In the late 1960s after Arnie Ginsberg finished his evening shift on WMEX, I twisted the knob to WILD broadcasting a universe of music unknown to top 40 radio; Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Booker T, Tina Turner, and James Brown. Civil rights meant freedom for soul. Blacks were welcome on TV, but no one was ready for the Godfather of Soul performing PAPA'S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG on WHERE THE ACTION IS.
His mad feet swiveling across the stage killed my waltz lessons for good. My mother called it devil music, but as a teenager I knew if I could dance like James Brown, girls would go crazy and I tried to perfect his split.
Drop dead with your balls to the floor and then up again.
A miracle if you survived the first attempt.
I bought me a pair of black shiny pointed shoes like James along with a blacksuit.
My mother dreamed I was going to be a priest until she spotted the Cuban heels.
"You're bound for hell."
All I wanted to be was James Brown's Wonderbread white double. My older brother also thought I was crazy.
"You're never going sweat like him."
James Brown poured a typhoon night after night after night, because the Godfather of Soul was the hardest working showman in the world and he was more than that too.
But not to everyone.
In the 90s a feminist said that someone who hit his wife after she was huffing crack in his private bathroom and led the police on a Macon County car chase didn't deserve any accolades.
No one is 100% saint and JB did time for the crime, but his life was much bigger than one mistake.
April 4, 1968.
Martin Luther King was shot by an unknown assassin in Memphis. James Brown was scheduled to play the Boston Garden the next night. The frightened city officials considered cancelling the concert, until the performer convinced them to televise the concert. Before the first song he dramatically appealed for the city to remain calm.
I watched the show on my family's TV.
That show might have been in black and white, yet proved Poppa Peacemaker was one color.
"It's the night train."
Roxbury and Blue Hill Ave didn't go up in flames and the next day James Brown flew to DC to preach peace in the nation's #1 Chocolate City.
Agent 00SOUL played the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival to thousands of hippies waiting for Led Zeppelin. Nipsy Russell primed the crowd with the dirtiest comedy routine this side of Moms Mabely and James Brown blasted the long-haired audience out of their seat with a two-hour performance. There were few sights uglier than hippies trying to dance to soul. Mr. Dynamite showed them the way.
"I feel good." Maceo Parker's JB horn section was tight.
Everyone loved James.
Richard Nixon invited him to the White House in 1972.
"I don't care about your past."
James liked playing live.
In 1974 he appeared at Boston's Sugar Shack, a pimp club. I was the only longhair at the bar, but the stylish procurers welcomed a fellow fan with open bottles of champagne. I didn't attempt any splits and neither did anyone else.
Certainly not during IT'S A MAN WORLD.
We called out for PLEASE PLEASE ME as an encore and James Brown didn't disappoint us. He went down on his knees a dozen times with his MC putting the spangled cloak over his shoulders. Helped to his feet the show appeared over, but the Godfather was a big tease and loved the applause.
"Ain't no drag, poppa's got a brand new bag."
Wowing the Studio 54 disco crowd or enflaming a New Wave audience with soul the Mudd Club in 1978, where Africa Bambatta spun SEX MACHINE as an intro.
"I don't know karate, but I know crazor."
In 1979 I was working at a rock disco. Hurrah's on west 62nd Street. My bouncer was Jack Flood, an old Harlem gangster. The ex-heavyweight from Seattle drove a Lincoln and had hands the size of catcher mitts. The first time we met, Jack flicked his middle finger into my palm.
An old homo sign.
This coming from a man who fought a six-round exhibition with Joe Louis in 1950.
"I lost every round."
We were friends. Jack and me. One night three Puerto Ricans tried to bust into the club. I punched their leader in the mouth. Jack laughed saying, "That was a love tap. Here's how you KO someone."
His punch paralyzed my shoulder for an hour.
After midnight I went upstairs to have a drink and came down with a cognac and coke for Jack only to find him and his nephew Marvin being stabbed by the PRs. They had come back with friends and knives. One slashed at me. Jack stopped him with a left and then pulled out a revolver. One shot into the ceiling. The PRs fled and Jack gave me his piece. He was bleeding in the chest. So was Marvin.
I ran outside and pointed the gun at the attackers.
I was no killer.
Two shots in the air.
They jumped into a taxi and disappeared with the cops in pursuit.
"You done good. Get rid of the gun."
I went to the roof and dropped the revolver into an airshaft.
Jack stayed in the hospital a week. No charges were pressed. The police detective showed Jack's record. Long is not the word. When he got out of the hospital, I told him James Brown was playing at the Lone Star Cafe.
"James Brown. I know him."
I got tickets and Jack drove us downtown in the Lincoln. He didn't stop for lights and backed up on 5th Avenue against traffic without looking in his mirror. He parked the black car before a fire hydrant and we strolled to the door. The place was packed, but we noticed the bouncers weren't taking tickets and inside we gathered these tickets and sold them outside for $10 each.
We split $1000.
James' show was 14 band members of soul bliss.
Afterwards Jack took me upstairs to the dressing room.
James greeted him, "It's the Seattle Slaughter."
I shook the master's hand and Jack brought me out of the dressing room before I blubbered too much.
High point in my life along with meeting Muhammad Ali and RFK and never paying taxes.
Jack and I hung out a lot and one night we were watching the 1st Roberto Duran/Sugar Ray Leonard fight. We had bet Duran and won about 2Cs each. As we were celebrating he tapped my shoulder.
"Turn around and tell me if you recognize anyone."
It was the PR who had stabbed Jack.
"I got some business to do. Nothing to do with you."
Jack and Marvin vanished with the PR.
They didn't come back to the bar either.
That was New York 1979 and it was the end of an era. Jack Flood stayed up in Harlem. Marvin was shot dead in a basement. I moved to Paris.
Soul was dying and somehow people stopped listening by 1980. Disco didn't like live music, but James Brown kept it up and in 1982 he appeared in Hamburg Germany to 200 people. I was with a black pimp called Nigger Cali.
Almost as tough as Jack Flood.
The show knocked me dead and within the year he appeared in ROCKY IV singing LIVING IN AMERICA and he never went out of style again. Everyone wanted to be James.
"Get up off that thing."
"I love hot pants."
And so did Jack Flood.
And so do I.
To view that epic concert, please go to this URLhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BawG-N9_FR8