Skip to main content

James Brown Reprise

We hear once more from the soul legend.

14:09

Other segments from the episode on December 26, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 26, 2006: Obituary for James Brown; Interview with Bruce Tucker; Interview with Maceo Parker; Interview with Bootsy Collins.

Transcript

DATE December 26, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: James Brown, "Godfather of Soul" who died on Christmas
Day, talks about his music in 2005 interview after publication of
his autobiography "I Feel Good"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross with our tribute to James Brown.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JAMES BROWN: (Singing) "If you leave me..."

Backup Singers: (Singing in unison) "Leave me..."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "I'll go crazy..."

Backup Singers: (Singing in unison) "Oh, yes..."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "But believe me..."

Backup Singers: (Singing in unison) "Believe me..."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "I'll go crazy..."

Backup Singers: (Singing in unison) "Oh, yes..."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing" "'Cause I love you..."

Backup Singers: (Singing in unison) "Love you..."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Love you..."

Backup Singers: (Singing in unison) "Love you..."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Ohhh, I love you too much. If you quit me..."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's James Brown recorded in 1958. He was called the "Godfather of
Soul" but it's impossible to imagine funk or even hip-hop, without the
rhythmic innovations of James Brown. As a singer, band leader and performer,
he influenced generations of musicians around the world. James Brown died
Christmas morning at the age of 73. Later in the show, we'll hear from Bruce
Tucker, who collaborated on Brown's 1986 autobiography, and from two musicians
who played in his band, Maceo Parker and "Bootsy" Collins.

First, we have an interview with James Brown himself, recorded last year after
the publication of his autobiography, "I Feel Good." Here's someone who can
introduce him a lot better than I can.

(Soundbite from television or radio program)

Unidentified Man: So now, ladies and gentlemen, it is star time. Are you
ready for star time?

Audience: (In unison) Yeah.

Man: Thank you and thank you very kindly. It is indeed a great pleasure to
present to you at this particular time, national and internationally known as
the hardest working man in show business, the man that sing "I Go Crazy," "Try
Me," "You've Got the Power," "Think," "If You Want Me," "I Don't Mind,"
"Bewildered," million-dollar seller "Lost Someone," the very latest release,
"Night Train," "Let's Everybody Shout and Shimmy," Mr. Dynamite, the amazing
Mr. Please, Please himself, the star of the show, James Brown and The Famous
Flames.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Now we've all heard your emcee introduce you over the years.

Mr. BROWN: Yes.

GROSS: Why did you want an emcee to introduce you in this fantastic way?

Mr. BROWN: Well, because it's dramatic. It dramatizes a lot, and it's the
buildup what show business should be about. Show business should really be a
buildup, and then once you go into it, you, like, live it. But it should be a
great fanfare and a production. And that gives to the people the chords,
different chords, different kind of way to say it. The same as a minister
would do in a church, chords would do to his team. You have to have a way of
getting started. That's probably the best way that I know of. With a
dramatic introduction.

GROSS: Did you tell him what to say?

Mr. BROWN: Yes.

GROSS: And one of the things your emcee has always done was, like, put on
your cape, take off your cape. Why did you want to wear a cape?

Mr. BROWN: The cape is because I saw a wrestler by the name of Gorgeous
George, and Gorgeous George was a flamboyant wrestler. And he wore curls in
his hair at that time and he was really sharp and really different, a little
early for most people. You expect him to win if he didn't win, so it was kind
of a thing where he was a great wrestler, so it made great for his production.
It made him quite--Gorgeous George reminded me a lot of Hulk Hogan.

GROSS: The wrestler, yeah. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Now have you always
had your clothes made for you?

Mr. BROWN: Most of the time, I design them. I started wearing red suits
years ago, and they thought we were crazy. But we wanted people to say,
`There he is,' not `Where he is?' And the same thing applied to The Famous
Flames.

GROSS: I want to play "I Got You (I Feel Good)," one of your most famous
songs. You have two versions of this. The first one you didn't release. You
weren't happy with it. This was in 1964. What was wrong with the original
version? What made you think it's not ready yet, it's not right yet?

Mr. BROWN: You've got to get it where it synchs with the people or where
they're at, you know. "I Feel Good" was cut first with a jazz concept because
I have a broad and a great--more of ability to do more than one kind of music
or hear one kind of thing. There's so many directions that I go in, you know.
So what I did, I went back and at about 4:00 in the morning, I called--my
bandleader at that time was called--his name was Nat Jones. I recorded "I
Feel Good" in Chicago, and it was too sharp, too slick, had a baritone, you
know, and the syncopation was so sharp. So I had to cut something.

