Thank you for your memories and observations [on James Brown]. I've read too many articles since the Godfather of Soul's passing that dwelled a bit too much on his personal/domestic problems of the last 10 to 15 years of his life (Hammer, “Remembering James Brown,” Jan 3-10). I grew up in Aiken, S.C., in the same county in which James lived. Older citizens of that area have been angry since the name of the performance center was changed to James Brown not long ago. Sure, James had some rough relationship issues and served time for a variety of unpleasant things, but that does not change the fact that his music brought so much pleasure to you, and to me, and to so many other people around the world over the years.
I am fortunate to have seen James Brown in concert at least five times in Augusta. He performed more often there to try out a show or new material before heading out on tour to bigger cities. At the time, the Bell Auditorium in Augusta was split by the stage in the middle and nicer theater-type seating on one side and folding chairs set up on the other side of the stage in the area that was actually a full-size basketball court. An interesting anecdote is that on at least one occasion all of us white kids were made to sit on the theater side while the black fans had to sit or to stand on the other side. My friends and I later discussed the fact that it was our parents and other grown-ups who dictated this policy.
Like you, I too have a fond memory of an interview I had with James. In 1966, I was studying broadcasting at the University of Cincinnati and working at the student-run radio station when a friend called me to say that James Brown was to be at the King Records studio in Cincinnati that afternoon to finish recording a Christmas album and the student GM of the station suggested that I get over there with my tape recorder to get an interview. King was not that far away, just down the street from the Xavier University campus and I walked right into the place as though I had every right to be there. The man who greeted me first to block my further intrusion turned out to be James Brown's manager, and I immediately recognized his name. I matter-of-factly told him who I was, the radio station I represented and that I was there for an interview. Then I was greeted more warmly and told that Mr. Brown would probably not be there that day … that they were just laying down some of the instrumental tracks, including strings, over which James would sing later, probably in another city. He said that if I wanted to see this and just hang around a while that would be OK. An hour may have passed when I noticed a shadow in the window of someone standing behind me. He was quietly almost whispering the words going along with the music. I recognized even then the slightly raspy sound, turned my head just a bit to see this person … and of course about fell OFF the stool when James Brown looked at me and said, "Hey, Buddy.”
In 1963, most of my friends liked James Brown music but no one more than I. As you wrote, happily, the music is still there, as timeless and funky as anything ever made.