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James Brown: Soul Brother No. 1 (1933-2006)

The story of a Georgian who rose from poverty to become a cultural icon, as told by the people who knew him best



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Hamp Swain: Sunday night was a hot night in Macon because all the local bands would be back from their out-of-town gigs. They used to do a thing at 12:01 a.m. at Club 15. See, you couldn't sell alcoholic beverages on Sunday, so 12:01 was technically Monday morning. They'd have live bands, food and just tremendous crowds.

Ray Brown: James and I used to travel together. We were both booked by Clint Brantley. We were on the "chitlin' circuit," playing clubs. We'd go from lower Florida to Chattanooga. We'd go west to Mississippi and as far east as Savannah. A lot of times we had to sleep on the side of the road. Finding a motel room, that was unheard of, man. You'd sleep in your car or stay at the club until daybreak.

"Please, Please, Please"

James Brown's first record, "Please, Please, Please" was released in 1956 and reached No. 5 on the R&B charts. The original demo version of the song that landed him his record deal was recorded in Macon. The hit was a godsend for Brantley, who'd had a major falling out with Little Richard.

Ray Brown: James Brown cut "Please, Please, Please" in the WIBB studio, standing on a drink crate.

Hamp Swain: They brought the record over to me when I was at WBML. I put it on the air and we got a tremendous reaction. Immediately. The phone lines just lit up.

Clint Brantley: Richard, he was gonna fuck with you. That's the difference between he and James Brown. I told James one time that I needed $2,000; I owed it to a cracker. And a few days later, that $2,000 was here. James did everything he could for me; I didn't have to ask him to do it, he did it. Richard didn't ever do a damned thing. All I got out of Richard, I took it.

The gunfight

Not long after his groundbreaking Live At The Apollo album was released in 1963, James Brown returned to Macon to play a "homecoming show" at the City Auditorium on a bill with Joe Tex. Two people in attendance were Newton Collier, who would go on to perform in Sam & Dave's band, and a local white singer named Wayne Cochran. Afterward, James Brown went out to Club 15 in east Macon where Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers were performing. In addition to Jenkins, the band included Otis Redding.

Jessie Hancock: When a black band would play at the City Auditorium, they had a string upstairs on the balcony about middle ways down. Whites would sit on one side upstairs, and blacks would sit on the other. And no whites would come downstairs. But, man, them white people would be jumping upstairs! They'd be dancing! I didn't know white people could dance like that.

Newt Collier: Joe Tex could imitate anybody he wanted to. You know how James came out with the cape? Joe had one made up out of a raggedy blanket, with holes all in it. You know how James would break down and fall on his knees? Joe fell on his knees, and all of a sudden, he grabbed his back. He had the cape on and got all tangled up in it, and he was fighting to get out, singing, "Please, please, please, get me out of this cape." He just made a mockery of James. Here it was, James' homecoming show, and James didn't appreciate this at all. He went out to Club 15 after the show, and Joe Tex was out there. And James took a couple of shotguns, and I think six people got shot. James did most of the shooting, and Joe was running back behind the trees and bushes. So that was the end of the Joe Tex/James Brown revue.

Charles Davis: I was the last one to know what was happening. I'm playing drums with my eyes closed and getting down. The crowd was noisy, and I couldn't hear the shooting. By the time I figured out what had happened, everybody was on the floor, and I'm up there on the stage by myself.

Wayne Cochran: James and somebody else was in there, shooting across the room at each other and reloading. Didn't neither one of them hit the other. James ran outside, and I saw his tour bus pull out of the parking lot with him behind the wheel.

Johnny Jenkins: Seven people got shot. They were reloading and coming back in. Me and Otis, we were hiding behind a piano. A guy went around later, and I think he gave each one of the injured $100 apiece not to carry it no further. And that just quieted it down.

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