It was like, `I feel good. Da na na na na na na. Dit dum dum dum. Da na na
na na na na.' We gotta have staccato. Gotta hit right on all at once, `Dit
dum dum dum.' And then the drum, `dit dit dit dit dit dit dit.' So what did,
we wanted to get more of a funk feeling and a sanctified feeling, so we
changed it and slowed it down. `Ow! I feel good. Ja do da do da do da. Ja
da do do da. Ba dum.' That's two different kind of things, see. One is jazz
because of sharp mixes. The other one is kind of laid-back and gave it a
little rock 'n' roll feeling at that time as well. So we went with the
laid-back cut, because that fit the street and fit the dancing. It's a good
thing I could dance because by being able to dance, I could really tell that
the new arrangement, the new concept I had for it really fell right in place.

GROSS: What was the difference between the dancing you could do with the
second version compared to the first?

Mr. BROWN: Well, you could do the street dances. The first version--you
might do ballroom and everything with it, but the second version is for people
who get down in the street.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BROWN: And we need street action. That's basically what's wrong with
the music today. A lot of it don't go street.

GROSS: OK. Well, let's hear both of these versions back to back, the
unreleased and the released version of James Brown, "I Got You (I Feel Good)."

Mr. BROWN: Well, you'll notice that the unreleased has a baritone in it...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BROWN: ...with a heavy sound, and the other one don't have the baritone.
You'll see the difference.

GROSS: Let's hear it.

(Soundbite from "I Got You")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Ow! I feel good. I knew that I would now. Ow! I
feel good. I knew that I would now. So good, so good. I got you. Ow! I
feel nice like sugar and spice. I feel nice like sugar and spice. So nice,
so nice, 'cause I got you."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWN (Singing) "And I feel nice like sugar and spice. I feel nice like
sugar and spice. So nice, so nice, I got you. Wow! I feel good. I knew
that I would now. I feel good. I knew that I would. So good, so good,
'cause I got you. So good, so good, 'cause I got you. So good, so good,
'cause I got you. Hey! Oh, yeah!"

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Well, shortly after you recorded "I Got You," you recorded "Papa's Got
A Brand New Bag," and I want to quote something that you say in your new
memoir, "I Feel Good." You say, `"Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" changed
everything again for me and my music. I didn't need melody to make music.
That was, to me, old-fashioned and out of step. I now realized I could
compose and sing a song that used one chord or two at the most.'

Mr. BROWN: Yeah.

GROSS: How did you start reducing your songs to being more about rhythm than
about melody?

Mr. BROWN: What I did was that I brought--a lot of my songs had melody, but
like, "I Feel Good," that's a melody and all that stuff...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BROWN: ...but rhythm all the way through the song, and ours was just--I
mean, even rock 'n' roll stuff had melody, you know, but I went with more of a
jazz-concept gospel situation.

GROSS: Now at about this time, your beat really starts shifting from the two
and the four to the one and the three. Can you talk a little about...

Mr. BROWN: Well, actually...

GROSS: ...that shift? Yeah, go ahead.

Mr. BROWN: It started that with "Papa's Bag."

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BROWN: From that point on, it was one and three. And even before "I
Feel Good," "Papa's Bag" has a one and three.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Can you maybe just clap for us the difference?

Mr. BROWN: Well, one is laid-back and the other's like `da dee da bum.' I
say, the one has syncopation, `Dat dat do dat dat do dat, bat dat dat do, bat
dat dat.' I mean, that's the difference. You count it off right on the one,
`Bam, do bang bang.' And then the other one you'd say, `One and a two' and
you'd be on the two, see, but two is the upbeat, and I'm on the downbeat.
That's the difference.

GROSS: How did you start doing that?

Mr. BROWN: Well, because of the fact that I'm a musician and I sang gospel
as well, and I know the difference. It's not `how,' which is easy to do.
`Why' would be the best thing. `Why' gives me a different feeling.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And was it hard to convince the musicians that this
would work or did they get it right away?

Mr. BROWN: No, I paid them.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. BROWN: Paid them, and they played what I wanted, and that was it because
they would have never agreed.

GROSS: They would have never agreed to it?

Mr. BROWN: They would have never agreed.

GROSS: Why not?

Mr. BROWN: Well, because it was in their head that Mozart, Schubert,
Beethoven, Strauss and Bach, Chopin and ...(unintelligible)...was correct.
And they'd tell me that I was wrong. So they thought that that was low in the
music. There's no low in the music. There's a freedom in music.

