Tales From the Tour Bus (2017) s02e05 Episode Script

James Brown (Part 1)

1 (ENGINE REVS) Any serious exploration of funk would be pretty half-baked without the inclusion of James Joseph Brown.
Now, I don't know if there's an exact moment in time when funk came into existence, but I'm pretty sure this guy was there.
Baby, baby, baby Baby, baby, baby Baby, baby, baby Baby, baby, I got All right All right, my baby, uh! Sometimes I'm up, sometimes Sometimes I'm down, down, down I'm almost level with the ground I said I'm level with the ground Oh, baby Huh! Baby! And if you don't know this guy, well, he had magic in his shoes a generation before Michael Jackson learned to moonwalk, and a voice that cut through all the white noise in the world.
They called him Mr.
Dynamite, among many other things.
He liked shotguns, and gumbo, and traveling first class.
James Brown certainly earned the right to be treated like royalty, but, unfortunately, it wasn't enough to always make him happy.
(THEME MUSIC PLAYING) (ECHOING): Oh! James Brown was just a madman, and even that's being polite.
I mean, he had the most extreme mood swings of anybody I've ever seen.
MIKE JUDGE: Alan Leeds was an 18-year-old apprentice disc jockey in Richmond, Virginia, when he first met James Brown.
James Brown loved disc jockeys more than anything on the planet, because they controlled his his life, because the playlists of radio stations were not regulated, so I could play a James Brown record every 15 minutes if I wanted to.
And he knew that.
It was July of 1965, and he was coming to town for a show.
I badgered the local promoter for the concert that night to let me go interview James Brown.
Now, at this point, James was beyond going to the radio station.
You had to go to him.
He was in a suite at a downtown hotel, and the program director said, "I want to send this kid over to do an interview "that we can play on the air to hype the ticket sales, and so on," and he agreed to do it.
So, I went up and knocked on the door of his suite a very attractive young lady answered the door, and she just kind of stared at me, didn't know what to make of a pimply faced white kid 'cause this was the age where he really hadn't crossed over, yet, to pop radio.
But black radio, he ruled it.
So, finally, she said "I'll see if Mr.
Brown is ready.
" And I stood at the door.
And I'm shaking, just literally you know, shaking.
She came back a couple minutes later and escorted me into the suite.
The sun's coming through the window, and it's almost blindingly bright in the bedroom, and all I see is this guy, a big king-sized bed, laying back like a king, propped up on about ten pillows, just ten pillows, and it's all covered with hair.
And in the middle, there's this tiny, little face, and this gruff voice says, "Hey, kid.
" And he just kept looking at me.
I think he was fascinated with the fact that a white kid was working at this black radio station.
- (TAPE WHIRS) - This is my idol, this is the King of Soul, this is the guy.
Well, let's do it, you know.
I started askin' him questions about his childhood days.
We were so poor.
My father was making four dollars and a half a week, working on the Savannah River, a levee bank, 1939.
Nobody could pay the rent.
James Brown grows up in the context of segregation, and in that kind of environment, which is very, very, very damaging to a young person.
JUDGE: Dr.
Scot Brown, no relation, is a professor of history and African-American studies, and also a self-professed scholar of the funk.
He teaches kids today about the journey of James Brown.
How he walked out of the backwoods of South Carolina for a chance at life in Augusta, Georgia.
Augusta was a kind of sin city of sorts, where the sale of sex and the sale of drugs is able to move across even the highest wall erected to separate the races.
James was raised in a whorehouse in Augusta, Georgia.
That shaped a lot of his worldview as an adult.
JUDGE: RJ Smith is a writer, and a columnist for The Village Voice, who also interviewed the Godfather of Soul for a book about his life.
James always thought that his mom abandoned him.
But Joe, his father, was an incredibly brutal person.
He threw her out a window, apparently, once, while James was watching.
- (MOTHER SCREAMS) - (GLASS SHATTERS) He was taught very early not to trust.
