In 1976, there were few Black recording artists bigger than James Brown. He had burst on the scene two decades earlier like a comet, and in the years since had achieved unprecedented success. Although he had previously been dubbed, “Mr. Please, Please, Please,” “Soul Brother No. 1,” “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” and “Mr. Dynamite,” he was now known as The Godfather of Soul! And it was undisputed.
Having just come off of some of his funkiest output, like “The Payback,” “Papa Don’t Take No Mess,” and “Funky President,” James Brown couldn’t be touched as an entertainer, recording artist, or as a businessman. He owned his own jets to travel in, and when radio stations wouldn’t play his material, he bought his own!
Needless to say, in ’76 as a 14 year old in my first band, (called, “Fistful of Soul”), I was a huge fan of The Godfather’s music and his vast array of incredible backing musicians also known as ‘The JB’s’. As the alto saxophone player in the band at the time, Maceo Parker was everything to me. He, Fred Wesley, and the rest of that killer horn section couldn’t be touched. Not to mention that two drummer set-up popularized by the inimitable Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks.
So you can imagine my amazement when my manager at the time got a call for our band to play for Mr. Brown on his trip to a local Compton, California public access television station. First of all, I didn’t believe it. Why would this giant of music even bother to come to Compton? And why us?
Well, none of that mattered. We were off to our lead guitarists’ mom’s house to get fitted for new uniforms, and polishing up our show to be it’s very best. On the day of the performance, we arrived early in frenzied anticipation. There wasn’t a big crowd. Just a few execs from the station, some business people from the community, and members of our families. We set up and waited for what seemed like hours. I was resolved that this huge, iconic, megastar wasn’t coming to Compton to see some upstart cover band. But just as my disappointment seemed to get the best of me, a long black limousine pulled from around the back of the brick structure and stopped right in front of the stage. The driver gets out and comes around to open the back-passenger door, and out steps…
The Godfather, himself!
It was absolutely surreal. But we pulled it together and launched into Mr. Brown’s latest hit, “Get Up Offa That Thing.” We could barely play and not look at him for any kind of approving gesture. And then it happened. On the platform where he was seated, he and broke out in a quick “Mashed Potato” move that thrilled all those in attendance. That was all the approval I needed. After we hit our last note, he walked over and greeted each of us. I felt as though I had been knighted.
What a life…