Thursday, December 06, 2007

Today's Best Article: James Brown, In Memoriam

David Seaton's News Links
I must confess that I get(s) weary and tired of reading and writing every day about trash like George W. Bush and I am mightily relieved when I find something about someone that I genuinely admire. Today is one of those rare days.

In today's Paris Herald, Philip Crawford, a former journalist, drummer and keyboard player, who works for a management consulting firm in Paris, has published this beautiful tribute to James Brown, a man that, with Ray Charles (and since Frank Sinatra started singing garbage like, "My Way") is surely America's finest post WWII vocalist.

We are now sadly commemorating the first anniversary of his death. Sic transit gloria funk. DS

Personal notes on the 'Amazing Mr. Please' International Herald Tribune

By Philip Crawford
December 6, 2007

Good God, as he would say. It has already been nearly a year since James Brown passed away on Christmas Day, 2006, ever the showman.

Much has been written about the so-called Godfather of Soul since then, both good and bad. Yet however you slice his genius with his demons, he was arguably the most influential musical artist in the world for a good 40 years. And he knew how to touch people both onstage and off. To wit:

The year was 1982, and I, a drummer and keyboard player, was heading to hear Brown in concert for the first time. Since the 1960s, when I had first heard tunes such as "I Got You (I Feel Good)," and "Cold Sweat," I had been entranced by Brown. It became something of a joke among my friends, who couldn't understand how a white boy from New Jersey could become so obsessed with J.B.'s gutbucket soul grooves.

When the concert started, both J.B. and his band were in full form. So after the show, I decided to write Brown an unabashed fan letter. I found the address of his offices in Georgia, put pen to paper on the letterhead of a Hilton hotel where I had a steady piano gig, and sent it off.

Roughly four weeks later, as I was walking back into the hotel restaurant after a breath of fresh air, the hostess looked up from her reservation book and said "You just got a phone call. He said it was the James Brown, and he left a number."

Must be a buddy of mine trying to wind me up, I figured. Still, I called the number several times over the next few days, and finally someone answered. "Oh yeah, I think he's here," a woman said. "Hang on."

A moment later that inimitable voice came on the line. "What's hapnin' man!" said J.B. "Hey, I just wanted you to know that if you were gonna take the time to write me such a nice letter, I was gonna call and say thank you."

We chatted about musical styles for a few minutes. He listened to what I had to say with what felt like respect for a fellow musician, even though he had of course never heard me play.

As much of a thrill as it was to talk with Soul Brother No. 1, the coda that occurred a few years later was even more revealing. I went to hear Brown at a nightclub, and upon entering noticed that his emcee, Danny Ray, was standing at the bar. I introduced myself to Ray, recounted the story of the letter and phone call, and asked if there were any way I could possibly meet Mr. Brown. "Come to the stage door later," Ray said, "and I'll see what I can do."

Incredibly, after the show a friend and I found ourselves backstage with the band members. The tenor-sax wizard, St. Clair Pinckney, friendly as could be, asked where we were from. When I replied that I was originally from Aiken, South Carolina - deep in the heart of J.B. country - he smiled and offered us a beer. Just like that, we were part of the gang. Pink pointed to a large door. "He's in there," he said. "If you wait long enough, he'll probably come out."

So we waited. And waited. Now 1:30 in the morning. Now 2:00. The band had left in the bus. It was around 2:30 when we decided to pack it in.

Suddenly the door opened. Out came Danny Ray. And walking right behind him was - as Ray had screamed thousands of times over the years during show introductions - "The Amazing Mr. Please, Please Himself." Brown was coiffed to the max, smelled of fine cologne, and wore a massive fur coat that must have weighed 50 pounds. His presence was far weightier than that.

I approached him, apologized for the intrusion, and recounted the story of the letter and phone call, which I knew he couldn't possibly remember. He slowly took off his shades, looked up, smiled, and rasped: "Course I remember ya, man. Course I remember ya. How's your career goin'?"

The downbeat of Brown's personality, tempestuous as it may have been at times, was that after working two killer shows, and in the middle of the night, he still had time to be kind and gracious to a fan. He gave me fully 15 minutes of his time, standing there in a cold, dingy corridor talking about music, as if I were a peer. Then he gave me an elbow to the ribs: "You got a camera?" he said. "Let's get a picture."

I'd taken two rolls during the show, and thought I'd used all the film. A nervous look at the gauge on my camera revealed one shot left. So we walked back into the club, and my friend took the photo.

Today, more than 20 years later, I still carry that snapshot in my wallet. It embarrasses me a bit - such shameless fandom at my age. But I don't plan to take it out any time soon. LINK


Anonymous said...

I dont know nothin about music or the south of America, but when a man takes time out like that to chat with some white-boy about music, then that kinda proves that talent and class sure dont enter the equation for stardom anymore.

some people are larger than life. Brown it seems was classier than that, he was in life, he loved life. No wonder God created man. Heaven must be gettin down...

Anonymous said...

Post after thoughtfully ranting post, I notice 0 comments. One does get tired, but here I just got to give a brother his due--thank you for all your posts into the ethernet; its always like opening a present clicking on your link every day, but this was a special gift you hit us with today.Keep on gettin' up an' doin' your thang. Keep throwing your thoughts around like the Godfather threw mike stands as he scissored to the stage and got us on up. Thank you. Tom Wiggins

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Thank you Tom.

Derica said...

Good for people to know.