Here's a guy who was an only child, and his mother left.
Not the father, his mother left.
Put it this way: if you can't trust your mother, who can you trust? I was a juvenile delinquent.
I would tap dance for the soldiers, and they would throw nickels and dimes and quarters on the ground, and we paid the rent with it.
So then, I realized that I had something that people want.
He told me his people had absolutely no money, and whatever money they did have, came from him.
During World War II, there was a big military base in Augusta.
Soldiers would toss coins on the street to pay James Brown to dance for them on the street corner.
Really, the foundation of James Brown's music is his dancing.
That's how Brown created funk, in a way, because the music was tied into his movement.
Everything was tied into his body.
- (FUNK MUSIC PLAYING) - (AUDIENCE SCREAMING) JUDGE: His nickname wasn't just a glib catchphrase created by some promoter.
James Brown, from the beginning, was the hardest working man in show business.
The first concert I ever went to was James Brown.
I think it was 1965.
And at the time, he is the biggest star in black America, you know, by far.
JUDGE: Nelson George would spend years of his life collecting and collating news articles on James Brown, all because of his first experience seeing the man.
I was seven.
My mother took me on the train we lived in Brooklyn, and we took the train to Harlem, to the Apollo.
We sat in the back, on the ground floor, like the last couple of rows.
And I will never forget being a little boy, and seeing James Brown as he kind of collapses down.
Please, please, please, please - (AUDIENCE SCREAMING) - Please, please I'm like, "Ma, what's goin' on? The man is sick! What's wrong?!" Like I didn't know what was going on.
I'd never seen anything like that.
It's like he's having an epileptic fit, and the crowd's going crazy.
Then, he comes back up.
LEEDS: It started back in the early '60s, with the old wrestler, Gorgeous George, who always wore a cape.
He was kind of the Liberace of wrestlers.
I don't know what the hell that was about, but they were watching Gorgeous George - wrestle on TV.
- (CHEERING ON TV) And James said, "That's it, a cape.
That's it!" GEORGE: That kind of commitment to showmanship, that stuck with me, and I'm you know, I'm 60 years old, It stuck with me since, you know, since I was a fucking little boy.
JUDGE: James Brown caught his first break as a boy in prison well, juvenile detention.
He was stealing clothes from automobiles parked on the main street of downtown Augusta.
The police had known who he was, and they had been staking him out for a long time, and they caught him, and he went to prison.
Best thing that happened to me.
That way, I began to put it together.
They let me play the piano there.
They turned me loose to sing gospel one mornin', those kids, they went crazy.
- (CHOIR SINGING) - SMITH: He's singing in, uh, reform school/jail, I guess you'd call it, and he's playing on the baseball team.
And they're playin' another team from the area, and that day, he meets a kid named Bobby Byrd.
JUDGE: Bobby Byrd was a young gospel singer, the oldest boy of a devout couple who would set James Brown on a new path in life.
GEORGE: Bobby Byrd and his family, you know, go to reform school, say, "We'll sponsor this kid, let him come live with us.
" And that's the foundation for the vocal group that becomes The Famous Flames.
LEEDS: They were basically a doo-wop group, except his voice was so distinctive that he became the star.
Bobby was the leader of the group.
But he realized that James Brown was a better performer, better singer.
A lot of us can't do stuff like that step aside for the baddest one to take you where you want to go.
JUDGE: Vicki Anderson was a singer in the band and eventually became the wife of Bobby Byrd, but it was complicated.
Well, they said James was in love with me, but James is not capable of love.
James was almost impossible.
But the one thing I admired about him, he was a perfectionist.
That boy could sing.
JUDGE: With The Flames, James Brown developed his style.
By the '60s, he was recording records as a solo act.
He turned out so many hit singles, they called him "Mr.
Dynamite.
" GEORGE: Supposedly, the famous Mic thing that James Brown does, you know, when he drops it down and kicks it, and picks it back up.
