Tag Archives: celebrities

The Guy Quote – James Brown, Godfather of Soul

James-Brown-Harry-Benson

James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, the hardest working man in showbusiness, soul brother number one, founding father of funk and so much more. His musical career spanned an astonishing six decades, he was a major influence on rapping while he’s beats…well, he’s the most sampled artist. Here’s a short version, a few highlights before the quotes, but there’s a fascinating Wikipedia entry on his life and career here which is well worth checking out.

He first hit fame in the Fifties as part of a group called the Famous Flames, touring on the “chitlin’ circuit” (the opposite of the Borscht Belt); from then on, it was largely an upward arc as he revolutionised music and became one of 20th century music’s major influences.

And yet, while he’s undeniably a force of nature, he also has the record as the artist with the most singles on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever hitting number one on that chart.

The James Brown tour was one of the best in the business – or certainly the biggest, with an enormous band and a bigger retinue – the James Brown Revue had something like 40 or 50 people in it, all of them busing around the US, doing 330+ shows a year, most of them one-nighters – and most of them featuring the infamous cape routine, when he’d pretend to collapse from the emotion and be escorted from the stage with a cape over his shoulders. I think Elvis copied this too. He died in 2006 of heart failure.

He wasn’t joking when he said he had it tough. Born in 1933, as a young child, Brown and his family lived in extreme poverty in South Carolina. His parents separated when he was two, when his mum ran out on his dad for another man. He stayed with his dad (and his father’s assorted girlfriends) until he was six, when he was sent to live with an aunt who ran a brothel.

He might have lived with relatives, but he still spend a lot of time on his own, hanging out or on the hustle. He worked hard as a kid, shining shoes, sweeping out stores, selling and trading in old stamps, washing cars and dishes and singing in talent contests. Brown also performed buck dances for change to entertain troops from Camp Gordon at the start of World War II as their convoys traveled over a canal bridge near his aunt’s home.

He had an early passion for music, too. Between earning money, Brown taught himself to play a harmonica given to him by his father. He learned to play some guitar from Tampa Red, in addition to learning to play piano and drums from others he met during this time. He formed his first vocal group, the Cremona Trio, when he was just 12. That same year they won local talent shows at Augusta concert halls such as the Lenox and Harlem theaters. He was forced out of school in seventh grade for wearing “insufficient clothes”.

When James Brown was sixteen, he was convicted of armed robbery and sent to a juvenile detention center in Toccoa. While in prison, he formed a gospel quartet with fellow cell mates Johnny Terry, “Hucklebuck” Davis and a person named “Shag”, and made his own instruments – a comb and paper, a washtub bass, a drum kit made from lard tubs, and what he called “a sort of mandolin [made] out of a wooden box.” Due to the latter instrument, Brown was given his first nickname, “Music Box”. In 1952, while still in reform school, Brown met future R&B legend Bobby Byrd, who was there playing baseball against the reform school team.

Byrd’s family helped Brown secure an early release in 1952 after he’d done three years of his sentence. The authorities agreed to release Brown on the condition that he would get a job and not return to Augusta or Richmond County and also under the condition that he find a decent job and sing for the Lord – as he had promised in his parole letter. After stints as a boxer and baseball pitcher in semi-professional baseball (a career move ended by a leg injury), he finally turned his energy to music.

The rest, as they say, is history. Notable highlights though…

Influenced by having been booted out of school as a youth, his main non-musical activism was in preserving the need for education, particularly among black youths, who consisted of large school dropout rates in the mid-1960s. As a result of this, Brown wrote “Don’t Be a Drop-Out“, which was released in 1966 under the “James Brown and The Famous Flames” billing – though the actual recording featured none of its members with the exception of Brown (not to be confused with Dolly Parton’s song the same year, “Don’t Drop Out“. Royalties from the song were given to charity, he was rewarded by President Johnson, and he always advocated, in songs and in speeches, the importance of education in school. When he was older, he’d occasionally go back to his childhood neighbourhood in Augusta and give out money and other things to those in need. A week before he died he visited an orphanage and gave out toys and turkeys.