GROSS: We'll hear more of our 2005 interview with James Brown in the second
half of the show.

Coming up, an interview with Bruce Tucker, who collaborated with Brown on his
1986 autobiography.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Writer Bruce Tucker discusses James Brown's music and
co-authoring Brown's 1986 autobiography, "The Godfather of Soul"
TERRY GROSS, host:

We're paying tribute to James Brown on this edition of FRESH AIR. Bruce
Tucker co-authored Brown's 1986 autobiography, "The Godfather of Soul." Tucker
is a white writer who was teaching a course at Fisk University on the
autobiographies of black musicians when he realized there was a big gap.
James Brown hadn't written his story. Tucker convinced Brown to write an
autobiography and became Brown's collaborator. I spoke with Tucker in 1990,
after a new edition was published.

We'll let's listen to the first hit that he had, and this is from 1956. The
record was "Please, Please, Please." Would you like to say something about
this?

Mr. BRUCE TUCKER: Well, this is James' first record. He recorded a demo of
it in a Macon radio station, and it eventually got to King Records in
Cincinnati, and he went up there and the Famous Flames went with him, and they
cut it, and it was a hit. It was a big hit.

(Soundbite from "Please, Please, Please")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Please, please, please, please."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Please, please, whoa, whoa."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Please, please, please."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Please, please, whoa, whoa."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Honey, please don't go."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Go."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Yeah, oh, yeah. Oh, I love you so."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Please, please, whoa, whoa."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Baby, you did me wrong."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "So you done me wrong."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Well, well, you done me wrong."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Oh, you done me wrong."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "So you done, done me wrong."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Whoa."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Whoa. Oh, yeah. Took my love and now you're gone."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Please, please, whoa, whoa."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Please, please, please, please."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Please, please, whoa, whoa."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Please, please, please, please. Please, please,
please, please."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Please, please, whoa, whoa."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Honey, please, oh..."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Oh, whoa. "

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Oh, yeah. I love you so.."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Please, please, whoa, whoa."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: James Brown "Please, Please, Please," recorded in 1956, and my guest,
Bruce Tucker, wrote James Brown's autobiography with him.

Fill us in a little about his background. He came from a really poor
background.

Mr. TUCKER: Yes, he was born out in the woods in South Carolina and moved
into Augusta, Georgia, which was a wide-open serviceman's town at that time in
the late '30s, early '40s. Lived in a brothel with an aunt named Honey
Washington. They sold moonshine whiskey in addition to the other activities
that went on in that house. Eventually, the house was closed down by the
police. James then, oh, as a preteenager, I guess you would say, began
getting into trouble here and there. He broke into some unlocked cars to
steal some clothes, got caught and was sentenced to eight to 16 years in
prison for breaking into unlocked cars. Again, another extremely harsh
sentence. He served only three of those years. He wrote a letter to the
parole board, saying that he wanted to get out and sing gospel for the Lord.
He was known as "Musicbox" in prison because of his singing. He got out,
formed the group and then about six years later, there came "Please, Please,
Please," and then after that he conquered the Apollo Theater in New York and
went on from there to become the superstar that he remains.

GROSS: My guest is Bruce Tucker, who wrote with James Brown the book, "James
Brown: The Godfather of Soul," and as you say, James Brown is really the
godfather of funk, and the turning point for him in terms of starting to play
funk was his 1965 record "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." What was different
about this record and what did James Brown have to tell you about it?

Mr. TUCKER: Well, at this point, he didn't have to tell me anything about it
because it's been so influential. It's something that we now can hear very
easily, but the difference in funk is that all of the rhythmic emphasis is on
the one, is on that first downbeat at the beginning of a measure, and it
really drives the music forward. You can hear it in this song in embryo and
then in later work quite clearly. And the other thing is the polyrhythmic
complexity which is what James is known for.

The other thing, I think, worth noting about this record is the date, 1965.
If you recall, soul of both the shouting and the churchy varieties didn't peak
until '67 or '68 and then more or less ended with the death of Dr. King. But
in 1965, James was already leaving soul behind for funk. I mean, it's an
amazingly revolutionary record if you put it in historical perspective like
that.

GROSS: I really like something he said to you about this record. He said
that he discovered his strength wasn't in the horn, it was in the rhythm. He
said he was hearing everything, even the guitars, like they were drums.

