Chapter 3, "Living in America"
"and there were Ferrari automobiles sitting in the ground 50 million years ago,
and there were James Brown records sitting in the ground 50 million years ago,
and there was acrylic paint flying through the air 50 million years ago..."

'INTERVIEWS', the Alpha Band, 1976


As a teenager James Brown learned that cool could bridge gaps which were otherwise insurmountable...When you grow up without rules, says Brown, the world can seem shapeless and formless....But two men clinched Brown's conception of what show business could be; the jump bluesman Louis Jordan and the Gothically powerful singer Roy Brown.

 

"Everybody's created equal," says James Brown, "but they don't exercise that thing."

In 1968, at the height of despair over political and racial divisions in America, Brown found himself besieged on all sides. His public standing had become so singular that everyone from LBJ to Rap Brown sought the potency of his backing: both as a conduit to his "people" and as a symbol in itself.

Robert Farris Thompson, one of the world's chief authorities on African art and African-American aesthetics, recalls how, 13 years later, he stumbled across a tape of Brown and Hubert Humphrey from that era: "I was in Brussels, coming back from the Congo. It was 1981. I'm exhausted and I traipse into some motel on the outskirts of the big Brussels airport. Slink into my room, turn on the TV, and to my amazement there's a program on James Brown - in English with French and Flemish subtitles."

"Apparently, in '68, someone told Humphrey it might be a good thing if he was seen with James. And the footage of this was incredible. Because James was preaching to his people: 'Here is my man, you NEED to have him, he's my friend, he's a righteous man, he's THERE!' Then the camera swivels to Humphrey and up turns this bland countenance, with NO sense of resynchronising his body language to this... volcano next to him. If ever there was a moment to tell you Humphrey was a loser, that was it! It was one of the most interesting juxtapositions I've ever seen: the style of James Brown in all-out confrontation with the straightest of white America."

On April 5, 1968, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, Brown no longer had time to ponder the weight of his role. Within 24 hours, in one of his life's signal moments, he turned a pre-scheduled Boston concert into a living plea for peace in the black community. Broadcast live by last-minute arrangement, his ploy was so successful in cooling city streets that the tape was run again the moment Brown's performance had ended.

It was not the first or last time James' voice would be used to ice anger and violence - with slogans like Don't Terrorise, Organise and Don't Burn, Learn. And the following weekend, the singer flew to Washington DC, where disorder had been especially destructive - and there continued his pleas for restraint via live TV and radio.

Shortly after, Brown "met with" the US President, Lyndon Johnson. He then flew his band to Vietnam, leaving behind him a new record -a "patriotic rap" called "America Is My Home". This trio of events poured gasoline on the flaming rhetoric of black militants, who pictured the contradictory icon as an assimilationist, an Uncle Tom. After all, Brown's work had - to use a Hollywood term - made crazy bank during the '60s. And the conspicuous rewards he had accrued - the jet, the radio stations he owned, his mansion in St Albans, New York - hardly helped discredit complaints that James had bought into a system ruled by the Man.

But even the censure of militants could not check Brown's record sales among blacks. On the contrary, his every new release was received by soul's core audience as half of an ongoing dialogue.

First used by literary figures such as author Richard Wright, the term "Black Power" had been brought to political prominence in Greenwood, Mississippi, during June, '66, by SNCC's Stokely Carmichael. But in its three syllables echoed the words of Malcolm X, spoken two years before: "Revolution is never based on begging somebody for an integrated cup of coffee. Revolutions are never based on love-your-enemy and pray-for-those-who-spitefully-use-you. Revolutions are never compromising. Revolutions overturn systems. And there is no system on this earth which has proven itself more corrupt, more criminal, than this system that in 1964 still colonises 22 million African-Americans, still enslaves 22 million African-Americans."

