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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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Alan Leeds: After I left Brown, I went to work for Prince. And every sound check, he would jam on a couple of James Brown songs: "Body Heat" and "Too Funky In Here." When I was hired, everybody told me, "Don't go to Prince, let him come to you." So for two weeks, we'd shake hands and say "hello" in the morning and that was it. One night, I was sitting in the hotel bar and Prince comes in. He sits down next to me, then he leans over and whispers, "Tell me some James Brown stories."

Fred Wesley: I didn't really want to play with James Brown because he was a little screaming sissy, that's the way we saw it. I was into jazz. Now, I'm credited with creating funk, and funk was something I really didn't want to do. I've gone from not wanting to play with James Brown to being very proud of my association with James Brown. I see now that it was a very important change in music.

Hollie Ferris: We never really got tired of playing those songs. All you had to do was look out and see the crowd going nuts. Toward the end, I started noticing that in spite of his age and in spite of him slowing down, you'd look out in the crowd and everybody would be smiling. And who else in concert provokes that kind of feeling, where people just sit out there and smile through the whole show?

Clyde Stubblefield: Because of "Funky Drummer," I'm the most sampled drummer in the world, and I'm not getting a penny for it. All the rap artists might be paying James Brown for using the drummer off his records, which was me, but not a penny of it went in my pocket. He had a great impact on the musical world. But I believe that if Otis Redding was living today, he'd be stronger than James Brown.

Jab'o Starks: James was one of the hardest-working people I ever knew in show business. And he was an innovator. A lot of people copied James' style, and a lot of them didn't want to give him credit.

Wayne Cochran: All that I am today is because of those two men: Otis Redding and James Brown. It hurt me when both left this world. It's just hard to believe there's no James Brown.

Fred Wesley: His legacy is music. All that other stuff that surrounded him -- the domestic violence, running from the police -- all that is secondary to his music. All that other stuff will go away. It'll be lost in the dust of his music. And the music of James Brown will live forever.

Editor's note: Bernard Purdie is quoted as saying he played drums on the James Brown classic "Cold Sweat," a claim he also had made to other media. However, on the Star Time box set of James Brown's music, Clyde Stubblefield is listed as the drummer on that song, and Stubblefield is generally credited as the drummer on "Cold Sweat."

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