Mr. TUCKER: Exactly, yes. And I think that is the key to funk and the key
to James Brown. Everything is used percussively--the voices, the guitars, the
drums. He carried two and sometimes three drummers during this period on the
road. Yes, everything is used percussively. I think one of the difficulties
in making the case for a musician like James Brown for their importance is
that western music theory downgrades things that aren't important in European
classical music, such as rhythm, and so there's no means of adequately
notating it and so forth or appreciating it, and so we're in a sense trained
not to hear it, but it's there, and that's James' great achievement.

(Soundbite from "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Come here, sister, Papa's in the swing. He ain't too
hip about that new breed thing. Ain't no drag, Papa's got a brand-new bag.
Come here, mama. And get your babe to sleep. Not too bad, but he's fine as
he can be. Ain't no drag, Papa's got a brand-new bag. Do the jerk. He's
doing the fly. Don't...(unintelligible). Know he...(unintelligible). Do the
monkey, mashed potatoes. Jump back, cat. See you later, alligator. Come
now, sister, Papa's in the thing. (Unintelligible)...hip now, but I can dig
the new breed thing. He ain't no drag. He's got a brand-new bag. Papa, you
doing the jerk. Papa, you doing the jerk. You doing the flip just like this.
You doing the...(unintelligible). Everything and every night, the thing like
the boomerang. Hey! Come on. Hey, hey! Come on..."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: James Brown is kind of a riddle to me politically. I mean, he had
that really big, really influential record "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm
Proud" in 1968. He had supported H. Rap Brown. At the same time though he
supported Richard Nixon and played at Richard Nixon's inaugural. Can you help
reconcile those two different political parts of James Brown?

Mr. TUCKER: Well, I think that it's difficult to reconcile the parts of
James Brown because I think James Brown is deeply ambivalent about a great
many things, and I think it shows up in precisely those kinds of oppositions
that you set up. He gave money to the H. Rap Brown defense fund but he also
bought a lifetime membership in the NAACP. He was a great admirer of Dr.
Martin Luther King, and he's very close to Reverend Al Sharpton. He made a
record that was almost contemporaneous with "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm
Proud," called "America Is My Home," for which he took a great deal of heat
from a great many people. So I think there's a deep contradiction in him and
I think it's difficult to reconcile. I think it's difficult for him to
reconcile because this country has greatly rewarded him and viciously punished
him throughout his life, beginning from the time he was a child and right up
to the present.

So it's difficult to reconcile. The song "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm
Proud," which appeared in 1968, of course, cost him his crossover audience.
People became afraid to come to his concerts and so forth, and if you listen
to the song, of course, what you immediately notice is that it's almost a
children's song. There's a children's chorus on there singing the refrain.

GROSS: Bruce Tucker, recorded in 1990. He collaborated on James Brown's 1986
autobiography, "The Godfather of Soul."

Our tribute to James Brown will continue in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Uh! Let your bad self say it loud."

Backup Singers #2: (Singing in unison) "I'm black, and I'm proud!

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Say it loud."

Backup Singers #2: (Singing in unison) "I'm black, and I'm proud!"

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Looky here. Some people say we got a lot of manners,
some say a lot of nerve. But I say we won't quit moving until we get what we
deserve. We've been 'buked and we've been scorned."

(End of soundbite)

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Saxophonist Maceo Parker discusses James Brown and his
experiences playing with him in 1989 interview
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with more of our tribute to James
Brown. He died yesterday morning at the age of 73.

Next we're going to hear from a former member of Brown's band, saxophonist
Maceo Parker. Parker has also played with funksters George Clinton and
"Bootsey" Collins, as well as the JB All-Stars. Here's Maceo Parker with
James Brown in 1969.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JAMES BROWN: (Singing) "Yeah, yeah, yeah, sometime, sometime would be
low, sometime would be low. Call another brother, talking about Maceo.
Maceo, blow your horn. Don't put no trash, maybe some popcorn. Maceo, come
on. Popcorn. Ooh, do the funky walk. Uh, uh, yeah, yeah. One, two, three,
four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four..."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Maceo joined James Brown's band in 1964 and played with Brown for most
of the '60s and part of the '70s and '80s. I spoke with Parker in 1989 and
asked about the discipline James Brown demanded of the band.

Mr. MACEO PARKER: You know, you gotta be on time. You gotta have your
uniforms and stuff gotta be intact. You gotta have the bow tie, you gotta
have the bow tie. You gotta have them. You can't come up without the bowtie.
You can't come up without the cummerbund. Your shoes got to be--you know, the
patent leather shoes we were wearing at the time, you know, gotta be greased.
You know, you gotta have this stuff. This is what I expect, and that was OK.

GROSS: Did you get to--like, if you left the band, did you get to keep the
costume?