A year after framing those sentiments, the former Malcolm Little was dead. And, during the next three years, as US News & World Report noted on November 13, 1967, 101 major riots had occurred in US cities, killing 130 people and injuring 3,673. The damage would total $714.8 million. And King's assassination quickly upped the ante: more cities were paralyzed, more people hurt, more homes and businesses and communities destroyed. Meanwhile, the body count from Vietnam was increasing.

When Brown entered the studio in Los Angeles that summer, all these things were on his mind. So was the expanding charisma of America's young, ultra-macho Black Power figureheads - celebrities who used black style to animate their romance of revolution. Brown cut "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" as his statement, his answer record to Stokely Carmichael and company: it was his demonstration that JAMES BROWN still spoke from the heart of black America, and for the street.

Characteristically, the song framed his demands for the race in personal, individual experience: "I worked on a job with my feet and my hands / But all the work I did / was for the other man / Now we demand a chance / to do things for ourselves / we're tired of beatin' our head against the wall / And workin' for someone else." The refrain of the title came in two parts: Brown's command to "Say it loud!" and the reply from a chorus of children (most, as he confessed in 1987, either Asian or white): "I'm black and I'm proud!"

The song also included one line which, in later years, Brown would blame for the loss of many white listeners. That line was, "We'd rather die on our feet / Than live on our knees."

Later, Brown would come up with lyrics whose political analyses were more literal, like those of 1969's "I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door, I'll Get It Myself)" or 1974's speeded-up funk syncopation "Hell". Both contain inspirational verse lamenting the limits of opportunity in Black America. (1969: "I don't want nobody to give me nuthin' / Open up the door -HUH! / I'll get it myself, DO YOU HEAR ME?... Don't give me integration, give me true communication / Don't give me sorrow, I was equal op-por-tun-ity / To live tomorrow! / Give me schools - HA! - and better books / So I can read about myself and gain / my true looks".

Then, in 1974: "It's HELL tryin' to make it when you're doin' it by yourself! / It's HELL payin' taxes when there's no money left / It's Hell givin' up the best years, the best years of your soul / Payin' dues / From the day you're born - Good God!") But "Say It Loud" articulated that status Brown had consolidated across Afro-America. And it made his stature as a black icon explicit to white listeners.

Though the contemporary pop charts reverberated with Motown hits and with the soulsters of Atlantic and Memphis (Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Co), "Say It Loud" set James Brown apart once again. As a consequence, he would not see the inside of pop's Top Ten again for 17 long years - until 1985 and Rocky IV's "Living In America".

"Why was all that so important to me? Because I came from a very poor neighbourhood, a very poor element," he says in 1989. "And I had to suffer the political problems of my community. Those problems brought many people down; they still do it today. When I was growin' up, if somebody called me "black" that had an ignorance to it, a thing particular to itself. So when I was able to sing "Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud", it meant something special to ME. And it carried some weight."

At the same time, Brown made another sacrifice. It was one to which white America paid little attention, but one which stunned his own people. To convince movement moderns that he was a bona fide "natural man", James Brown sheared off his luxuriant, processed hair.

"I cut off my hair in Los Angeles, on Linden Boulevard," he told reporter Christina Patoski. "I remember that very well. 'Cause I showed 'em that this didn't hold me back. That it weren't the hair that make the mind. They said 'How's he gonna be black if he don't cut his hair?' So, I cut my hair." On the 1982 National Public Radio recording, you can still hear Brown's laugh drowning halfway down his throat. "And I ain't gonna cut it again UNTIL I'M GOOD AND READY!"

James Brown's art has always been as much a politics of gesture as a matter of polyrhythm. And in those orbits, dress and toilette play a central, unambiguous role. "Hair and teeth," stated Brown firmly in his 1987 autobiography. "A man got those two things, he's got it all."

The idea of high, high hair, curled and sculpted, first came to Brown via Little Richard and 'Prince of the Blues' Billy Wright - a late-'50s regular at prestigious black clubs such as Atlanta's Royal Peacock Lounge. In his 1984 autobiography, Little Richard recalls Wright wore "very loud clothin' and shoethin' to match his clothin' and wore his hair curled."

