Monday, December 25, 2006

Diggin' on James Brown

RIP Godfather. Questlove drops some heavy retrospective on one of the most influential contributors to 20th century music. And all the Montreal coverage on his show, scheduled to have taken place January 3 of the new year, has turned into a timely eulogy for a master.

Where to begin? I guess I became truly conscious of James Brown in high school. I can't exactly remember the first time I heard his music - "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" were always around - but I became aware of his groove and his style when I started investigating funk more seriously. It may have been when the guitarist in my high school stage band hipped me to John Scofield's A Go Go record, and the handwritten lead sheet for "Chank" (which I later covered in another high school era band) had the instruction "'Cold Sweat' beat." The discovery that Miles and Herbie's fusion explorations were fueled by the effect Brown had on '70s America increased my respect for him in the midst of an adolescent jazz snob phase. Back in the day when CIUT's What Is Hip radio show was 3 hours on Tuesday afternoons, split into an hour-and-a-half each of jazz and then other groove music, the "bridge" between the two was initially Steely Dan, and later James Brown. It meant every Tuesday at 4:30 one could get on the good foot.

It's hard to overstate the importance of James Brown. I don't necessarily listen to his records regularly, but between all the people he influenced, all the artists and genres his music helped to exist, he's definitely a staple of my musical diet. Most recently, on my Cruise Ship X, the drummer admitted - confessed may be the proper verb - to having never checked out James Brown. Immediately, I knew there was a problem.

The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Soul Brother Number One, is no more. RIP James.

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