Mr. PARKER: No, no, no, no, no. No. He bought the costumes. He bought the
shoes and if for some reason you decided to leave the group, `Please leave,'
you know, `please leave my uniforms with somebody.'

GROSS: When James Brown started playing funk, he started putting the accent
on the first beat. When did he start telling you about the one in his music
and putting the emphasis on the one?

Mr. PARKER: He always liked to have a heavy one, that's what he felt. That
was his style. `GON-na have a funky good time,' doo de doo de doo doo.
That's where the one is, like right there.

GROSS: Was it hard for you to pick up on that or did it seem natural?

Mr. PARKER: It was hard when I had to solo in that I'm used to hearing the
accent being on two, like, if I would have done it, it'd be `Gonna HAVE a
funky good time' two and three and four. Gonna'--that's normally how
everybody was recording, and you could hear easily--I think their ears is
easily--it's easier to hear two and four, and that's where the back beat is
normally.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. PARKER: You know, ting ting DAT ting ting dat, like that, two and four,
but this was one. And at first, like I say, at first, it was a little
awkward, but you know, we became used to it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWN: Hit it!

Oh, how you feelin', brother?

Unidentified Singer #1: Feelin' good.

Mr. BROWN: You feelin good?

Singer #1: Feelin' good...(unintelligible)

Mr. BROWN: So much...(unintelligible)...brother How you feelin', man?

Unidentified Singer #2: I'm feeling all right.

Mr. BROWN: Not going to call your name. Don't want people to know you're in
here. How you feelin', brother? Hey...(unintelligible). Gettin'
down...(Unintelligible). Yeah.

(Singing) "We're going to have a funk good time. We're going to have a funk
good time. We're going to have a funk good time. We're going to have a funk
good time. It's gonna take a lot of bread We gotta take you high..."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Is it hard to work for the hardest working man in show business?

Mr. PARKER: It was hard but it was rewarding. It was fun because, you know,
you're working with somebody who has this title, hardest working man, so that
means you gotta do your part. You gotta keep up, and you never want him to
say, `Hey, man, you know, if I can do 10, 15 splits a night, at least you guys
can do and play a little vamp or whatever it is, you know, for 45 minutes.'

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Ow! When you kiss me, when you miss me, you hold me
tight. Make everything all right. I break out in a cold sweat. Maceo, come
on now. Brother, put it right now, Oh, let 'em have it. Oh, no! Mmm! Put
it on them. Mmm! Oh, try the horn. Get it. Funky...(unintelligible).
Excuse me while I do the boogaloo. Sometimes I clown, back up and do the
James Brown."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Saxophonist Maceo Parker with James Brown.

Coming up, bass player Bootsy Collins talks about his experiences in James
Brown's band.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Bass player William "Bootsy" Collins talks about his
experiences playing in James Brown's band in 1994 interview
TERRY GROSS, host:

The superheavy bass line in James Brown's 1970 hit "Sex Machine" was supplied
by Bootsy Collins. Bootsy continued to push funk in new directions, teaming
up in the mid-70s with George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, which
combined funk with science fiction and psychedelia. Then he formed the
spin-off group Bootsy's Rubber Band that was focused on his colorful stage
persona. I spoke with Bootsy Collins in 1994. Here he is with James Brown in
1970.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JAMES BROWN: One, two, three, hit it!

(Singing) "Watch me! Watch me! I got it. Watch me! I got it, hey! I got
something that makes me want to shout. I got something that tells me what
it's all about, hah! I got soul and I'm superbad, I got soul and I'm
superbad, hah! Now I got a move that tells me what to do. Sometimes
it...(unintelligible)...hah! Now I got a move that tells me what to do.
Sometimes I feel so nice I want to tie myself to you, hah! hah! I got soul
and I'm superbad, hah!"

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Well, listen. I went back to James Brown's autobiography to see what
he had to say about you...

Mr. WILLIAM "BOOTSY" COLLINS: Yeah. Oh god.

GROSS: So he writes, "I think Bootsy learned a lot from me."

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah.

GROSS: "When I met him, he was playing a lot of bass..."

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah.

GROSS: "...the ifs, ands and the buts."

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah. He's right.

GROSS: "I got him to see the importance of the one in funk..."

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah.

GROSS: "...the downbeat at the beginning of every bar..."

Mr. COLLINS: That's right.

GROSS: "I got him to key in on the dynamic parts of the one..."

Mr. COLLINS: That's right.

GROSS: "...instead of playing all around it."

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah.

GROSS: "Then he could do all of his stuff in the right places, after the
one."