Its stature was achieved through that straightening, neutralising and curling procedure current in black life for twenty years - a system which conferred its name ("the process") onto the end result. This was also termed, when James Brown was young, "made hair". By the 1930s, such tall pompadour 'dos were known as "conks" - supposedly a hipster contraction of the popular straightening lotion whose name was No More Kinks.

Conks could be home-engineered, following directions like those in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which feature lye, potatoes, high heat and a cream to safeguard the scalp. Or they could be coaxed up in that bastion of machismo, the black American barbershop. Either way, a lot of care was needed to straighten scientifically -lest the client be left with disaster and a frizzled scalp.

Connoisseurs of the process were usually men who relished the social buzz of barbershops: places which bridged a gap between the velvet night of clubland and the dreary, 24-7 grind of daily domestic reality. "There is no place like a Negro barbershop," said black author and critic Ralph Ellison in a 1961 interview, "for hearing what Negroes really think. There is more unselfconscious affirmation to be found there on a Saturday than you can find in a Negro college in a month."

"The brother of the '50s," contends journalist Emory Holmes II, "transformed the conk into a uniquely black mode of expression, as different from the white styles that had inspired it as the music of Tin Pan Alley was different from bop." ('King Konk', LA Weekly, 1988.) And for '50s and '60s entertainers like Brown and Little Richard Penniman, black men on their way up from Southern juke joints to Harlem's Apollo, the lustrous, extravagant conk was a token of their determination.

It signified several things: that one had the leisure to build and maintain it, the glamour to carry it off and the money to keep it "right". The GI crewcut ("flattop") and Cab Calloway marcel wave were styles blacks had to share with Caucasians. But the high-flying conk, with its requisite baptism of fire and flamboyant results, offered more deeply black credentials.

Throughout the '50s and '60s, it ran a series of variations on who and what mattered inside Afro-America's socio-creative elite - rising from the scalps of boxers, bluesmen, "sepia spieler" DJs and jazz greats. But conks, just like James Brown himself, were really beyond the law. What they denoted was aesthetic certitude - plus a spirit of true improvisation.

Until he married his late third wife Alfie (née Adrienne Rodriguez), a hairdressing specialist he met on US TV's Solid Gold, Brown was known to claim only one man ever got his hair "really right". It was Henry Stallings, a country boy from Georgia James has known since his own street-urchin days. Stallings made his way up north, where he briefly worked as Sugar Ray Robinson's sparring partner. When he gave up life as a punching bag, Stallings shifted to Robinson's Harlem barbershop. (Perhaps the same Harlem barbershop where Jean Genet heard Brown's "Prisoner of Love", providing him with a title for his meditation on terror and sex.)

Reunited with Brown in New York, Stallings' triple-crown of connections - childhood, boxing and HAIR - made him the perfect minder for Mister Dynamite's 'do.

As James Brown's star ascended, so did his hairdressing bills. By 1982, Parade magazine pegged them at "$700 per week" and noted that, on the road, he is trailed by several suitcases of rollers, dyers, relaxers and creams. Equally, the growth in his stature can be measured by an increase in time spent on his hair.

"It's a total ritual, a very central thing," says Gerri Hirshey, who discovered this secret when she hit the road with Brown. "I was shocked, when I first started seeing James, that he would hold court in the middle of it all. I would die, you know, before I would let anyone see me in rollers! But, after a while, I was just like everyone else - I'd sit there and make his phone calls for him while he was having it done."

Brown has his hair dealt with twice a day, sometimes three times, if working. He conducts much of his business by phone from under the whirring hood of his drier.

Expanding hairstyles have always reflected change in Brown's economic, political and social circumstances. But whatever the orientation of those follicles - and he has moved from slick pompadours and conks to the quadripart "high English" (both back sides and both front sides swept into curves, then blended together) the "processed Afro" and a full bouffant later sidemen secretly term the "ce-ment wave" - publically, his 'do is always immaculate.