Civil Rights. Brown and his band first participated in benefit concerts for civil rights groups starting in 1965, performing for organizations such as the SCLC. In 1968, Brown recorded two socially conscious songs, “America Is My Home” and “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud“. The former song, in which Brown performed a rap, advocated patriotism, pointing out that America was one of the few countries where “you can start as a shoeshine boy and shake hands with the President” and exhorting listeners to “stop pitying yoursel[ves] and get up and fight.” This coincided with Brown’s participation in performing in front of troops during the Vietnam War.

“Say It Loud” was written in response to pressure from black activists for Brown to take a bigger stance on their issues. The song was inspired by television coverage of black on black crime as well as concurrent issues concerning the riots that occurred following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.. Brown wrote the words and asked his bandleader at the time, Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, to compose the music. The song’s lyrics helped to make it an anthem to the civil rights movement. Some critics[who?] later stated that the song had gotten through to black youths better than some civil rights leaders’ speeches. Throughout the remainder of his career and after his death, Brown was credited by some of his admirers for “destroying the word Negro from the vocabulary and making it cool to call yourself ‘Black’.” Brown performed “Say It Loud” only sporadically after 1969, later stating in his 1986 autobiography:

“The song is obsolete now… But it was necessary to teach pride then, and I think the song did a lot of good for a lot of people… People called ‘Black and Proud’ militant and angry – maybe because of the line about dying on your feet instead of living on your knees. But really, if you listen to it, it sounds like a children’s song. That’s why I had children in it, so children who heard it could grow up feeling pride… The song cost me a lot of my crossover audience. The racial makeup at my concerts was mostly black after that. I don’t regret it, though, even if it was misunderstood.”

His personal life wasn’t always settled. Gruelling schedule, always on tour. For the first 25 years of his professional career, he had a drug-free policy for his entire entourage and band. A few people were fired for going against his word, especially those who used drugs and alcohol. Noting of this policy, some of the original members of Brown’s 1970s band, The J.B.’s including the Collins brothers, Catfish and Bootsy, intentionally got high on acid during a 1971 concert gig, causing Brown to fire them after the show because he had suspected them to be on drugs all along, according to Bootsy Collins. Towards the mid-Seventies though, he was allegedly using them himself anyway. In the mid Eighties he got into an angel dust storm with then-wife Adrienne Rodriguez. There were a few arrests for domestic violence.

Still though, an amazing performer. An amazing musician, poet, lyricist, dancer. A serious talent, in a man’s world. Here are some quotes. They’re not necessarily all amazing, but what is amazing is the context and background of some of the things he said. (ps – If you like this, do please share, and read some of my other “The Guy Quote” posts here. )

Die on your feet don’t live on your knees.

I’ve outdone anyone you can name – Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Strauss. Irving Berlin, he wrote 1,001 tunes. I wrote 5,500.

Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. Hair and teeth. A man got those two things he’s got it all.

When I’m on stage, I’m trying to do one thing: bring people joy. Just like church does. People don’t go to church to find trouble, they go there to lose it.

… I’m not going to be joining ZZ Top. You know they can’t play my stuff. It’s too complicated.

The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing.

I don’t really care what people think, … I just do my own thing. … I like being loud and letting people know I’m there.

Retire for what? What would I do? I made my name as a person that is helping. I’m like Moses in the music business.

I’m twice as old, but I feel good.

I got a wife who likes expensive things, so she takes all the cash.

I taught them everything they know, but not everything I know.

Sometimes you struggle so hard to feed your family one way, you forget to feed them the other way, with spiritual nourishment. Everybody needs that.

It doesn’t matter how you travel it, it’s the same road. It doesn’t get any easier when you get bigger, it gets harder. And it will kill you if you let it.

I used to play one job and have 125 pair of shoes on the floor. What was I doing? I couldn’t wear but one pair.

My expectations of other people, I double them on myself.

Now, we own a publishing house that’s way up in the billions of dollars and gets bigger and bigger. That’s probably the only thing that makes me look like Bill Gates!

Sometimes I feel like I’m a preacher as well, ’cause I can really get into an audience.

