As an older teenager in the Black Country, access to “proper” R’n’B, funk and soul was limited to sneaking into wine bars (Christopher’s, Bentley’s, Dudley’s) and hearing some fairly anodyne 80s American take on it (with a few isolated gems such as “Let The Music Play” by Shannon) and Motown at the school and youth club discos. I was aware of the existence of James Brown obviously. “Living in America” from the Rocky IV soundtrack was a hit in 1985 but it was hardly earth shattering.
I therefore remember being in the Cavern night club in Torquay (a room beneath a pub really) and hearing Sex Machine for the first time. I was taken back by the sheer energy, the stop/start arrangement and the call and response. I think there’s was probably other tracks played – “I Feel Good” (which is now damned by it’s ubiquity at sporting events – enough already!) and possibly even “Night Train.”
There wasn’t much James Brown in the early days of CD. There was though a fantastic compilation issued called “The CD of JB”. It was compiled (or curated as would be said these days) by Cliff White.
Cliff started work as a shop assistant in HMV’s Oxford Street Store in the 60s. He got into the music business and ended up writing for NME, Black Music and Smash Hits magazines. He was a huge James Brown fan and lobbied for the production of the wonderful Star Time box set. His involvement in this won him a Grammy in 1991!
Brown had always vetoed greatest hits albums, arguing that “the best was yet to come.” Brown ultimately relented (no doubt attracted to the money that could be made) and authorised the Soul Classics in the 70s. “The CD of JB” was though the first CD compilation.
I was attracted by the track listing which included all of the tracks I knew. It included quite a few I didn’t as well, songs that now would pretentiously be known as “Deep Cuts” (Yuk!). It also included some great sleeve notes and versions of hits that differed from their more familiar versions.
The compilation begins with “Doing It To Death”. The original version was credited to Fred Wesley and the JBs hence there being no mention of Brown in the introduction. Fred was Brown’s trombone player eventually ending up in George Clinton’s Parliament in the 1970s. Even though Brown wasn’t credited, it ended up as No 1 on the Billboard R’n’B chart in 1973. The album version was five minutes long but this is the uncut 12 minute version.
One of the tunes that was in an alternative form was “It’s A Man’s World”. The version included was recorded in 1964 at the same time as “Maybe The Last Time”, two years earlier than the version that became a hit. It is starker with less strings and for my money, a much better version.
The song has a somewhat chequered history. The song was co-written with Brown’s then girlfriend Betty Newsome who claims she wrote the vast majority of it, including the somewhat chauvinistic lyrics. She said that she was describing the world from a woman’s perspective. The chord sequence first appeared in 1963 as “I Cried”, a song Brown wrote that was recorded my Tammy Montgomery, who became Tammi Terrell. Reaching 99 on the Billboard Hot 100, it was her first hit.
“The CD of JB” in retrospect was rather light on the 70s material, a balance that was redressed by “Star Time”.
One of the tracks that I wasn’t familiar with but was included on “The CD of JB” is “Mother Popcorn”. I’ve included below a version from Youtube from an unknown American TV show. It is incredible. The band are seated until Maceo blows his horn – wonderful stuff.
Anyway, “The CD of JB” was a fantastic purchase that provided a wonderful starting point for “proper” R’n’B.
Here’s Marvin and Tammi Montgomery to sign off with.
Until next time……
I was doing a session in New York the day Star Time came out. I arrived at the Tower Records on Broadway just before it opened and went straight to the desk to ask for a copy. The guy had to open the box as they had just been delivered. He was impressed by my enthusiasm. I can remember doing this vividly but can’t remember which ‘pop’ star I was there to photograph.
Saw JB in London in ’91. Past his prime but I was in heaven.
Enjoying the blog, Stu.
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I saw JB in his later years. The required athleticism worked against him, whilst Leonard Cohen can keep going, I haven’t seen Prince in a few years and he may be affected by age.
Still – both have produced some wonderful music in their prime.
Thanks for your kind words.