Another soul singer, named Joe Tex, claims that "I did that first.
" So, he says, "Brown stole it from me.
" Brown says, "No, I did that first, you stole it from me," and conflict ensues.
Joe Tex apparently had a girlfriend who was a background singer, named Bea Ford, very attractive woman.
And at some point, Brown woos her, seduces her, and not only does she leave Joe Tex's band, she leaves Joe Tex.
She became James's woman.
I mean, they were super bad.
So then, Joe Tex makes this incredible record, called "You Keep Her.
" James, I got your letter It came to me today You said I could have my baby back Well, I don't want her that way So, you keep her You keep her Because, man, she belongs to you He's calling out James Brown by name in the beginning of the song.
You know, "I taught her how to dress, "I taught her how to fix her hair, but you can have her now.
" And so now, James Brown's whacked out of his mind.
- (GLASS SHATTERS) - James finds out that, uh, Joe Tex is gonna be hanging out at a club in Georgia called Club 15.
It was an Otis Redding show.
James grabs a couple of shotguns.
He rolled into the spot, like it was a gangster movie, and starts spraying.
- (GUNSHOTS) - (CROWD SCREAMING) Otis Redding hid behind the piano.
I don't know if he actually meant to shoot Joe Tex, but he sure meant to scare the hell out of Joe Tex.
The guy who ran the club had hogs in the back.
James didn't hit any people, but he hit couple of hogs, so Brown really went buck wild.
(TIRES SCREECH) He's off before the authorities can get at him.
But several people who worked for him, standing around, "Hey, uh, just in case.
You all right? Here's a couple of dollars.
" So basically, they bought everyone's silence.
James was a fighter.
He was just a daredevil, you know? And the more you dared him, the more he would come out the winner.
That was him.
I remember asking him if he felt threatened by the rise of the Motown stars.
Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder, and all these stars that were coming out of the Motortown Revue.
And he said, "I ain't 'fraid of nothin'.
They afraid of me.
"See, when you're around this business longer, "you'll understand.
They're all afraid of me.
" JUDGE: Within a few years of that interview, the young, pimply faced white kid quit the radio business, and went to work for Mr.
Dynamite.
James Brown had been touring 300 plus nights a year.
Since 1959, he had the best show, he had to have the best band.
So the caliber of the musicians was light-years ahead of the other R&B bands on the road at that time.
Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Jabo Starks, Melvin Parker, Clyde Stubblefield.
All of these guys were hugely influential.
He graded them by how hard they worked.
It doesn't matter how much applause you got.
If you weren't soaked with sweat when you walked off stage, you didn't do your job.
JUDGE: By the time Leeds got a seat on the bus, the group had notched eight number one R&B singles.
The morale in the band is terrible.
They start giving James ultimatums.
"We want less frequent gigs, better pay," you know, but James in not somebody you can give ultimatums to.
Kush and them were saying, "James ain't payin us, and he got all that money," and da-da-da, and da-da-da, and da-da-da.
It was about James not paying them, and that was true.
James be importin' girls from here and there, and everywhere.
He would buy them things, and the woman get mad with him, he set that stuff afire.
And the band be seein' that, and they said, "That's our money.
" (CHUCKLING) And you couldn't blame 'em, you know? So, they all left.
JUDGE: Another way to interpret the story is that they were fired a few hours before a show, and replaced by a group made up of mostly teenagers, led by Bootsy Collins, his brother Catfish, and drummer Frank Waddy.
These cats were our idols, man, they were giants Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley.
And they were all broken men, you know? He said our job was to kill him every night.
And when I say "kill him," meant to just push him to the beyond, you know, and just be on it so tight.
JAMES BROWN: One, two, three, four! - Get up - Get on up - Get up - Get on up - Stay on the scene - Get on up - Like a sex machine - Get on up "When I do this 'Uh!' you know, you gotta uh! be right with me.