The hardest thing about being James Brown is I have to live. I don’t have no down time.

I did the thing with bonds, which was about 30 million dollars, and didn’t get none of the money on them.

They had a chance to see me look good and perform and be so neat again. A lot of young people felt shaken, ’cause there I was, 70 years old, looking half as young as they did!

I only got seventh-grade education, but I have a doctorate in funk, and I like to put that to good use.

Michael Jackson has a very good heart. He was crying when he was giving me the award, ’cause his mind went back over the early days.

I started Michael [Jackson] years ago. I saw him in Gary, Indiana, and we’d have him on the talent shows. He kind of emulated me, and did the best he could.

My son don’t have to say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud. He don’t have to be called those crazy names.

They had a chance to see me look good and perform and be so neat again. A lot of young people felt shaken, ’cause there I was, 70 years old, looking half as young as they did!

I just thank God for all of the blessings.

I used to think like Moses. That knocked me down for a couple years and put me in prison. Then I start thinking like Job. Job waited and became the wealthiest and richest man ever ’cause he believed in God.

I want to say to you, help yourself, so you can help someone else.

I’ve been held responsible for taxes I know nothing about.

You can take care of yourself, and God helps those who help themselves.

I had to tell about my colonic, which expresses the fact why I’m so neat today as opposed to a few years ago. I never knew that the weight made that much difference.

I named my new son James Joseph Brown II. I think he’s going to be a lot better than I was.

I think the best thing about being James Brown is looking at my little son. Hopefully I can make my son a role model to a lot of people.

I think what I came through is great, but my son can take it to another level, not having to fight racism. His mother’s a Norwegian and I’m mixed up four or five times, so he can face the world.

I was stillborn. The midwives laid me aside, thought I was really gone. I laid there about an hour, and they picked me back up and tried again, ’cause my body was still warm. The Good Lord brought me back.

I’d like to cut down on the work a little bit.

I’m kidding about having only a few dollars. I might have a few dollars more.

My expectations of other people, I double them on myself.

Thank God for the journey.

The hardest thing about being James Brown is I have to live. I don’t have no down time.

When God took it, he accepted it; when he brought it back, he accepted it. That’s what’s happening with me.

You can’t teach others if you are living the same way.

If you like this, do please share, and read some of my other “The Guy Quote” posts here.

And here’s a documentary about him:

If you like this, do please share, and read some of my other “The Guy Quote” posts here.

ill Manors, Plan B and demonisation of the youth

Watch this video, Plan B’s directorial debut. Angry and passionate, mixed up and furious. Lots of hate pouring off the screen and out of the speakers – I mean, listen to the chorus! But then, once you’ve let it settle and you feel you have a handle on it, allow it context beyond your initial reaction. Context such as below, an extract from his TEDx speech (and the full speech itself).

I’m working really hard at the minute trying to finish my directorial debut,Ill Manors, which is a hip-hop-based film. When people ask me what the film is about, I say it’s about all the things we read in the newspaper; the despicable things that I don’t think many of us agree with when we read them. The papers tell us that they happen but they never tell us why they happen. So Ill Manors is trying to get to the bottom of why we have these problems in society with our youth, why we constantly keep on reading negative things about our youth.

The reason I’ve done this is because I got kicked out of school in year 10 and no other schools would take me. I had to go to a pupil referral unit called the Tunmarsh Centre in Plaistow. I was there with other kids from a lot more dysfunctional families than me. They’d been through a lot more than me. And one thing we shared is we didn’t have any respect for authority, whether it be teachers or police.

I think the reason why we didn’t have respect for authority was that we felt that we were ignored by society, that we didn’t belong to it. And so we wouldn’t listen to anyone apart from our favourite rappers. We would let this music raise us and, though most of will never meet those artists in our lives, their words are what guided us.

Unfortunately, some of those words are negative. Within hip-hop there’s some that romanticises street life and being a gangster and selling drugs. But there’s also conscious hip-hop. I was a fan of conscious hip-hop. I was a fan of the hip-hop that was like poetry. It was like reading a book and it changed your life. Just one sentence could change your life. I realised that this was a powerful tool and I wanted to change things; I wanted to change the stuff that I read in the paper or the stuff that I came in direct contact with which I didn’t agree with.

