Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tribute to the Godfather: How About a Little Hand For The Boys In The Band

James Brown - Nose Job
The James Brown Soul Train - Honky Tonk (Pt. 1)

Before I discuss today's picks, I encourage you to rush on over to WFMU's Beware of the Blog, which is currently featuring James Brown material from myriads of blogs (including my own) and scads of great mp3s and video clips.

As great as JB's talent was, recognition must be given to the outstanding bands he fronted in the '60s and '70s. The James Brown Band (later known as the J.B.'s) was Brown's recording and touring band, and at various points the lineup included drummers John "Jabo" Starks and Clyde Stubblefield, trombonist Fred Wesley, saxophonists Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, Maceo Parker, and St. Clair Pinkney, guitarists Phelps "Catfish" Collins and Hearlon "Cheese" Martin, bassist William "Bootsy" Collins and other very talented musicians, who brought the funk (and, in the case of Wesley and Ellis, serious jazz chops) to the table. With such great musicians to work with, Brown could easily craft his magic. Although Brown had pretty notorious fallings-out with various personnel over the years due to his demanding nature, strict discipline and immense ego (especially the 1970 mutiny in which almost all of Brown's band quit and James drafted Bootsy and Catfish Collins and their Cincinnati-based band en masse hours before a concert to create the "Sex Machine"-era J.B.'s), the band provided the groove that made Brown "the first name in the soul game," as Don Cornelius would say. Fortunately, JB recorded his band on lots of awesome 45s and albums for Smash, King, People and Polydor, under his own name and under monikers such as The J.B.'s, Maceo & The Macks, The Last Word, The Believers and The James Brown Soul Train. Quite a few of their records charted, most notably Fred Wesley & The J.B.'s 1974 #1 R&B hit "Doing It To Death," and all of them are worth checking out, as they run the gamut from blues to jazz to Northern Soul to funk to disco.

Today I've selected two great instrumentals which display the '60s and '70s JB instrumental sound. "Nose Job" was actually the backing track to James Brown Revue member Lee Austin's version of the soul classic "Steal Away." This brassy thing has a slight funk groove going on quietly in the background, but the overall feel is very jazzy, reflective of Pee Wee Ellis' tastes during his stint as JB's bandleader. James Brown's 1972 revisiting of the R&B classic "Honky Tonk" billed to the James Brown Soul Train was actually one of several remakes of the classic Brown produced, including a funky remake done by Bill Doggett, who had hit with the song in 1956 - see this earlier post about the song, which was coupled with the funky 45 classic "Honky Tonk Popcorn". It's a fun number whose bluesy shuffle groove is clearly the template for "Doing It To Death."

No comments: