Tales From the Tour Bus (2017) s02e02 Episode Script

Rick James (Part 1)

1 (CAR ENGINE REVS) There was a time when this guy was the biggest pop star in the world.
The self-proclaimed king of punk-funk broke through with the public by defying expectations, thumbing his nose at a mostly old, white man industry, and by openly advocating the recreational use of narcotics.
("HARD TO GET" PLAYING) Girl, you're cute, you're sweet You're such a sexy treat You are the girl that turns me on And when you're hot, you're hot I love the stuff you've got You are the kinky girl I write about in every song Dooby doo-dah, dooby doo-dah Dooby doo-dah, doo-doo, bop-bop, baby Oom pa-pa, oom pa-pa Hey! - Don't be so hard to get - Oom pa-pa, oom pa-pa Back when marijuana was illegal, Rick James was the most dangerous man in America, and that was long before his arrest for assault with a hot crack pipe.
But we'll get to that.
This guy got Neil Young high before he ever even met Crosby, Stills or Nash.
(THEME MUSIC PLAYING) (ECHOING): Oh! When I was on the road with Rick, I couldn't stand cops, man.
They're always fuckin' with you.
I love 'em now.
I love the police.
Please protect my old, black ass.
Keep these fuckin' renegades out there, like I was growing up, away from me, please.
Yeah, I love the cops now.
MIKE JUDGE: Levi Ruffin Jr.
grew up with Rick James, and spent a dozen years on the road with the king of punk-funk as the keyboardist and leader of the Stone City Band.
I remember one time, we were coming through Florida, going toward Little Rock.
And one of the promoters had called us - (PHONE RINGS) - he said, "Man, you guys gonna get arrested, man, they're waitin' for you," that he saw something on television.
What the fuck you mean they're waiting for us? RUFFIN JR.
: And on the bus, man, we had a television with satellite on it, kind of bad, you know, but, anyway, we found a spot to stop, and that's when we saw it.
Shit, they had a prosecutor there, and the AG, whatever you call 'em with all the cops and shit.
"We're not gonna have that Rick James "and that Stone City Band comin' through our town, "spreading all these narcotics "and Mari-ju-anas, and stuff amongst our children.
We'll arrest every one of them.
" (GIGGLES) We laughing our asses off.
I'm sitting there, cracking the fuck up, man.
(LAUGHING) Said that cannot be serious.
They were serious man.
- (SIRENS WAIL) - We finally get to the goddamn gig, and these motherfuckers, they all you know, the Smokey the Bear hats.
- (HELICOPTER WHIRRING OVERHEAD) - They was all around us.
There must've been a hundred goddamn police up there.
I'm lookin' around, I see cats all over the top of the building with M16s.
Said, "What the fuck is going on?" This is in Arkansas or some shit.
Remember this lady cop, I guess she was runnin' this shit, she was the sheriff or some shit.
She say, "We're coming on your bus.
" Rick was pissed.
Talkin' 'bout, "No, you're not.
"No, no, no, no.
You know damn well you can't come on this bus.
"This is a private fucking bus.
"This is our home: We sleep here, we eat here, we fuck here, "and we do other things here.
" 'Course, he didn't mention the drugs.
- "Do you have a warrant?" - "No.
" "Well, you can't come on this bus.
"Leave us the fuck alone 'cause we got work to do.
" We gettin' ready to go out on stage.
(MATCH FLICKS) Now, see, I never smoked weed, but I smoked weed that night.
If we goin' to jail, we all goin' to motherfuckin' jail.
That lady cop said, "We're here to arrest Rick James.
" And she started asking our names, and said, "Which one of y'all are Rick James?" - "I'm Rick James.
" - "No, I'm Rick James.
" 'Cause, you know, "I'm Spartacus.
No, I'm Spartacus.
" And then we just walked out on stage, and Rick said, "You see all these goddamn cops?" They said, "Yeah.
" He said, "These son of a bitch talkin' 'bout arresting me if I smoke this weed here.
"Are you guys gonna let him do it?" - AUDIENCE: No! - RUFFIN JR.
: " No!" Can't hear you!" - AUDIENCE: No! - " No!" Fuckin' crowd was in a frenzy.
Rick was just a brother, man, went out there and did whatever the fuck he wanted to do.
I understood Rick, and Levi understood Rick probably better than most people because we grew up together in a family sense, in a black man sense.
JUDGE: Danny LeMelle was the arranger and director of the horn section for the Stone City Band.
He played saxophone and traveled the world with Rick for seven years.
Rick grew up in the ghetto, like the majority of us.
The people that we looked up to were either for good or bad, it doesn't really matter were black athletes, pimps, the semi-gangsters of our neighborhoods.
These were the people we had as role models.
Why? We didn't have anything else that we could look to, unless you were lookin' at Leave it to Beaver, and that shit ain't had nothing to do with us.
Yeah, but what do we know about raising chinchillas? But, that's what was on TV at that point.
So, Rick had this thing that, "When I hit the stage, I have to pimp the audience.
" In a good way.
"They have to follow everything I say.
" - Do-do-ba-do-do-ba - AUDIENCE: Do-do-ba-do-do-ba - Ba-ba-ba-ba - Ba-ba-ba-ba - Do-do-do-do-do-do - Do-do-do-do-do-do - Ski-do-ski-do-ba-do-ski-do - Ski-do-ski-do-ba-do-ski-do LEMELLE: "They have to let me pimp them.
" They have to love the music.
They need to know all the songs.
They need to know this joint is not a cigarette.
This is a joint, and if you want to smoke it with us, we'll do that.
(FANFARE PLAYING) JOANNE MCDUFFIE: When I got there, he had the giant marijuana joints on each side of him.
JUDGE: Joanne McDuffie was selling vinyl and cassettes in a record store in Buffalo when Rick James asked for her number, to be a backup singer.
Walking out on that stage the first time, as a background vocalist, it was quite frightening at first, but it was truly amazing.
- We love Mary Jane - We love Mary Jane We love to smoke the reefer The marijuana reefer We love Mary Jane We love Mary Jane (VOCALIZING, HARMONIZING) (AUDIENCE CHEERING) Marijuana became important as it became less hippie, jazz people, and more everybody's getting high all the time.
He was able to utilize "I am openly smoking dope in front of your face, on stage, "and I don't give a flying fuck who knows about it.
As a matter of fact, that will add to my charm.
" JUDGE: David Ritz is a ghostwriter by trade.
He's made a career of channeling the voices of dozens of cultural icons, artists like Marvin Gaye, Willie Nelson, and Sinbad.
Rick was born in Buffalo, New York, which is a tough town.
Um, he learned to operate on the streets, as his mom did.
She worked for the local Italian mafia as a numbers runner, so he was raised to look up to powerful criminals, who employed his mom, and kept them alive.
Buffalo was the third largest Mafia family after New York and Chicago.
So, the motherfuckers had, like, noses over here named Guido, you know, "Fuck you, Paulie" and shit.
I mean, these guys were straight gangsters, man.
So, Mama did a good job.
You gotta remember, there were eight in his family, so he didn't dress the best, but, you know, he looked good whatever he had on.
JUDGE: Betty Gladden was a single mom and a former Cotton Club showgirl.
Rick had music in his soul, and she encouraged him tremendously.
She really had a feeling for her baby, man.
JUDGE: She tried to keep Rick and his seven brothers and sisters off the streets by raising them Catholic.
Rick even spent time as an altar boy.
I had met Rick James in the third grade.
At the time, he was James Ambrose Johnson Jr.
, who had bad teeth, like I did, had bad teeth.
We were two little dudes, I mean, real little.
Played against each other in football and stuff like that.
- (GRUNTS) - I didn't think he could sing, but he could holler real well back then.
- (HOLLERING) - But he was a loud mouth.
Always talkin' 'bout music.
Rick realized his gifts early on.
His musicality is so flexible, he can do jazz and black R&B, or white rock 'n roll, and he doesn't know exactly which way to go.
His mother was his guiding light.
I mean, she used to take him to, uh, bars and nightclubs when he was a little guy.
Not the other kids, but just him.
Because she saw in him something.
I didn't, personally.
JUDGE: As a teenager, he lied about his age, and joined the Navy to try to avoid the draft.
At the time, a lot of young men from the ghetto were being sent to fight and die in Vietnam.
I don't know if people realize, but Rick went AWOL, a lot.
But I've heard as high as 13 times.
JUDGE: William Rhinehart sang backup and played saxophone with the Stone City Band throughout the glory years.
He witnessed, firsthand, the discipline and drive it takes to be the king of funk.
Rick was one of these guys that nobody's gonna tell him, "I gotta stop playing music and go fight people in Vietnam" He just wasn't gonna hear that.