" So, every move he made, we had to uh-uh-uh-uh-uh uh-uh.
we had to be on it.
He just blew our minds, man, completely.
Shake your money maker Shake your money maker Shake your money maker Shake your money maker, ow! - Hit me! - (CHEERING, APPLAUSE) JUDGE: It's fair to say the feeling was mutual.
After that first gig, he's trying to bring in these rules.
And the rules just didn't work on us, you know? The guys before us, James had them bamboozled and afraid of everything, man, so, like, the band's behind him, and he's singing and dancing, and if somebody does something awful or whatever, he fines this way Bam-bam.
He's dancin', right? But he's finin' the shit out of you, right? Whether it be $20, $40, $60, $80, whatever the case be, but he was notorious for that.
Then, we come along.
We don't give a shit! I mean, take our money, is that all you're gonna do? I mean, we ain't never had no money in the first place, so that wasn't no big threat.
We had all the wrong vibe set up to be with James Brown.
I mean, as far as tellin' us what we can't do, and your shoes ain't shiny.
None of that stuff meant anything to us, you know? He's he's the godfather.
He's he's Mr.
James Brown.
But them shoes you got on, the that's some funny shit right there, you know.
(LAUGHS) The band was on an old raggedy bus, but he had a small Learjet.
And that's what he used to go from town to town.
ANDERSON: We'd get off work after a really good show, and he'll say, "We're gonna rehearse.
" And we rehearsed until about three or four o'clock in the morning.
And he would go to the hotel, and go to sleep, and then fly to the next town.
And all of us would have to then get on the bus.
Every once in a while, he would cherry-pick a musician from the band to fly with him to the next town.
WADDY: Gerty, she'd come look for me after every show.
"The boss wants you to fly with him.
" I'm like, "Aah, man.
" 'Cause he was, like, your uncle, or your dad, or something, you know, like, he was cool, but he wasn't the guy you hang with, you know? (PLANE ENGINE ROARS) He'd get me up there in that air, man, and he'd get to talking about stuff that I really didn't want girls and stuff like that.
I'm like, "Yeah, whatever, man.
I wanna play some music.
" Then, he would strike up a conversation about going back, you know? Like, he would say, like, "I can't go back to that.
"I ain't goin' back to that, now.
I'll kill myself before I go back there.
" And we up in the air at 30,000, and I'm, like, "Come on, dude, you don't want to be killing yourself, man, when I'm up in this air with you like that," you know? So then, after a while, I'd hide, I would hide until he was gone.
Frankie! I do remember, one time, he he was angry at a young drummer, who had just was an apprentice, he'd been on the road for about two weeks.
And James had given him a shot.
He pointed at him one night.
Let's get a drum or somethin'! - BROWN: Drummer? - Yes! - (MUSIC CONTINUES) - BROWN: Go! (PLAYING SOLO) BROWN: Let him out! And he wasn't happy with what the kid had done.
"Tell that kid to fly with me tonight.
" He got on the plane, and he started telling him about, "Son, I gave you the biggest break.
"You'll never get another opportunity like this in your life.
"I don't understand you.
"I don't understand you.
"When I first heard you play, "I thought you were the next biggest drummer in the world.
"But the only thing I can tell you today "is as long as this plane's in the air, you got a job.
" Then, he turned away, and started reading a magazine.
(LAUGHS) James Brown was a control freak.
And he wanted to control the lives of the men in his band, and the singers who performed with him.
And his women, obviously.
I remember one time, we were at the Mason Hotel in New Orleans.
I went to James, and I told him, "I can't make it off $250.
" He said, "Well, I thought you and Bobby was doing things together.
" I said, "That might be so, "but I'm a singer, and I want to know what I'm getting paid for my work.
" He said, "I want to talk to Miss Anderson in private, "because I know she don't want you all to be hearing about her business.
" So, that was cool with me.
So, we went in the restroom.
And before he gave me the money, he told me that he was in love with me.
