Bobby Smith was the first person to sign Otis Redding to a recording contract, and produced his first single: "Shout Bamalama." Smith also managed Wayne Cochran and built a studio in Macon that was commissioned by Syd Nathan, the president of King Records in Cincinnati.
I met James when I was with King Records. Syd Nathan put me into business. I was in Miami with Syd and they got in a tape from James, his latest recording. They sent it down to Syd for his OK, and we sat down and listened to it: "It's A Man's World."
A few days later, they called from Cincinnati and said James wanted $70,000. And Syd said, "Go ahead and give it to him." And he got off the phone and said, "He could grunt and I could still see his records.
The thing I recall most of all, when I lived in Nashville and I'd been in the music business a long time. John R. -- the disc jockey for WLAC-AM in Nashville -- was dying of cancer and they were giving a big benefit for him at the Grand Old Opry. And all the black entertainers were there to perform. I was backstage and James just got through with an interview with NBC. And I said, "James, I'm about to leave and get out of the music business."
And he said, "What do you mean, Bobby? You've been in it 27, 28 years."
I said, "I'm going to change my life. I'm going back to Macon to work with this lady who does the Lighthouse Mission, and she helps people and I want to do something different."
And he looks at me and James' very words to me were, "Well, Bobby, God put you here and look what you've done; you've helped a lot of people in the music business and helped a lot of people get into the music business. I think God intended for you to stay where you're at."
I said, "Well, James, I just got tired of it."
That stood out more to me with James Brown than anything. James is a performer, nobody could follow him on stage. He had certain sides about him, but I was touched when he said, "God put you here to help people in the music business." He also knew that a lot of people took me for a ride, too.
James came down to record in my studio. He had the studio booked for a week. And when he was here, he had them bring all his sports cars to Macon so that he'd have something to scoot around town in. My son, Tommy, was 10 or 11 years old. Tommy called me the other day from Santa Fe where he was on vacation. He'd heard about James. I said, "Son, you got James' autograph from the studio; do you still have it?"
He said, "Yes, I still got it, Daddy. I wouldn't let go of it for nothing."
When James was in the studio recording, he wanted full attention from those musicians. I mean that with great respect. He was in there to take care of business. He recorded, I think, "Mother Popcorn." I think three hits came out of that LP that he cut there.
Read more words from:
- James Brown: Soul Brother No.1 by Scott Freeman
Read excerpts from exclusive interviews with:
- Bobby Smith - King Records
- Jab'o Starks - long-time James Brown drummer
- Alan Leeds - tour manager
- Fred Wesley - former music director
- Hollie Ferris - music director
- Podcast: Scott Freeman and Mara Shalhoup discuss James Brown [mp3]