Well, when your number comes up, you have to report.
Rick did not report.
He refused to fight.
His mother would sneak him to and from Canada.
Buffalo's right over the border from Canada.
You can go to Niagara Falls in about 20 minutes, and then you drive another 30, 40 minutes, you're in Ontario.
His mother, she had his back.
I mean, she would do anything for him.
She loved her some Rick.
I think that was her favorite child.
I mean, seriously.
JUDGE: In Canada, the kid with the buck teeth and the big voice caught the attention of some up-and-coming rock 'n rollers.
trying to capitalize on the R&B craze.
And that's how Rick James ended up in the protest scene, and playing in a band with Neil Young.
RITZ: He kind of finds himself in a Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, anti-war, protest-y, hippie, white, alternative culture.
JUDGE: He fronted a band called the Mynah Birds, with Neil Young on guitar, as well as other founding members of Buffalo Springfield and Steppenwolf.
RITZ: Mynah Birds might have worked if he hadn't been caught by the Navy for going AWOL and put into jail.
I think he spent a month in brig, then he got some type of discharge, I don't think it was dishonorable, but I don't think it was honorable either.
And then, he was free, he didn't have to hide no more.
And within a year's time, he was signed at Motown, and doin' his thing.
JUDGE: He wrote and produced records for acts like The Miracles, and The Spinners.
He worked in Los Angeles as a session musician for Berry Gordy, playing bass.
And he watched Neil Young become a rock star.
Rick came from the '60s, he's thinkin', "I need to be a 'rock star, ' but I need to be a black rock star.
" He's like, "You know what, this needs to happen.
"There needs to be a black guy on the same caliber as Mick Jagger, on the same caliber as Roger Daltrey, on the same caliber as David Bowie.
He needs to be like that.
JUDGE: He was reportedly considered to play bass for Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, but lost the gig to a guy he introduced to the group, Greg Reeves.
After that, the whole thing implodes and he winds up going back home.
One day I'm sittin' there, me and my old lady, up in the crib on Utica St.
, and all of a sudden, somebody, you know, ringin' the doorbell.
"Who the hell?" I look outside, and I see a white Mercedes Benz.
I said, "Who the hell do I know that drives a Benz?" - So I go and see.
- (BEEPS) And he said, "It's Jim.
" 'Cause that's what they called him when we were kids.
- (DOOR BUZZES) - And I buzzed him upstairs.
Man, he came in, and he, you know, had on beautiful fur coat and shit, hat broke down, lookin' real nice.
And asked me, "Did I still have my band?" And I said, "Yeah, I still have a band.
" He asked me what was going on as far as music, so the first thing I played for him was some classic funk, as it were.
James Brown, you know, Bootsy Collins, and Funkadelic And then Rick, "Stop.
" Said, "Man, we can do better than that.
" I said, "Shit, I'm down, then.
" And the rest is history, man, we got together and they kicked that ass.
Quite well quite well.
JUDGE: The Stone City Band was led by Levi on keys, with a full rhythm section, horn section, and backup singers.
Over the years, the lineup included Danny LeMelle, William Rhinehart, Joanne McDuffie, Lanise Hughes and his brother Nate, among many, many others.
Rick James, he started his own term: punk-funk.
He was the king of punk-funk.
When we first came out, New Wave was just ending, punk music was just starting.
Punk-funk was basically just the rebellious part of punk and then adding funk to that.
He started a movement.
The rebellious and danceable music that's everyday life.
JUDGE: The first album, Come Get It, featured "Mary Jane," about a girl named Mary Jane and how she was his "main thing.
" We used to come up with grooves at soundcheck, and Rick would write to that stuff, and that's how most of the songs came about.
Simple but, uh, hummable.
And I used to tell guys, you know, how important it was that you play stuff that people, - when they're taking a shower, can hum.
- (HUMMING) Daniel LeMelle, the saxophone player, he used to playing all those notes and all that extra shit.
Man, come one, that's jazz.
I call it "broke music.
" 'Cause guys that did that shit really didn't make any money.
So, fuck the "broke music" shit, play some shit that they can hum.
I'm in love with Mary Jane She's my main thing She makes me feel all right She makes my heart sing And when I'm feeling low She comes as no surprise Turns me on with her love Takes me to paradise JUDGE: Rick, reportedly, financed Come Get It with help from his mom by hitting up Betty's mob connections.
Rick had a meeting with Vincenzo and all them other banana-nose motherfuckers.
Look, I'm from Buffalo, I can say that shit.
There was a lot of "We gonna have to shoot you motherfuckers.
" That happened a lot, man.
He just made everybody producers before it was even, you know, commonplace.
I mean, it got much crazier after that, with all these hip-hop motherfuckers, man.
JUDGE: They started touring after the second album.
The overall look and persona was, like, strong, sexy man thing.
Everybody had braids, you know, like you see Bob Marley's dreadlocks.
Everybody's over six feet tall.
So, you see over six-feet-tall men that are in great shape and wearing Spandex I mean, come on.
Well, when Rick came to us, you know, tellin' us his vision, with the braids, and the all, the guys was like, you know, not havin' it.
But when he started explaining it was about being warriors, uh, Maasai warriors, 'cause they braided their hair and whatnot, we just went along with it because you couldn't argue with Rick.
We'd be onstage, jamming, and, uh, in back of the stage, you know, he would come up an elevator - (CHEERING) - and then the lights would hit him, and he'd be in his cowboy hat, and his cape and all.
One of Rick's gimmicks from the rock 'n roll days, back in Canada, you know, uh he used to take some balled-up socks and stick it in his pants.
You know what I mean? Bigger than life.
(EXPLOSION POPS) JUDGE: Another key member of the Stone City Band was a guy they only knew as "Pyro John.
" Pyro John.
Rick wanted it as loud as you can get it.
And, um, Pyro John did just that, man.
I mean, I thought I was in a war zone.
- (POPPING EXPLOSIONS) - (AUDIENCE CHEERING) It was like bombs going off, I'm telling you.
It came from KISS.
He saw them, and he saw the explosions - (EXPLOSIONS) - (AUDIENCE CHEERING) you know, what they had on.
And he said, "We're gonna do this.
"I'm gonna give the kids in the ghetto what the white folks see all the time.
" (EXPLOSION) One of Rick's guitars was rigged where, you know, it was, like, sparks flyin' out the end of it, right? One particular time, you know, these sparks got close to that, uh, cape, - and that cape went up.
- (AUDIENCE CHEERING) And, man, people thought it was in the show! We have these dreads, with these very colorful outfits, um, it wasn't dazzling enough.
So, he say, "Well, let's try glitter.
" Ooh-ooh! That glitter I'll never forget that glitter.
I mean, once you put that glitter on your hair, on your body, too, you really couldn't get rid of it.
That glitter was always there.
There's still glitter from 30 years ago in my saxophone case.
It looked great onstage, but I did not like the glitter because wherever you go, you're gonna leave a trail.
We got a lot of, uh, phone calls from husbands and boyfriends, threatening to kill certain members of the band, because they woman would come home, with glitter, in places it should not be.
(LAUGHS) JUDGE: Rick was still signed with Motown, and by the third album, Fire it Up, Berry Gordy called him out to Hollywood.
He moved the whole band with him.
As soon as we got off the plane, we started rehearsin' for Dick Clark Wednesday Night Live.
The next day, we moved out of the Holiday Inn on Highland Blvd.
, to Randolph Hearst's mansion.
It was a 21-room mansion in Beverly Hills.
If you wanted to find somebody in that house, you had to get on the intercom 'cause it was so big, I mean - (BUTTON BEEPS) - Yo, man.
you couldn't find anybody.
This place is like a fucking castle.
I mean, marble shit here, and winding stairways, and all kinds of just beautiful shit.
Plus, they had a cook there who cooked greens better than my mama.
That's when we were just a family, man, thing was beautiful.
Rick was always inviting freaks and shit out to the crib.
But, it was cool.
What the fuck, we all grown.
When Rick used to give parties, that was the first time I, uh, I seen people swimming nude.
- (CHATTERING) - I couldn't comprehend that.
I used to escape to Inglewood, just felt more comfortable.
One time, Jim Brown's daughter came to the house.
Jim Brown, uh, found out, and he came to the house, and Rick, Rick vanished.
(LAUGHS) There wasn't nothing happening between, uh, Jim Brown's daughter and Rick.
But just the presence of Jim Brown comin' to the house - scared Rick to death.
- (RICK GROANS) He just disappeared.
What really blew my mind was the shoppin'.
We went to this place called Di Fabrizio's.
Custom-made boots, man.
Custom-made, perfectly fitted boots.
I don't know what they cost, but I know they were a lot of fucking money.
Now, the white guy at the store, I understand it there's a whole room full of niggas and I'm scared too, if I was him.
We finally calmed him down, and Rick said, "I'll tell you what, man, "I'll tell you what.
We're gonna spend thousands of dollars this afternoon.
"Are you cool with that? "We're not gonna bother you, man, you have the stuff that we need.
" And we talked him down.
And finally calmed down.
When we left, he was quite happy.
I think it was 35-thou.
we spent.
He was wonderfully happy.
(CHUCKLES) JUDGE: Rick liked to dress like a cowboy, in all white.
And he took notice when his fans stole his look and took it to the streets.
We used to stay at the Park Plaza in New York.
And this one time, Rick and I, we were in a limousine, going to do some shopping, and we saw these girls walking down the street.
And they were in all white, and then they had these cowboy hats on.
Everything just like Rick.
So, Rick looked at 'em.
He's like, "We're at the Plaza!" He screamed it out the car.
- And they looked at Rick, so they saw who he was.
-(WOMEN SCREAM) So, we go do some shopping.
This is about four hours late, we go back to the hotel, these girls are in the room.
Don't know how that happened.
This is the Park Plaza, now.
Could've robbed us blind.
Could've been crazy.
But it didn't turn out that way.
It was wonderful.
But Rick called the hotel manager, said, "Look, that ain't supposed to happen.
" We stayed there a whole week, free.
"A perk.
" JUDGE: The experience may have also led to his biggest hit.
("SUPER FREAK" PLAYING) HUGHES: He was sitting at one of the rehearsal rooms at Record Plant, messin' around, and that's how that got started.
He started playing this bass part, and then you could see the sparks happening.
She's a very kinky girl The kind you don't take home to mother She will never let your spirits down Once you get her off the street Oh girl LEMELLE: Rick started talking about a girl that he wanted to get with, that he couldn't bring home.
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Had drug reference in there, too.
But it just had all the elements of stuff he had been doing all his life.
The girl is pretty kinky That girl's a super freak I'd really love to taste her Every time we meet She's all right, she's all right That girl's all right with me Yeah Hey, hey, hey, hey HUGHES: It was really a throw-away song.
You know, it was just, he needed one more song to throw on his album Street Songs.
I think in every musician's career, there's a song that they don't like, and to them, it's a throw-away song.
And then, next thing you know, it's the biggest thing ever.
Well, with Rick, it was "Super Freak.
" Oh girl Street Songs went triple triple platinum.
We were kickin' that ass out there, man.
Whoppin' that shit like it was right.
Well, about that time, Rick said, "Hey, man, let's go to lunch.
" I said, "Okay.
" We go to lunch.
And we're sittin' there, and here comes Neil Young.
And he called him "Ricky.
" And he sittin' down there, kickin' it.
I'm sittin, "God, this is fuckin' Neil Young.
(LAUGHS) You know, one of the giants of rock-dom, as it were.
And they're kickin' it up, laughin' about the old days.
I'm sittin' there mesmerized.
And Rick was one of the few people in Toronto that told Neil, "Why don't you sing?" I wouldn't have done it.
I thought he had one of the worst voices in the world, but nobody else can sound like Neil Young.
And therein lies the fact how he got so hugely successful.
He always could write and play, but it was his sound.
We're sittin' there, and I'm listening to these giants, man.
I remember Neil saying how proud he was of Ricky.
Because, "Man, you're doing it.
You're number one.
" It was beautiful, man.
Absolutely beautiful.
JUDGE: It may have been beautiful, but it was not enough for Rick James.
I mean, he gave a two-hour show every night, and it was high energy.
He was headlining, and he was, like, what the people had been waiting, four or five months, in anticipation to see.
He'd reached that echelon.
(AUDIENCE CHEERING) But MTV didn't care.
You could watch Neil Young all day long.
This was before MTV was playing black music, let's put it that way.
They may have been around, but they weren't playing any of us.
I don't think there was a BET yet.
NEWSMAN: What is the problem with MTV not playing your material? What's going on? I wish I could answer that.
I see all these acts some of them don't have record deals, some of them don't sell nine records.
Then there's acts that sell millions and millions of copies of records.
People want to see them, and we're not seen.
Maybe it's the skin we're in.
JUDGE: Next time, the super freak gets his wish, and it gets super freaky.
(THEME MUSIC PLAYING) Skiddle-dee-dee It's about that funk thing Boom-boom in my ear Yeah I need a little more So that I can hear Oh!
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