So sad to lose James Brown but what a guy. Flawed maybe but definitely one of a kind. Here’s a thing I wrote to mark the sad occasion.

“Funky is about what it takes to make people move – take it from the gospel, take it from the jazz”

Sadly, Mr James Brown died on Christmas Day 2006. It’s very difficult to think of a more important figure in popular music over the past 75 years. His music changed the way people danced, the music that followed him, the artists around him, the way people spoke and so much more. Without James Brown, soul, funk, hip hop, rock and many other genres wouldn’t sound the same or possibly exist. Without James Brown, Mick Jagger couldn’t be Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson wouldn’t be Michael Jackson and so many more besides. He remains the most sampled musician in the world.

In the late 1960s, the American press rightly asked whether James Brown was ‘the most important black man in America?’ His music was laced with his political and cultural beliefs summarised in his song Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud. His calls for calm when Martin Luther King was murdered were important in maintaining the delicate balance in the days that followed that tragic event. Born in 1933, or 1928 depending on who you believe, Brown pulled himself up from a shoe shine boy in South Carolina to follow his love of baseball, boxing and music. A leg injury put paid to his athletic ambitions but baseball’s loss was music’s gain.

Though his recordings were often magnificent, his live performances – captured on great recordings such as ground-breaking Live At The Apollo in 1962 – were the stuff of legend. Split-second timing, superb tunes, great moves – a complete immersion of the senses. He took the suited and booted style of his predecessors but moved it on massively where he was conductor, singer, lead dancer, compere, in fact the focal point in every way. From the late 1950s with Bobby Byrd, through the 1960s, Brown and his band often played five or six nights every week. That live legacy would continue for the better part of four decades.

From Please, Please, Please in 1956, through Night Train in 1961, the hugely influential Funky Drummer, funk unofficial year zero Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag in 1965, I Got You, It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World, Cold Sweat, Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud, Sex Machine, Superbad, Mother Popcorn, Get On The Good Foot and later with Living In America, there’s so much great music, such important music that Mr Brown will never be forgotten.

I was lucky to see James Brown a few times live, the last time being at Glastonbury in 2005. HIs show hadn’t really changed much in two or three decades with the trio of backing singers and a band so tight you couldn’t slip a piece of paper between the arrangements. And, at the centre of it all, Mr Brown. A little slower, stiffer and shorter of breath perhaps but nevertheless the musical foundations he had laid down would support him through this show as it had hundreds of others before it. Everyone in front of the main stage loved it and he left to rapturous applause, cloaked draped around his shoulders as it had been thousands of times before. I had access to backstage but paused before approaching Mr Brown to shake his hand and thank him and sadly I let the moment pass. Now, the great man himself has passed but what an amazing musical legacy he leaves behind. Thank you Mr Brown.

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