Mr. COLLINS: That's absolutely correct. Yeah. Absolutely correct.

GROSS: Was it hard to make the adjustment to playing on the one?

Mr. COLLINS: No, because I knew he knew something. I mean, you know, and I
was there to learn. It wasn't like, you know, this is my party, and I'll fly
if I want to. I knew it was James' party, you know, and whatever he knew, I
wanted to find out, you know, because he just had this--the band was the
tightest band in the land, and he had this thing going on and we wanted to
find out what the heck it was, you know.

GROSS: Had you been playing on the two and four before?

Mr. COLLINS: Well, actually, I started playing with the guitar and I wasn't
actually a bass player yet.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. COLLINS: So I was learning to play bass, you know, and I wanted to play
bass, so it was like, all those other if, ands and buts is what I was playing
when I picked up the bass, you know, and it was like, `Oh, you mean I got to
play on the dominant note. Ohh. OK.' So it was like all brand-new to me, you
know, and I just didn't feel like a normal bass player, you know, so--but by
James telling me that, it all kind of made sense, and once I started hearing
it, you know, what was actually happening when I did that, it was like, `Oh,
and then I can still do this? And I can still do that?' So it was a groove.
It was really a groove.

GROSS: Let me play one of the recordings you did with James Brown. Why don't
we hear "Sex Machine," and do you want to say anything about the rhythm you're
playing on this?

Mr. COLLINS: That's pretty much--the whole rhythm is what I figure I've been
doing ever since. When you hear "Sex Machine," that's pretty much where I'm
at now. Yeah.

GROSS: OK. Here we go.

(Soundbite from "Sex Machine")

Mr. BROWN: Fellas, I'm ready to get up and do my thing.

Unidentified Men: (In unison) Go ahead, go ahead!

Mr. BROWN: I want to get into it, man, you know...

Men: (In unison) Go ahead!

Mr. BROWN: ...like a sex machine, man...

Men: (In unison) Yeah! Do it!

Mr. BROWN: ...moving, doing it, you know?

Men: (In unison) Yeah!

Mr. BROWN: Can I count it off?

Men: (In unison) Go ahead!

Mr. BROWN: One, two, three, four.

(Singing) "Get up."

Unidentified Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Stay on the scene..."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "...like a sex machine."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Stay on the scene..."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) ..."like a sex machine."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Stay on the scene..."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) ..."like a sex machine."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Wait a minute. Shake your arms, then use your form.
Stay on the scene like a sex machine. You got to have the feeling, sure as
you're born, and get it together. Right on, right on. Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: My guest is Bootsy Collins.

Now, tell me how your image changed when you started playing with James Brown.
What you did on stage, what you wore on stage.

Mr. COLLINS: Oooh, that's good, that's good. What I wore on stage. Oh,
man! Well, as you know or may not know, those were the days, like in the
'60s, getting ready to go into the '70s, but, you know, it was another kind of
movement going on, and kids were like coming up front and wearing like
bleached jeans and T-shirts and Afros, and, you know, the granny glasses and,
you know, we was all freaking out. We were having a freaking party, you know,
and I don't know, then here we are. We're playing with James Brown and you
know, we're in the army now. You know, it's like, whoa! You know so it's
like--but it was good for the fact that it kind of brought us off of the
street. We were out there doing what everybody else was acting crazy,
throwing firebombs and doing everything, you know. So getting with James kind
of brought us off of the street, and, you know, I think we kind of realized
that and, at the same time, you know, it gave us the opportunity of really
doing something that we wanted to do. So, you know, we kind of put everything
else in the back seat 'cause this is what we wanted to do. Even though, you
know, we wanted to dress crazy--we didn't know how crazy we wanted to dress
but we didn't want to wear suits, you know. We knew that, you know.

GROSS: So you were wearing matching suits on stage while everybody else was
wearing jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts.

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah, you know, while this movement was going on, the peace,
the love, that was going on, and here we are, you know, getting stuck with
wearing suits and patent-leather shoes, you know. But, at that time, you
know, the start of the soul was cool, you know. We said, `Well, we'll eat
this, because, you know, we definitely, you know, want to be with James,' you
know. So if you wanted to be with James, that's what you had to do.

GROSS: Bootsy Collins recorded in 1994.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: James Brown continues talking about his music in 2005
interview
TERRY GROSS, host:

Let's get back to the interview I recorded with James Brown last year.