Damilola Taylor was 10 years old when he lost his life. He was stabbed by a kid who was maybe only five or six years older than him. This is a child killing another child. I didn’t agree with that. I didn’t agree with the mentality that a lot of these kids were going round with, but I understood why they were going round with it. I understood that they were from broken families. They had parents who were probably alcoholics, drug addicts, dysfunctional, who raised them up to believe they could never make anything of themselves because they as parents never made anything of themselves.

The great thing about Tunmarsh was it was a place where these kids could go and, for the first time in their life, be shown encouragement and motivation and be told that they can make something of their lives. They can come from a negative family environment [but] they only have to bump into one person that can plant one positive seed in their head and in their heart and it can change their life. Tunmarsh was full of these positive teachers. When I left there I went on this journey through hip-hop music and I decided to write an album that tried to reach out to these kids and I tried in some ways, I guess, to be a father figure to these kids because they were parentless.

What does the word chav mean? The term may have its origins in the Romany word “chavi”, meaning child. My godfather used to call me chav, but it was affectionate. I used to enjoy it. So what does that word mean now? I believe it stands for “council house and violent”. It’s a word that is used to ridicule and label people who come from a less educated background than the rest of society. For me, it’s no different from similar words used to be prejudiced towards race or sex. The difference is, in this country we openly say the word chav. The papers openly ridicule the poor and less unfortunate. If you did the same thing with race or sex, there’d be public uproar and rightly so. But why is it different with this word?

I believe that there is a demonisation of the youth throughout the media. And people are falling for it, because if you’d had no direct contact with the kids that I’m talking about how the hell can you judge them? Because you’re only judging them based on something you read in a newspaper, aren’t you?

See, this fuels the fire. If you call kids words that are derogatory to them just because they are unlucky enough to be born into a family that couldn’t afford to give them the education that you had, they’re going to hate you. Of course they’re going to hate you and you’re going to hate them because of their actions. And it’s this vicious circle that goes round. By calling these kids these words you push them out of your society and they don’t feel part of it. You beat them into apathy and in the end they just say: “Cool, I don’t care. I don’t want to be part of your society.”

And then the riots happen, right? We’ve got a generation of youths out there on the streets. The weather is hot, it’s nice. They ain’t got nothing to do because all the community centres have been shut down. And all the money that was put into summer projects to keep these kids monitored and occupied [has gone]. Their parents ain’t going to take them out of the country on holiday. You’ve got a whole generation of kids that do not feel that they’re part of this society and they start rioting and looting. And taking the things that society has made them feel are the most important things. Sheldon Thomas [former gang member and mentor] said: “If you ask how we became a society where young peoplethink it’s OK to rob and loot, I respond how did we get to a society that cares more about shops and businesses than lives of young people.” That’s some strong words right there.

This guy, he’s from Forest Gate, comes from a dysfunctional family background like myself, had a bad attitude but [he’s] very talented. And I took him on the road with me and I showed him the opportunities that were out there for him. Andrew Curtis was trained by Vidal Sassoon. He was offered a very high-paying job. He said: “No, I don’t want to take your job. I won’t take your money.” He said: “I want to go and start an academy where we teach underprivileged kids how to cut hair.”

And so he did. Him and his girlfriend got this building and they set up this salon. They’re living there and they’re putting their hands in their pockets to pay for the things that these kids need in order to be trained. Because no one is giving them any funding. So he’s got kids who without this would have criminal records, who would go to prison. They’d be going down that path. No one is funding him, no one is backing him to do this. He’s doing this off his own back, just out of love.

Everyone knows one person out there they can help who’s less fortunate than them. And I’m not talking about help financially. I’m talking about knowledge. Plant that seed. Find out what these kids are good at, or what they care about or what they like, and try and draw it out of them because it will change their lives.

There’s a song by Jacob Miller called “Each One Teach One”. It’s a reggae song. You should listen to that song because that’s all we’ve got to do.