam here. Was that the intention?
“I must have done something he liked. I hope I became a hero to him. I hope I became a hero to his family and that he’s a hero to me. The intention was to be a hero, to make everyone like me. In the beginning it was for me then I got mine and I started to think of other people. Any man who doesn’t think of himself first is not very intelligent. When you eat food do you eat for yourself or someone else? I rest my case.”

You developed at the same time as Elvis Presley…

“I didn’t develop anything Elvis did. I was singing before I met Elvis. We wasn’t allowed to play together during that time, there was a separation thing called prejudice. Elvis and I got together when we weren’t working; we were good friends, we was religous brothers. Both sung gospel.”

Were you to black folks what Elvis was to white folks?
“We was equivalent to people but the system wouldn’t allow us to be together – not as white and black people. But we had to say what we said during those times, even though people don’t really have a colour. But since they separated us we dealt with what we had. But, by the same token, when he’d get off work Elvis would be peeping in the window watching BB King and T Bone Walker like I used to watch Tommy Dorsey, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.”

You met them as well?
“Yeah I met Sinatra. Sinatra’s a very good friend of mine. I like a lot of things he did. I like the way he stood up for himself and defended himself when he was publicly attacked.”

Would you like to have recorded with Elvis?
“I think it would have made a good record – me doing what I felt and Elvis doing what he felt. I think it would have been good for humanity – like Bambaataa and me together is good for humanity. I’d love to record with Streisand, that would definitely be good for humanity and for artistic merit. I would still like to record with Sinatra and hopefully, I wish, he would like to record with me because I think we could bring a lot of things together.”

You created a great showman that you seem to have to be 24 hours a day; is that easy to live with?
“James Brown is forever because he do as God tells him to. Yes it’s great to live with, all you got to do is think of the time before. To be so important is easy to live with.”

Does the world need heroes today?
“Sure, everybody needs heroes. Heroes are role models.”

Are the heroes of today the sort the world needs?
“The world needs what it has, the world don’t produce nothing it don’t need.”

It produces famines, nuclear waste, wars.

“Wars? I guess it needs wars. Wars is a way of debating. Killing – they don’t need that. But they have wars, the whole of the Olympics is war. A war of art. Heh heh heh.”

Have you seen The Jacksons show?
“I didn’t get a chance though I was invited there. But Michael is doing very good and well enough without me not to bother seeing him.

“I don’t want to distract attention away from him. Kids need to look at Michael, not me. We got Michael going, now we got to work on Prince and Bambaataa.”

Jackson regularly checks you as major influence but the elements of sexual ambiguity and childlike wonderment in his act seem at odds with the masculine tradition that you celebrated. Would you agree with Black muslims who’ve said his image is “Sissified”?

“I haven’t anything to do with that. I’m not here to talk about that. I think you’ve run out of questions, haven’t you? Don’t get fresh when you come back to me. I don’t want to talk about other people. Don’t ask me those sort of questions. I’m here to talk about this thing (points at a copy of ‘Unity’). You talk to Bambaataa now.”

WOOPS, THINK I just blew the James Brown story. The great man ups and walks off to complain to Mister Stallings. As I shot the breeze with Bambaataa – a sweet guy with his own story to tell – I can hear Billy Giddens shouting “Yeah, you right, you right, you damn right.”

Bambaataa had met James Brown several times in the ’60s and ’70s when he came up to the Bronx, sometimes making an appearance at one of the special annual Brown tribute nights that Bam DJ’d. Just as James Brown stopped a race riot by going on 24 hour TV in the late ’60s, so when the calm of his club was one night disturbed by an outside shooting incident Bambaataa quelled the crowd by playing non stop JB.

The Godfather recorded what is probably the first rap record – ‘America Is My Home’ – and later, when the ’70s scene took off, made one of his greatest records in years with ‘Rapp Payback’ – semi-taunt, semi-tribute to the youngbloods. While he’d obviously been keeping tabs on the New York scene – he’d been snapped hanging out with Kurtis Blow during the early days of The Roxy – it wasn’t until the young man who he remembered from way back (Brown’s photographic memory is legendary) made him an offer that he decided to join forces.

But it’s not all that Bambaataa’s been involved with or plans to be involved with. A list of his ventures criss cross the cornucopia of modern music. Firstly he has his own groups on a variety of labels. – Shango, Soul Sonic Force, Time Zone and then the people who are interested in using his beat advisory service – John Lydon, Thomas Dolby, George Clinton, German rapper Falco, Yellowman, Nona Hendryx.

He hasn’t actually met Lydon but in preparation he was watching all available videos of The PiL lynchman and reading as much as he could about him. Whatever love he once had for Lydon’s former manager was washed away by McLaren’s comments on a recent Hip Hop documentary.

“Anybody asks me about Malcolm and I always start talking about Malcolm X. McLaren is a liar. He met me in a housing project in South East Bronx – it wasn’t burnt out or looking raggedy or nothing. They show the same piece of The Bronx all the time in the movies and on the box but it’s only a small part of it that is like that.”

For a guy so young and so much in demand Bambaataa seems in control and not afraid to let his tongue loose on issues like South Africa when these days The Godfather would rather keep schtum.

I DECIDE to go for broke with Brown and ignore the guidelines. You’ve met nearly every President since Kennedy – what effect did that have on you?

“There are things I’d like to do and I see things they’re fighting and help to make their life easier. Every president wants to do good, see. Everyone want to do what the other one’s doing, they all want to do good. They just have a different way of going about it. I met Johnson, Vice President Humphrey, Mr Nixon, President Carter and Mr Reagan. Mr Nixon is my number one president because he was the president, the boss. Most people become president and listen to someone else but he was the president in his head and Mr Reagan is president in the same way.

“The relationship we have with China is only because Mr Nixon knew what he was talking about with Watergate. If he’d have waited to see what they were doing then we’d have had to forget about China and the whole new frontier for communications, the relationship and brotherhood. He done the right thing.

“The person that is the president of the United States is the president of the world because the United States sets all the presidents up like that whether they like it or not. So you should have your act together if you want to be president of the United States.”

I didn’t need to ask this man if he was voting for Jesse Jackson.

A few years ago you played in San Quentin prison and became quite emotional at the sight of a prison filled with black men. You said nothing had changed for black people in this country. Is it still the same?

“I’m not going to get off on black and white. Don’t ask me about that. Things have changed in America for everybody. You can do what you want to do, most people don’t want to do anything. I don’t want nobody to give me no welfare. Don’t want no welfare cheque, that stagnates me.”

What happened to the James Brown of militant pride, the James Brown who wasn’t afraid to point fingers and diagnose ills?

“When we recorded ‘Say It Loud I’m Black And I’m Proud’ it was necessary to get people to come forward but to me it was a come down. I didn’t want to have to record that because it separates them. I had to separate them and give them an identity at one point and join them together later. That’s why ‘Unity’ is so important.”

So was ‘Sex Machine’ a reaction against being politically pigeon holed?
“‘Sex Machine’ had nothing to do with it, it has many meanings. There is sex in everything, sex is understanding, also sex is something else. Come here and I’ll show you how to write ‘Sex Machine’.”

We gather round the great sage as he prepares to go through one of his weird little games. Doubtless Willie Giddens will be humbled with wonderment at the end of it all. On a sheet of paper Brown writes ‘Sex Machine’.

“That to you means getting it off, making love. But have you ever listened to the message on ‘Sex Machine’?”

Well I’ve always thought it was about more – motivation, excellence, disciplined pleasure.

“That’s right. Now what is it?” (He makes the ‘S’ into a dollar sign).

“Money,” says the girl from Tommy Boy.

“That’s right. You know I do a little bit where I slide across the stage. That’s like a typewriter, the return. I go back and forth. Change things. And I start in lots of different places so ‘Sex Machine’ becomes the musical cleft (draws another ‘S’ and alters it accordingly). It can also be two people making love. That same ‘S’.”

So you thought about all those things when you were writing the song, did you?

“No, God gave me an idea and he knew I’d develop all those thoughts from that one thing.”

I ASK why he recorded so many of his old songs again in the late ’70s, and he says “I just do as God tells me.”

And what of his collaboration with Sly and Robbie?
“I wanted to go in one direction and they wanted to go in another. But he and I did something together because we went in the same direction. Heh heh heh heh. Aint’t that funny Bam? Hehh heh heh heh, that’s really funny…

“I ain’t metcher mam yet Bam, got to meet your mam.”

“That’ll be a trip for her,” says Bam.

“It’ll be a trip for me, too, to see where a fine young man like you come from. You come from a special breed of people to go through all the things you went through and still draw a happy medium. But you’re still into that black thing real strong, aren’t you Bam?”

“I check for all world things. I’m looking out for everybody. But especially for them that are where I come from.”

“But you got to take everything in your stride. You’ll see a lot of things but you don’t want to limit your conversation when you say you’re black, white, German or Jewish you’re going to turn off other nationalities and limit it. Your rap will begin to change and modify itself but you’ll still be talking about the same things. I’m not telling you what to say but I will give you both points of view and let you make your own decision because you’re going to make both decisions later anyway. You make one decision now, what’s known as a right decision, later on you’ll make a left decision. Later on you’ll make one that’s right down the middle. That will come from experience, nobody can teach you that.”

As Joe decides to take some snaps Brown pushes away the packet of Kool cigarettes resting on the table beside him.

“One thing, we don’t want pictures with cigarettes in them.”

Still throughout the course of the day he regularly filches a few fags from Alfie’s packet. Even soul giants have their vices, I guess. He also tells Bambaataa to hide his wallet; “You don’t want to associate yourself with money.”

Later the next day I see him talking to Tommy Boy lable boss and ‘Unity’ executive producer Tom Silverman. They are comparing hands and Silverman comments on Brown’s lack of jewellery. “That’s good, that’s right,” says JB, “we don’t want to alienate the poor, don’t want to show our wealth.”

ONE THING that has always come through in the mercurial fuse of Brown’s music is the way he combines gospel traditions and spiritual thoughts with the most visceral, the dirtiest of desires. Unhindered by contradiction and compromise his swagger and buzz phrases and his finger popping funk throttle were given full reign and became multi applicable – good for the body and a tonic to the spirit. Never was he haunted by the crisis of conscience that drew Little Richard and Al Green to the path of preachin’ purity, nor has he been shadowed with the dark foreboding that hangs over the legacy of gospel brothers Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye.

Brown points at Alfie, “She’s first in my life. Well, God is first in my life but in worldly things she’s first in my life. God gave me a message for all my songs. God found out man was lonely so he gave him a woman.

“How old are you? I can tell by your questions that you’re very young. If you were five years older you’d ask different questions young Gavin. You’ll do nothing before your time, heh heh heh.”

WITH THE photosession finished the entire Brown possee retire to the dining room for lunch. The girl from Tommy Boy asks me if I’ve got enough and I give her a befuddled look. She nods knowingly and agrees to Stevens’ suggestion that we accompany them to their next assignment with MTV a few blocks across town. There he and Bambaataa will be interviewed and the video for ‘Unity’ will be previewed.

When Brown strides purposefully through the hotel lobby or across New York streets many elbows are nudged, eyebrows raised and tracks stopped in. Young guys have that quizzical “Is it really him?” look, older folks holler and cheer “JB, mah main man!”. “Whoo, Godfather,” yells a construction worker atop several stories of scaffolding.

IN THE green room at MTV Alfie preens Brown for his appearance – fixing his shirt collar, removing dust flecks from the back of his jacket and flicking his hair curls into perfect shape. James and Willie decide to try their hands at the pool table in the middle of the room. “Well I dunno, I use to be pretty good but I ain’t shot for some time,” says Willie.

“Weren’ I bad, Willie, weren’ I bad,” says Brown.

“You sure was bad, James. You sure was,” says Willie.

“When James and me get together we’re the baddest team there is. Ain’t that right baby?” says Alfie on the sidelines.

“That’s right baby, that’s right,” says James.

James gets beaten on the game of nine ball and as Willie walks away he playfully mutters under his breath “Ya jive ass mutha fuggin’ nigger.” Bambaataa had disappeared into the kitchen on arrival but as they’d rode the short distance from the hotel to the TV station Brown had continued to give him advice on presentation.

“You speak kind of low Bam, I don’t want to undercut you. When you say the words ‘LOVE’ ‘PEACE’ and ‘UNITY’ say them loud like a DJ.”

But just before they are due to make their appearance, there’s a hitch which is finally resolved when MTV (the cable channel notorious for extremely dodgy, implicitly racist programming) agree to draw up a specially worded contract. James objects to the wording that says MTV permits him to appear on their channel. “I’m not signing that, I didn’t ask to be on this show. There might be some kids begging to go on the show but it’s not me, not James Brown. Rick James may have begged to go on it but where is he now? If I go on, their ratings go up and they get millions of viewers. I’m doing them a favour…”

EVERYTHING IS eventually completed to everyone’s satisfaction. “I told you, things can’t go wrong with Alfie there. Everything goes well when she’s around,” confides James. He helps his wife into the van pushing her expansive rump. “Always let me help you honey. Because you always help me,” he coos.

As the van makes its way back to the hotel he slaps his palm on the upholstery in time to the funky backbeat provided by the radio. Although he never rolls up his trousers to reveal the scars and smashes caused by 20 years of onstage knee drops, up close you can see his marked, flattened knuckles bear the scars of his previous career.

“I was a prize fighter, y’know, southpaw. At first I fought in the streets then I was a professional. Fought three fights professionally, won them all, 138 pounds I was then. They wanted to take me around the country but I couldn’t go because in those days I was a juvenile delinquent.

“Me and Sugar Ray Robinson sparred together once. We knocked each other down at exactly the same time. Ain’t that something? Have you ever been knocked down? It’s like you’ve stumbled over a box or something. Everything seems to go slow and you’re looking for something that you tripped over but you just keep falling.”

Unlike some, however, James Brown didn’t keep falling, rising from the lowliest of stations (born into southern poverty and racial hatred, a jailbird by the age of 16) to become the massive alter ego he made for himself. Along the way he forged R & B, gospel and self respect into S-O-U-L, became a symbol of pride and resilience, drilled some of tightest most stunning groups ever recorded and produced a tornado of a live show, the sheer blinding intensity of which will probably never be equalled.

Now the trajectory of the man who gave his all to showbusiness in a search for his place in America is complete. He may have had to prune down his massive business empire when the income taxman arrived in the mid ’70s – the chauffeurs, the valets, the hairdressers, the radio stations and the mansions – but now he’s back on top, on parade.

He hob nobs with Presidents, kids who weren’t around to hear his golden era catch up with an exhaustive series of compilations and a legion of performers – black and white – bear witness to his influence. The recognition and acceptance he has lusted after is now his and he can look over the New York skyline and far beyond and say, truly, “James Brown is forever.”

This picture of a Soul survivor, a Soul champion is brilliantly etched by Gerri Hirshey in her magnificent book Nowhere To Run. But there are those who would say that to get where he is James has had to turn his head round so many times that he’s now a mass of contradictions, that the monolith of the American industry and the political straightjacket it imposes on all its lynchpins has eaten away at the resonance and strength of his deepest most adamant declarations. And they’ve got a point, too.

On the final day of the New Music Seminar James Brown dominates the panel which includes Peter Wolf, Bambaataa, George Clinton, a coquettish Madonna and a starstruck Lou Reed. The whole seminar has been hallmarked by the serious, serving attitude of the industry and, as a zealous image protector, James Brown is not about to upset the trend.

Brown performs well in front of a crowd even though most of what he says is backslapping industry twaddle. However, while outlining his plans to peg prices on his forthcoming tour he defends the Jacksons’ ticket fiasco. “Bullshit,” cries a voice from the audience.

It was a charge that could quite easily have been applied to a an earlier comment when he told the audience he played to 1.3 million people in France. “That’s more people than live in Atlanta, Georgia,” he enthused. Actually, the population of Atlanta is nearly double that figure. Some people don’t know where to quell their egomania.

Fielding a question about voting preference in the forthcoming U.S. election which, predictably, no-one wanted to answer, the panel chairman Howie Montaug said he would certainly not be voting for Reagan. Brown interjected saying if that was the case then he would be voting for him.

Tom Silverman (a seminar organizer as well as Tommy Boy chief – A fact that lead several to believe the whole seminar had been designed around an elaborate puff for ‘Unity’ – and certainly James Brown the total showman sees to it that the single is publicised at every available turn) reportedly later chided Montaug for allowing the question to be posed.

TOO CONFUSING, too off putting when he gets on his reactionary high horse (sure JB says he’s against nuclear war, but so does Reagan) but what he does best, what everyone wants to see is James Brown, the JAMES BROWN. Inevitably they get their chance at the close. Someone asks for a JB scream and he obliges. Then his old pal George Clinton goads, “Do the splits James, do the splits as well.” Sure enough he gets on the podium and he does a mean little shuffle and two full length splits. The crowd rise in thunderous applause – all those that came to see James Brown be the guvernor, The Godfather, are satisfied.

And all those who expected him to be less cosy, more challenging? Well maybe we shouldn’t expect so much from someone who’s found a comfortable place at the core of the American dream.

© Gavin MartinNew Musical Express, 1 September 1984

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