Some of the musicians in your band became famous in their own right later on:
Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Bootsy Collins. And, you know, I interviewed
Bootsy Collins a few years ago, and one of the things he said--I mean, he
loved playing in your band--but one of the things he said is that it was hard
for him to be so disciplined. It was around 1970, the era when you were
recording "Sex Machine," and he said, you know, `Everyone was freaking out,
but we were standing up there being the tightest band in the land, having to
wear suits and patent-leather shoes, and you couldn't jump out in the audience
and freak out and act crazy, and that's what we wanted to do.' Did you know
that someone like, say, Bootsy Collins really wanted to, like, be wild and
crazy and you wanted this really tight, disciplined band?

Mr. JAMES BROWN: Well, I taught them organization. They didn't have
organization. And discipline was very important. You know, I wanted them
where they could play at West Point, as well as play the street on the corner.
I mean, West Point or the Navy Academy place. I wanted them to be able to go
anywhere. See, when I wanted to play "Papa's Bag" and stuff like that, I
could play for the president, and I could go and play for the people in the
streets. That's what you call being totally accepted and being totally
straight about what you felt.

GROSS: Now do you ever find musicians--I know you used to find musicians,
didn't you?

Mr. BROWN: Oh, yes, I'll do it now, but, you know, the musicians--now they
have a lot more respect and they're more intent on doing it right.

GROSS: So, Mr. Brown, what are some of the things you'd fined musicians for
back in the day?

Mr. BROWN: Oh, a lot of major things. I did a total program, like at West
Point. They've got to be clean, neat, the shirt got to be pressed, shoes got
to be shined, the suit got to be pressed. They've got to play correct. They
can't be looking off when they should be watching me because then they'll miss
something. I'll fine them. Because I don't have time to disturb what I'm
doing. I mean, we're always going to get through it, but by the same token,
those people who'd rather not get fined so they have a little more discipline,
and that's another situation. I'm sure the president of the United States has
ways of making people account for themselves.

GROSS: What's the biggest fine you ever gave?

Mr. BROWN: I don't know. Maybe 500.

GROSS: Now, I want to change musical directions for a second. And through
your career, you've recorded, you know, ballads as well as, you know, funk.
And in 1969, you made an album with a jazz band, the Louis Bellson band, and
it was mostly or completely ballads on here. And I thought we'd listen to one
of those ballads because it's a really different side of you. You know, we
were talking before about how you kind of focus more on rhythm than melody in
a lot of your songs, but here you are really focusing on the melody. Can you
tell us why you wanted to record this album of jazz standards with a jazz band
behind you?

Mr. BROWN: Well, I really liked Oliver Nelson because he made those horns
shout.

GROSS: And he did all the arrangements on the record.

Mr. BROWN: Yeah, he did. I wanted his stuff. But, you know, my concept was
so different. There's so many concepts. I needed a key to turn me on, which
was a little hard for me because it was Louis Bellson's song, who was the
drummer, and his wife was Miss Pearl Bailey. It was different. It was also
different for me to do "It's a Man's Man's World," because I did "What Kind of
Fool Am I?" a Sammy Davis thing. And I knew I wanted to go to the other side.
And I know people do it, and I know I wanted to do it, so it was really quite
an experience.

GROSS: Well, actually, that's the track I wanted to play, "What Kind of Fool
Am I?"

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "What kind of fool am I?" Yes, I...

GROSS: It's so interesting to hear you sing like this, so why don't we play
it, and I'll sit back and listen?

Mr. BROWN: You know, you sound like you was getting ready to sing something
there.

GROSS: No, I wish.

Mr. BROWN: OK. Let's take a listen then.

GROSS: OK.

(Soundbite from "What Kind of Fool Am I?")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "What kind of fool am I, who never fell in love? It
seems that I'm the only one that I've been thinking of. Tell me what kind of
man is this, an empty shell, a lonely self where an empty heart may dwell?
What kind of lips are these that lie with every kiss that whisper empty words
of love that left me alone like this? Why can't I fall in love like any other
man? And maybe, maybe then I'll know what kind of fool I am."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: We'll have more of our 2005 interview with James Brown after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with James Brown recorded last year.

You know, pop songs have always been about love and sex, but they never really
used the word `sex' before in the lyrics, I think.

Mr. BROWN: Yeah.

GROSS: What made you decide to actually use the word `sex' in "Sex Machine"?

Mr. BROWN: Well, sex, I don't know, you're not far from it with the dancing
and all that stuff and the emulations that they do when they get on the floor
of the ballroom, two-stepping, the funky chicken or the James Brown, all these
different things. So--and that's what's in your mind if you go by a pool and
see young ladies out there in their bathing suits, swimsuits, because the men
don't...(unintelligible)...women do.

