Tuesday, December 26, 2006

James Brown, RIP: 1933-2006

In honor of a colleague who is a self-proclaimed "James Brown man to the bone" I enter this brief post acknowledging the passing of this legend this past Christmas morning. Brown was a mix of contradictions, vulnerable, cocky, hypermasculine, but with a plaintive falsetto that he stopped using in the mid-60s. Big on self-empowerment and self-discipline, he struggled with drug-use and incidents of domestic battery. He also recorded a jazz album that is rarely talked about, nor is his great love of jazz. A supporter of black liberation and Richard Nixon, at the same time, he was something of a progressive capitalist whose sentiments about power and history could be summarized in his theoretical throw-down regarding the difference between emphasizing the 1 versus the 2, or the upbeat versus the downbeat, which previously was the difference between white and black music (white rock was thought to ride on the "1" and "3"), but Brown reclaimed the "1" as a place of empowerment. All but eliminating melodic modulation in his work, Brown instead pushing the rhythm to the center throughout his instrumentation and arrangements. He started off in gospel, which he argued was the place where the "1" emphasis originated, and took much of that work into his muscular R&B. The Boston Globe has a thoughtful obituary and today NPR commentator Terri Gross aired a tribute program with a number of interviews with Brown, and others including Bruce Tucker, who collaborated with Brown on his 1986 autobiography, James Brown: The Godfather of Soul, as well as with former band members Maceo Parker and Bootsy Collins:
NPR Christmas 2006 coverage by Renée Montagne
NPR: Terri Gross' December 26, 2006 Tribute to James Brown
90+ MP3 Minutes of NPR's Live Concert 2/28/2006 show, "James Brown in Concert"
Maceo Parker Remembers James Brown
Interview with Bootsy Collins about his musical path, including learning from James Brown
Obit from Chicago Tribune's music critic Greg Kot
Obit from Boston Globe (you may have to register to gain access)
Breath of Life's archived discussion of James Brown's "Cold Sweat" and various covers & JB's cover of "Georgia on My Mind" (unfortunately, without the MP3 jukebox 'cause that just takes too much juice to archive)