Hair is part of that act of will through which he transcends the other James Brown, the child whose name had passed unnoticed. ("Pronounced," he says, "like one word, 'jamesbrown'.") Hair is central to those rites with which - using speed, action and shape - Brown turned his small, dark self into Mister Excitement.

Brown's childhood friend Leon Austin, then proprietor of Leon's DeSoto Lounge in Augusta, enlightened Gerri Hirshey about just what Brown's transformation meant. "We were talking about why black people were so very enamoured of James," she says. "And Leon, who has also done his hair, said: 'Let me run it down for you. James is dark, he's ugly. He made the ugly man pretty because he made himself pretty. But, first of all, that has to do with colour. He made himself pretty in spite of bein' dark'."

In the politics of Brown's showbiz, however, appearance is merely the frame: the suggestive outline of a larger, more existential sacrifice. For before the audience, Brown becomes a fusion of the preachers who inspired him and the most atavistic, freeform US abolitionist. He takes his transformed self, the highest, baddest, hippest character he can construct, and - in a gesture which pierces the crowd to its heart - destroys it just for them.

In the frenzy of his dancing and pleading, even the most elaborate 'do inevitably starts to cascade. Within minutes, wet curls will be clinging to Brown's face and neck, flopping onto his forehead. In seconds, sweat has softened the sharpest lines of his elegant clothing. Eventually, it will fill his shoes, anointing his back and legs. Off come his glittering cuff links, often flung into the audience. Shirt-sleeves hanging, knees stained with blood, James has visibly "given it up" - for the listeners before him in the dark.

This is all part of established African-American performance traditions. Charles Keil, in his book Urban Blues, wrote that "the body emphasis, the effort ... are related to a concept of appropriate and often hyperbolic movements which in turn may dictate a certain style of dress. Cry singers invariably appear in Josè Greco outfits, removing coat, tie and sometimes the shirt, as their stunts become more strenuous. (This sort of stiptease or 'soul baring' symbolises the idea of getting down to the nitty-gritty.)"

But few performers have created a more powerful symbol of throwaway cool - a greater gift to their audience - than James Brown, up there destroying in seconds what it cost him the better part of a day to create.

For all its pomp and circumstance, for all its chauvinistic glory, the essence of this practice also runs deeper than conventional showbiz glamour and melodrama. Brown's self-demolition is rooted in the backdrop to his tremendous ego and the spectacle it can create - in profound religious beliefs. Those beliefs recognise that, like it or not, all men are meant to be as one. People are created equal but just don't exercise that thing.

Fred Wesley: "That's something else about James Brown, that particular contradiction. Because contradiction is the very thing which feeds his nerve. He has the nerve to think what he says and does - whether or not he believes it hisself - is going to be taken, perceived as truth. But at the same time, you could hurt his feelings easier than you could hurt a nun's feelings. He is just as fragile as he is tough. Extremely insecure and extremely bold - both at the same time."

Brown himself sticks to the language of performance. "The artist has to reach, you know? You come to see my show, you get the atmosphere and the feelin'. And I don't care how well-dressed I am, when I come off, I am drenched in sweat. You know that I was workin' for you."

Sweat condenses and epitomises the alchemy Brown can practice. "When they walk out, my audience knows I gave it for them. That I came on pretty and nice and well-groomed in my tux or my beautiful clothes. And I worked - I worked for them. Then I'll go and put on my street clothes, my party things. When I put on my work clothes I come to work. And I make sure my work clothes look good."

Lamé and satin jumpsuits appliquéd with lightning bolts; nineteen-inch flared trousers or spandex drapecoats littered with zips; chiffon neckerchiefs and straw Resistol cowboy hats - to some of Brown's critics through the years, "looking good" has seemed rather relative.

"James once had this incredible encrusted thing they called the gorilla suit," marvels Gerri Hirshey, "which weighed an absolute ton and was made by Elvis' tailor at Alamo Clothes - a completely crazy guy in Memphis, who has his wife embalmed in the living room."

In the interests of international understanding, says Briton Cliff White, he has tried to interest Brown in changing style. "I had one lady friend who pointed out that James always looked a lot smarter offstage than on. Offstage he'd wear tailored casuals - he had this one tailored denim suit, for instance, in which he looked really great, quite cool. He'd drive up to the theatre in that - but then he'd appear onstage in outrageous loon pants or a jumpsuit with mile-wide flares. When it's time to start dancing, he puts on a different set of clothes, so he can move around."

During the '80s, says White, he tried to convince his friend to adopt "a sort of Little Richard look with short box jackets."

"I was trying to make James understand," he adds, "that if he did a different show in London - with different songs and a different outfit - he would get across much more. Of course, in the same way I can't fully understand his background, he can't really comprehend what the attitude is over here."

Despite their resemblance to the uniforms worn by the black bellboys, waiters and train station "Redcaps" of his youth, Brown did eventually make the switch to short tailored jackets and matching pants. They stay unwrinkled, he now claims proudly, on even the longest plane journey.

Brown is a practical man, but he believes in epiphany. When he was a pre-teen dancing for dimes in the dust, showbiz did not immediately suggest itself as real economic salvation. Yet circuses, vaudeville, minstrel shows, barnstorming politicians and tent revivals, he admits, filled his early imagination. So did rural evangelists with their theatrical baptisms, fund-drives and conversions.

Then, two men's art fused it all: the gospel fervour, the fairground exotica and the music he loved ("I listened to everything round me in those days. Records, jazz, radio, church - the guy whistling down on the corner"). Men who suggested a syncretism which might embrace all excitements. For 35 years now, Brown has praised their names, the names of Louis Jordan and Roy Brown.

In terms of both crossover sales and multi-media penetration, jump bluesman Jordan and his Tympany Five stage band became a '40s phenomenon. Brown remembers not just the singer's hits and performances, but also his movies, like '47's Reet, Petite and Gone or '48's Look Out, Sister. Plus, Jordan worked in Nickelodeon shorts - a sort of early music video tied into the jukebox.

Roy Brown, who hailed from New Orleans, was a different sort of star. It was he who wrote - and initially recorded - Elvis Presley's later hit, "Good Rockin' Tonight".

Jordan and Brown were personalities redolent of post-War America, an era when swing carried the beat, and black citizens were stepping out with a newly aggressive assurance. The industrial boom of the war effort had brought blacks more and better jobs, greater purchasing power and - particularly in Los Angeles - more cohesive urban community. LA's Central Avenue (whose thriving music and club scene linked the city's centre to black suburban Watts) helped refine the goodtime dance music audible earlier in the '40s on discs aimed at the black Northeast.

This music would become famous as Rhythm 'n' Blues, a sound which shed the nostalgia of the real blues so as to celebrate black America's boisterous, exciting new moment.

"R'n'B came roaring out of the churches of black America, the black bands of the swing era, and the segregated ghettoes of big cities," wrote Arnold Shaw in his book Honkers and Shouters. "Gospel song, heard in storefront, sanctified and shouting churches, gave it intensity and excitement. The black bands contributed the beat and the boogie, and nurtured the singers who became solo artists. The ghettoes created the climate and provided the incentive for young blacks."

To him, says James Brown, Louis Jordan and Roy Brown personified innovation, what a person might do with dance music, with the vocabulary of the church-house, with his wardrobe and his emotional history:

"Louis Jordan was one of the most dynamic guys ever took to a stage. Ever. He had something you just like to look at. He did movies - and I saw all of those. But I could never get up on movies, cause movies don't let you do reality. That's my thing, reality. What Louis Jordan gave me was a basic concept, a means of communication."

That concept breaks down into several factors. Jordan, for instance, carried a fairly large stage outfit (his Tympany Five would vary between six and eight players). He also paid scrupulous attention to changing fashions - assimilating the jivetalk and social preoccupations of the day into polished, urbane numbers like his "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" (the 1946 million-seller which clinched his title as the "Father of R'n'B") and "Let The Good Times Roll" ("Don't sit there mumblin' / and talkin' trash / If you want to have a ball / you got to go out and spend some cash / And let the good times roll").