I decided I would use that term because we was at this dance. I mean, this
fellow and girl was at this dance. And she was just sitting there, and he's
sitting there. Nobody's doing anything. It was kind of just almost like
wallflowers till the fellow jumped up and said, `Get up. I feel like being
like a sex machine, and let's dance.' So that started it. That was the
concept.

And it's not about or relating to somebody else's girl or man. It's saying,
`I got mine, don't worry about his. The way I like it, the way it is. I
mean...(unintelligible)...fine. I got mine, don't worry about his,' you know.

GROSS: Was anybody worried, either your producers or disc jockeys about...

Mr. BROWN: No, it was produced by James...

GROSS: ...playing a record with the word `sex' actually in it?

Mr. BROWN: James Brown was the producer, so it wasn't no problem.

GROSS: OK. Here's "Sex Machine," recorded in 1970.

(Soundbite from "Sex Machine")

Mr. BROWN: Fellas, I'm ready to get up and do my thing.

Men: (In unison) Go ahead, go ahead!

Mr. BROWN: I want to get into it, man, you know...

Men: (In unison) Go ahead!

Mr. BROWN: ...like a sex machine, man...

Men: (In unison) Yeah! Do it!

Mr. BROWN: ...moving, doing it, you know?

Men: (In unison) Yeah!

Mr. BROWN: Can I count it off?

Men: (In unison) Go ahead!

Mr. BROWN: One, two, three, four.

(Singing) "Get up."

Unidentified Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Stay on the scene..."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "...like a sex machine."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Stay on the scene..."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) ..."like a sex machine."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Stay on the scene..."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) ..."like a sex machine."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Wait a minute. Shake your arms, then use your form.
Stay on the scene like a sex machine. You got to have the feeling, sure as
you're born, and get it together. Right on, right on. Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "Get up."

Singer: (Singing) "Get on up."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's James Brown. He has a new memoir called "I Feel Good."

How did you learn to dance and specifically to do splits?

Mr. BROWN: Well, I guess that it come from playing baseball...

GROSS: Wait a minute.

Mr. BROWN: ...because during that time...

GROSS: Most baseball players do not do splits.

Mr. BROWN: Well, now, they don't, but those years, Jackie Robinson, the
first black man came into major league baseball, and he was doing the split on
first base. And they thought that was absurd. They thought--they couldn't
believe it, but it was like ...(unintelligible)...clowning. There was another
black baseball team called the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City
Monarchs before...(unintelligible). Those were Negro Leagues. And,
eventually, when Robinson got into major league baseball, he brought some of
those tricks with him. You know, we missed so much because had those black
men ever been able to play baseball then, it would be like the courts is
today. Ninety percent of all the players are black.

So you first, I think, danced when you were a kid, and you danced on the
street for pennies.

Mr. BROWN: I danced to pay the rent...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BROWN: ...for the soldiers.

GROSS: Tell us about some of those hardships, about what life was like when
you were very young. James Brown, your mother left when you were four, I
think, and you were--you lived...

Mr. BROWN: Yes.

GROSS: ...with an aunt. What was the house like?

Mr. BROWN: Well, it was very, very hard. I didn't have a place, because my
mother left. And my dad took me to see my grand aunt--Great-Aunt Anita Brown.
She raised me and kind of baby-sitted me while my daddy did basic menial work
that just didn't have any skill about it, but they had to go all over the
country to find work, somewhat like they're doing now, had to find a place
that common labor can make it, you know. They didn't have a lot of room for
common labor even in those days. That's why I'm telling kids to get education
today because you never know what's going to be out there for you and if
there'll be anything for you. So, it takes character and the contents of your
character, like Dr. King said. And people can know someone and don't even
know their name because--their upbringing.

GROSS: James Brown recorded last year. He died yesterday morning at the age
of 73. We're grateful for the music he leaves behind.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer: (Singing) "You think I love you. Well, baby, you're
right. And to think I want to hug you, well, baby you're right. I want to
love you. I want to hug you, 'cause I, yeah, I need you so bad. Yeah, so
come on, just me and you..."

(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

42:54

John Brown And Abraham Lincoln: Divergent Paths In The Fight To End Slavery

In The Zealot and the Emancipator, historian H.W. Brands reflects on two 19th century leaders who fought the institution of slavery in different ways: one radical and the other reformist.

31:39

How Women Have Been 'Profoundly' Left Out Of The U.S. Constitution

As a teen, Heidi Schreck debated the Constitution in competitions. A film of her Broadway play, What the Constitution Means to Me, is now available on Amazon Prime. Originally broadcast March 2019.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue