The day the funk stood still

The Hardest Working Man in Show Business has taken his last curtain call. Obituaries: AP, New York Times plus local reactions, Washington Post plus appreciation.

I first became aware of James Brown through “Living in America,” I’m sorry to say, but even that throwaway song became mystery and power when he grunted out “I feel good!” at the end. There were other echoes of Mr. Dynamite around in the 1980s—Eddie Murphy’s “hot tub” had an army of middle school kids aping Eddie aping the Godfather of Soul. And the appearance of “I Got You (I Feel Good)” on the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack inspired one Jewish kid I know to learn that simple yet smoldering saxophone solo and play it for hours in echoing stairwells. But mostly JB’s influence was invisible, embedded in a thousand rap songs and cultural-ironic remixes.

For me personally, that changed in college, when on a whim and a flier I picked up a discount copy of 20 All Time Greatest Hits through my CD club (you remember CD clubs, right?). And then I found out that it was just the teaser for Star Time, and that found its way to my doorstep too. And then I was hooked. Throwing on “Sex Machine” at parties, driving down the road with fellow musicians deconstructing the beats on “Funky Drummer”…

James Brown taught this white Presbyterian boy about soul power. Without JB, I probably never would have discovered Parliament—first because I wouldn’t have known that I liked funk, and second (thanks to JB alums like Bootsy Collins) Parliament never would have existed.

Another appreciation from Funky16Corners.