In The Death of Rhythm and Blues, critic Nelson George has noted how these songs constituted a "formal marketing strategy" whose crossover aims were both clear and sophisticated: "The titles "Beans and Cornbread", "Saturday Night Fish Fry" and "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" suggest country life, yet the subject of each is really a city scene. In "Chickens", for instance, the central image is of chickens in a coop having a party that's keeping the farmer from sleeping. But clearly the bird bash is just a metaphor for a black house party that the farmer - perhaps the landlord, maybe the police - wants to quiet. Jordan's vocal, sassy and spirited, spiced with funny, spoken asides, is as buoyant as its shuffling groove."

To an ambitious outsider such as the adolescent James Brown, Jordan made one thing intriguingly clear: cool could bridge many social gaps which otherwise might seem insurmountable. With cool on his side, a would-be entertainer could overcome pigmentation, poverty, even a ground-zero starting point. Turn his world view - however provincial - into a style and even a nobody might become a potent, superbad Self.

"Plus," says Brown, "I knew I could dance."

Conscious of the giant gap between his seat in the stalls and Jordan's graceful command of the stage, James Brown says he never underestimated the effort of maintaining an edge. Quite the contrary, his career has been dogged by bitter criticism of his obsessions: Timing, Grooming - and RULES. But, Brown explains, when you grow up without such markers, the world is shapeless and formless. Rules can generate a world wherein actions are meaningful. Rules are necessary when it comes to creative belief.

"Clothes and grooming, for instance. People think that's just everyday. But clothes and grooming mean a lot. For me, that's due to the fact that, when I started, I had to borrow shoes to do my dancin' in. When I was little and first wore a suit, I had to wear tennis shoes with it." ("Puttin on a half-pressed suit from the pawn shop with tennis shoes, tryin' to be hip - I know where he's comin' from," rapped Brown on "Mind Power", a track on his 1973 "Payback" LP.)

"But," says James, "At least I'd be clean. You look well, your hair's groomed, you try to be respectable. Then you start to get somewhere. And once you get there, it matters even more. Say you bring your mother, your father, your aunt along to see me. You brag on James Brown and you bring 'em to my show and I'm not up there clean and smart."

Brown pauses to let the horror sink in. "The good Lord," he notes firmly, "gave me a real role model in Roy Brown. He dressed in suits all the time. And he had a powerful vocal style." Brown says all this with such solemnity it seems that he can taste a connection between tailoring and decibels. "A great strength of volume and a way of shouting I found very unique. Roy Brown was RIGHT ON TOP OF HIS THING!"

Born in New Orleans in 1925, Brown became a vibrant figure in US R'n'B from 1947 - when, after roving Texas and California trying to emulate Bing Crosby, he recorded "Good Rockin' Tonight" for Louisiana's Deluxe Records. But his big success endured only through 1951. James Brown's future label, King Records, bought out his Deluxe contract and, ironically, stalled his career over the five years they kept him.

Brown would record successfully again - his self-issued 1978 Faith LP "The Cheapest Price in Town" is one example. But he never really made it back to the top.

Roy Brown invested his tunes - like "Hard Luck Blues", a 1950 R'n'B No 1 - with a truly incredible morbidity. His mellifluous voice was both chilling and wide in its range; it combined a wild, aching reach with an implicit touch of raw hysteria. The latter quality constantly threatened to subvert the sleazy elegance of his phrasing. Plus it kept the extreme lyrics in which he specialised ("Got the blues for my baby / I'm down the river serving time / Yes, I shot and killed my baby / Now I just can't keep from cryin'") the right side of self-parody.

Even 20 years later, to hear Roy Brown wail such lines - such as "I'm gonna find my mama's grave, fall on the tombstone, and die!" - offers something more than the techniques of melodrama. To hear Brown is to feel the chill of life's genuine weirdness.

It's little wonder Roy Brown appealed to the would-be surrealist in James - his is a voice that lends even the happiest circumstance Gothic terrors. An Edgar Allan Poe of the blues, Brown has the sort of vision to which rural Southern blacks only three generations removed from slavery could certainly relate.

A regard for Roy Brown is part of a politics of region too often downplayed in evaluations of James Brown's work. James is not just "a country person", but a Southern man, a South Carolinian whose trust in his attraction to regional attributes is unquestioning. The emotional expressionism, repetition and spiritual phantasmagoria which surrounded and shaped his earliest perceptions play determining roles in his art.

Speaking to Cliff White in 1977, Brown said that his mid-'60s masterpieces depended on finally leaving the South, and gaining exposure to the cosmopolitan North: "My eyes started opening ... my brain started to intercept the new ideas and thoughts. I became a big-city thinker. And I started tying that in."

But the determination behind his designs, the glue which held his projects together, resided in an essentially Southern definition of who he was. For black men in the South, survival - a favourite Brown topic - is never a subtle affair. It calls into play high emotions, enormous anger and existential solitude, not to mention mystical concepts about eventual deliverance. The might behind great Southern voices like those of both Roy Brown and James Brown is very real.

It is born of a need to shout, to define and to hypnotise, in order to be at all.

Transformed via gospel, blues, and jazz into "soul", this proclamation of self is also rooted in a deep sense of competition. You can hear it in black lyrical braggadocio and in that audible battle of wills which contributes instrumental intensity to R'n'B. "There was a kind of frenzy and extra-local vulgarity to rhythm and blues that had never been present in older blues forms", wrote LeRoi Jones, now Amiri Baraka, in his classic book Blues People. "Suddenly, it was as if a great deal of the Euro-humanist facade Afro-American music had taken on had been washed away by the war. Rhythm and blues singers literally had to shout to be heard above the clanging and strumming of the various electrified instruments and the churning rhythm sections. And, somehow, the louder the instrumental accompaniment and the more harshly screamed the singing, the more expressive the music was."

Below the Mason-Dixon line, where the black catchphrase "express yo'self" doubles for "speak up - or else", such predilections made perfect sense.

They are part of why James' old pal Bobby Byrd sighs at the very mention of Roy Brown and Louis Jordan - men who defined themselves as blacks, as showmen, as all-American doers. At a moment of national change, he senses, these performers managed to get the jump on cool itself.

"Roy Brown and Louis Jordan!" says Byrd. "They were our absolutes. Louis Jordan, he just sacked me when we saw him. Roy Brown, too; from him, in fact, is where we got all that changing of the clothes. He could just upset a house that way; he was changin' twice a show. And what people didn't realise is he was a seamstress, too. Roy Brown made his own clothes."

Bobby waits a moment so the information is truly conveyed. Then he continues: "It's my belief that everyone gets something from somebody. Blues came out of the church and we took that, made it a little funkier. We caught everyone by surprise when that one drum part changed. When Clyde Stubblefied came on with that funky beat. It was straight out of New Orleans, what his drum was doin' .... the beats of it was what their conga players do."

"New Orleans," he smiles, "ROY BROWN 's home town."

The man who has hair and teeth and the funk may, indeed, have everything. But if Jordan's cool was the carrot, Roy Brown's miserable solitude was the stick which kept James Brown dancing one step ahead. Never look back, black baseball star Satchel Paige is famous for saying during the '30s, something might be gaining on you. It is part of James Brown's funky genius that, through audacity and nerve, he was able to harness fear, machismo and competition - then whip all three into a genre which proselytised for unity and was, in itself, liberation.

That he would subsequently succeed in de-constructing this music to expose its most African origins should guarantee him a place in anyone's pantheon of global emancipators.

"I never knew I was makin' that many changes," says Brown today. "No-one knew at the time. But I never could let the music change on me; I never could. I had to express myself and bounce back. That dynamic thing of expressin' was the strength I saw in Louis Jordan."



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