Born 3 May 1928, Barnwell, South Carolina, USA. Brown claims he was born in 1933 in Macon, Georgia. "The Hardest Working Man In Showbusiness", "The Godfather Of Soul", "The Minister Of The New New Super Heavy Funk" - such sobriquets only hint at the protracted James Brown legend. Convicted of theft at the age of 16, he was imprisoned at the Alto Reform School, but secured an early release on the approbation of local singer Bobby Byrd. Brown later joined his group, the Gospel Starlighters, who evolved into the Flames after embracing R&Born In 1955 they recorded a demo of "Please Please Please" at WIBB, a Macon, Georgia radio station. Local airplay was such that talent scout Ralph Bass signed the group to the King/Federal company. A re-recorded version of the song was issued in March 1956. Credited to "James Brown And The Famous Flames", it eventually climbed to number 5 in the US R&B list. Further releases fared poorly until 1958, when "Try Me" rose to number 1 in the same chart. Once again Brown found it difficult to maintain this level of success, but "I'll Go Crazy" and "Think" (both 1960) put his progress on a surer footing. From thereon, until 1977, almost every "official" single charted. However, it was an album, Live At The Apollo (1963), that assuredly established the singer. Raw, alive and uninhibited, this shattering collection confirmed Brown as the voice of black America - every track on the album is a breathtaking event. More than 30 years on, with all the advances in recording technology, this album stands as one of the greatest live productions of all time.
His singles continued to enthral: energetic songs such as "Night Train" and "Shout And Shimmy" contrasted with such slower sermons as "I Don't Mind" and "Bewildered", but it was the orchestrated weepie, "Prisoner Of Love" (1963), that gave Brown his first US Top 20 pop single. Such eminence allowed Brown a new manoeuvrability. Dissatisfied with King Records, he ignored contractual niceties and signed with Smash Records. By the time his former outlet had secured an injunction, "Out Of Sight" had become another national hit. More importantly, however, the single marked the beginning of a leaner, tighter sound that would ultimately discard accepted western notions of harmony and structure. This innovative mid-60s period is captured on film in his electrifying performance on the TAMI Show.
Throughout the 60s, Brown proclaimed an artistic freedom with increasingly unconventional songs, including "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag", "I Got You (I Feel Good)", "It's A Man's Man's Man's World" (with a beautifully orchestrated string section) and "Money Won't Change You". In 1967 Alfred Ellis replaced Nat Jones as Brown's musical director and "Cold Sweat" introduced further radical refinements to the group's presentation. With Clyde Stubblefield on drums, "Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud" (1968), "Mother Popcorn" (1969), and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine" (1970) were each stripped down to a nagging, rhythmic riff, over which the singer soared, sometimes screaming, sometimes pleading, but always with an assertive urgency. In 1971 Brown moved to Polydor Records and unveiled a new backing band, the JBs. Led by Fred Wesley, it featured such seasoned players as Maceo Parker and St. Clair Pinckney, as well as a new generation of musicians. Elsewhere, former bassist Bootsy Collins defected with other ex-members to George Clinton's Funkadelic. Such changes, coupled with Sly Stone's challenge, simply reinforced Brown's determination. He continued to enjoy substantial hits; in 1974 he had three successive number 1 R&B singles in "The Payback", "My Thang" and "Papa Don't Take No Mess (Part 1)", and Brown also scored two movie soundtracks, Black Caesar and Slaughter's Big Rip Off. However, as the decade progressed, his work became less compulsive, suffering a drop in popularity with the advent of disco. A cameo role in the movie The Blues Brothers marked time, and in 1980 Brown left the Polydor label. Subsequent releases on such smaller labels as TK, Augusta Sound and Backstreet were only marginally successful.
However, Brown returned with a vengeance in 1986 (the year he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame) with "Living In America", the theme song from the Rocky IV soundtrack. An international hit single, it was followed by two R&B Top 10 entries, "How Do You Stop" (1987) and "I'm Real' (1988), the latter of which inspired a compulsive album of the same name. The Brown resurrection was abruptly curtailed that same year when the singer was arrested after a high-speed car chase. Charged with numerous offences, including illegal possession of drugs and firearms, aggravated assault and failure to stop for the police, he was sentenced to six and a half years" imprisonment at the State Park Correctional Centre. He was released in February 1991, having reportedly written new material while incarcerated.
During the 90s he continued to have further problems with the law and a continuing battle to quit drugs; in 1995 he was forced to cope with a tragic medical accident when his ex-wife Adrienne died during surgery for "liposuction". In January 1998 there were new fears for his own health, and he was treated in hospital for addiction to painkillers. Shortly afterwards he was arrested and charged for possession of marijuana and unlawful use of a firearm.
Brown's considerable influence has increased with the advent of hip-hop. New urban-based styles are indebted to the raw funk espoused by "The Godfather of Soul', while Stubblefield's rhythmic patterns, particularly those on 1970"s "Funky Drummer", have been heavily sampled, as have Brown's notorious whoops, screams, interjections and vocal improvisations. Artists as disparate as Public Enemy, George Michael, Sin‚ad O'Connor and Candy Flip have featured beats taken from Brown's impressive catalogue. Despite his ongoing personal problems, he is still seen as one of the most dynamic performers in American music and a massive influence on most forms of black music - soul, hip-hop, funk, R&B and disco.
Please Please Please (King 1959)***, Try Me (King 1959)**, Think (King 1960)***, The Amazing James Brown (King 1961)***, James Brown Presents His Band/Night Train (King 1961)***, Shout And Shimmy (King 1962)***, James Brown And His Famous Flames Tour The USA (King 1962)**, Excitement Mr Dynamite (King 1962)***, Live At The Apollo (King 1963)*****, Prisoner Of Love (King 1963)***, Pure Dynamite! Live At The Royal (King 1964)***, Showtime (Smash 1964)**, The Unbeatable James Brown (King 1964)***, Grits And Soul (Smash 1964)**, Out Of Sight (Smash 1964)***, Papa's Got A Brand New Bag (King 1965)***, James Brown Plays James Brown Today And Yesterday (Smash 1965)**, I Got You (I Feel Good) (King 1966)***, Mighty Instrumentals (King 1966)**, James Brown Plays New Breed (The Boo-Ga-Loo) (Smash 1966)**, Soul Brother No. 1: It's A Man's Man's Man's World (King 1966)***, James Brown Sings Christmas Songs (King 1966)**, Handful Of Soul (Smash 1966)**, The James Brown Show (Smash 1967)**, Sings Raw Soul (King 1967)***, James Brown Plays The Real Thing (Smash 1967)***, Live At The Garden (King 1967)**, Cold Sweat (King 1967)***, James Brown Presents His Show Of Tomorrow (King 1968)***, I Can't Stand Myself (When You Touch Me) (King 1968)**, I Got The Feelin' (King 1968)***, Live At The Apollo, Volume 2 (King 1968)****, James Brown Sings Out Of Sight (King 1968)***, Thinking About Little Willie John And A Few Nice Things (King 1968)***, A Soulful Christmas (King 1968)**, Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud (King 1969)****, Gettin' Down To It (King 1969)***, The Popcorn (King 1969)***, It's A Mother (King 1969)***, Ain't It Funky (King 1970)***, Soul On Top (King 1970)***, It's A New Day - Let A Man Come In (King 1970)***, Sex Machine (King 1970)***, Hey America (King 1970)***, Super Bad (King 1971)**, Sho' Is Funky Down Here (King 1971)**, Hot Pants (Polydor 1971)**, Revolution Of The Mind/Live At The Apollo, Volume 3 (Polydor 1971)***, There It Is (Polydor 1972)***, Get On The Good Foot (Polydor 1972)***, Black Caesar film soundtrack (Polydor 1973)***, Slaughter's Big Rip-Off film soundtrack (Polydor 1973)*, The Payback (Polydor 1974)****, Hell (Polydor 1974)***, Reality (Polydor 1975)***, Sex Machine Today (Polydor 1975)***, Everybody's Doin' The Hustle And Dead On The Double Bump (Polydor 1975)**, Hot (Polydor 1976)***, Get Up Offa That Thing (Polydor 1976)**, Bodyheat (Polydor 1976)**, Mutha's Nature (Polydor 1977)***, Jam/1980's (Polydor 1978)***, Take A Look At Those Cakes (Polydor 1979)***, The Original Disco Man (Polydor 1979)***, People (Polydor 1980)***, James Brown ... Live/Hot On The One (Polydor 1980)**, Soul Syndrome (TK 1980)****, Nonstop! (Polydor 1981)***, Live In New York (Audio Fidelity 1981)***, Bring It On (Churchill 1983)***, Gravity (Scotti Bros 1986)***, James Brown And Friends (Scotti Bros 1988)***, I'm Real (Scotti Bros 1988)***, Soul Session Live (Scotti Bros 1989)****, Love Overdue (Scotti Bros 1991)***, Universal James (Scotti Bros 1993)**, Live At The Apollo 1995 (Scotti Bros 1995)***, I'm Back (Private I 1998)**, The Next Step (Fome 2002)***.
James Brown Soul Classics (Polydor 1973)***, Soul Classics, Volume 2 (Polydor 1974)***, Soul Classics, Volume 3 (Polydor 1975)***, Solid Gold (Polydor 1977)***, The Fabulous James Brown (HRB 1977)***, Can Your Heart Stand It? (Solid Smoke 1981)***, The Best Of James Brown (Polydor 1981)****, The Federal Years, Part 1 (Solid Smoke 1984)****, The Federal Years, Part 2 (Solid Smoke 1984)***, Roots Of A Revolution (Polydor 1984)***, Ain't That A Groove: The James Brown Story 1966-1969 (Polydor 1984)***, Doing It To Death: The James Brown Story 1970-1973 (Polydor 1984)***, Dead On The Heavy Funk: The James Brown Story 1974-1976 (Polydor 1985)***, The CD Of JB: Sex Machine And Other Soul Classics (Polydor 1985)****, James Brown's Funky People (Polydor 1986)****, In The Jungle Groove (Polydor 1986)****, The CD Of JB II: Cold Sweat And Other Soul Classics (Polydor 1987)****, James Brown's Funky People (Part 2) (Polydor 1988)***, Motherlode (Polydor 1988)***, Messing With The Blues (Polydor 1990)***, 20 All-Time Greatest Hits! (Polydor 1991)****, Star Time 4-CD box set (Polydor 1991)*****, Sex Machine (The Very Best Of James Brown, Volume 1) (Polydor 1991)****, The Greatest Hits Of The Fourth Decade (Scotti Brothers 1992)***, Soul Pride (The Instrumentals 1960-1969) (Polydor 1993)***, Funky President (The Very Best Of James Brown, Volume 2) (Polydor 1993)***, 40th Anniversary Collection (Polydor 1996)****, Foundations Of Funk (A Brand New Bag: 1964-1969) (Polydor 1997)*****, On Stage (Charly 1997)***, Dead On The Heavy Funk: 1975-1983 (Polydor 1998)****, James Brown's Original Funky Divas (Polydor 1998)***, the JBs The JBs Funky Good Time: The Anthology (Polydor 1998)***, Out Of Sight! The Very Best Of James Brown (Polydor 2002)****, Original Funk Soul Brother 1980/1984 live recordings (Recall 2002)**, Godfather Of Soul (Spectrum 2003)***, 50th Anniversary Collection (Polydor 2003)****, The Best Of James Brown: The Christmas Collection (Polydor 2003)***.
Video Biography (Virgin Vision 1988), Live In London: James Brown (Virgin Vision 1988), James Brown And Friends (Video Collection 1988), Live In Berlin (Channel 5 1989), Soul Jubilee (MMG Video 1990), Live On Stage (With Special Guest BornBorn King) (Old Gold 1990), Sex Machine (The Very Best Of James Brown) (PolyGram Music Video 1991), The Lost Years (Live In Santa Cruz) (BMG Video 1991), Live In New York (Enteleky 1991), James Brown Live (MIA 1995), Live From The House Of Blues (Aviva 2001), Soul Survivor (Universal 2003).
James Brown: The Godfather Of Soul, James Brown with Bruce Tucker. Living In America: The Soul Saga Of James Brown, Cynthia Rose. James Brown: A Biography, Geoff Brown.
The Blues Brothers (1980).
Source: Encyclopedia of Popular Music