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James Brown Part 2

This follows on from my last article about James Brown where I detailed the first stages of his career and his rise from a troubled youth to stardom.

The late 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s saw James Brown develop his musical style into what was to become known as Funk. If “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” was not quite funky enough for everyone, then many critics consider “Cold Sweat”, released in 1967, to be Brown’s first Funk arrangement. This was also one of his first singles to feature a drum break, which along with his increasingly rhythmic and conversational style, was crucial in the early development of rapping and hip-hop, remaining in its blood to this day. James Brown has thus been cited as the most sampled artist of all time.

As the years went on, Brown’s style became more rhythmic, as the instruments were all used to create interweaving patterns similar to African drumming techniques, known as syncopation and polyrhythms. The late sixties saw his band walk out over money disputes in 1969, and as such James Brown recruited a new group of musicians to play with him including Bootsy Collins, and Fred Wesley who rejoined from his last band. This group became known as the JBs, and they joined Brown as he moved to a new contract with Polydor, who also bought his imprint, People as part of the deal. James Brown produced almost all of the recordings on this label, which included many of his house players such as Fred Wesley and the JBs, Lyn Collins, and Bobby Byrd.

In the beginning of the 1970s, while still releasing popular material, Brown faced several dilemmas. He openly supported Richard Nixon in the 1972 Presidential election, coming out as an open Republican and alienating a large part of his liberal audience. This led to a boycott of his shows, which was worsened by troubles he was having with the IRS requiring him to pay back taxes. To ease the strain on himself from the political boycott, Brown continued to play to sold out crowds in Europe more often instead of relying on American audiences.

In 1973 James Brown recorded the soundtrack for the blaxploitation film Black Caesar, as well as the film Slaughter’s Big Rip Off. His popularity resurged with these moves, only to be boosted by the release of his popular 1973 album “The Payback” and its accompanying singles. It was around this time that he also acquired the nickname “The Godfather of Soul”, that he would forever be associated with after. However, as the 1970s moved on, this would be Brown’s last major success of that decade, as the public taste shifted towards Disco as their dance music of choice.

Following his decline in popularity in the late 1970s, James Brown changed his band name to the Soul Generals, which it would remain as for the rest of his career. Although he continued to record in new styles and with different songwriters and labels, Brown was never able to achieve the same level of success that he previously had done. Nonetheless, James Brown saw a resurgence in his appreciation from other musicians and fans, as he was featured in several films of the 1980s and appeared in collaborations with other significant and popular artists.

James Brown sadly passed away on Christmas Day 2006 of heart complications from pneumonia. There will truly never be another person that can match the impact that James Brown had on Soul, Funk, and R&B Music, and possibly any other type of popular music. His legacy continues to live on beyond his life, with the magic of his music bringing his spirit to the ears of millions of new fans and the people and musicians who admired him from the very beginning.

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