Now, if I had have said, "I'm not in love with you, I don't want you," that man might go crazy.
(LAUGHS) So, I use what I see he uses.
And I said, "I love you too, but Bobby needs me.
" Now, as much as James did wrong to Bobby, he loved Bobby.
And when I said that Bobby needs me, he respected that, and he respected me.
So, that's what happened.
At the time I went to work for him, he wasn't married.
But he was living with Deidre Jenkins, who became Deidre Brown when they got married.
So, she was certainly number one.
Much to her chagrin, there was always numbers twos and threes.
If we were, you know, stuck in some remote town, and he didn't know anybody, then he'd send his jet to go pick up a girl from Atlanta, or Dallas, or something.
He couldn't go to bed alone.
It was astounding to me.
And all sorts of women.
I mean, his wife was very attractive.
Deidre was the knockout.
But, um some of the other women he fooled around with, we'd be like, "Really?" Then, I found out that there were different reasons one of 'em cooked good gumbo.
'Cause the next day, he talked about, "Oh, that gumbo sure was good.
"Only reason I brought her here, she made that gumbo.
Bobby, remember that gumbo?" JUDGE: In the public eye, Mr.
Dynamite had built his own empire within the music industry.
He began to transcend his label as just an entertainer.
He was all power at one point, all power.
He had his own studio.
He had his own management.
He had his own pressing plant, 'cause it was wax back then.
He had his own label.
He had two different labels, one for his 45s, the songs, individual songs.
And one for his albums.
He had his own radio stations.
So, he would record a record, press it, and then ship it out to his radio stations, and then they would break it nationwide.
Ah, man, it was crazy, man, you know.
JUDGE: Everything began to change for him, as it did for everyone, April 4, 1968.
After Dr.
King was shot, you know, it's this famous night, James Brown is in Boston.
He's supposed to perform a show.
- (SIRENS WAILING) - There's riots all over the country.
There's a big meeting between the mayor of Boston and Brown about what to do.
"Should we cancel the show? Should we not cancel the show?" They put the show on live TV, on public TV, in Boston, as a way to try and get people to stay home.
JAMES BROWN: Like Noah made the ark This is a man's A man's, a man's world But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing Without a woman or a girl GEORGE: That's a big turning point for him.
But also, you know, in a negative way, it made as many people who were white fans get a little nervous about him.
And there's this famous story that Spiro Agnew said this, who was then vice president "Any man who can stop a riot can also start a riot.
" Uh! With your bad self! Say it loud! I'm black and I'm proud - (APPLAUSE) - Say it loud! I'm black and I'm proud GEORGE: Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud, was a huge record to do.
'Cause you remember, Brown Brown had processed hair.
He'd been a showman.
For Brown to to take the process out of his hair, and get an Afro was a political statement.
It said that "I am embracing this whole, "'black is beautiful' movement.
"I'm embracing black pride.
I'm joining this thing, and I'm gonna be a leader in it.
" I'm black and I'm proud, yeah James Brown, he actually got me out of the Vietnam War, you know, 'cause right when I got the gig, here comes this draft crap, right? And I said, "Hey, man, I don't want to go to that war, no way.
" And he said, "You don't want to go fight for your country, son? I said, "No, sir, Mr.
Brown.
" He said, "Okay.
" So, honest to God, we went to Richmond, Virginia, we're on stage.
I see James talking to this guy.
He says, "Uh, Frankie, come over here for a minute.
" I said, "Uh, yes, sir.
" He said, uh, "I want you to meet somebody.
This is Mr.
Thurgood Marshall.
" I said, "Oh, h-hi, Mr " I don't know! You know? I don't know who Thurgood Marshall is.
I say, "How are you, sir?" He said, um, he said, "Son" um, he said, "Where you live?" I said, "Cincinnati, Ohio.
" He asked me a couple questions, little minor stuff.
He said, "When you go back to Cincinnati, go to your draft board.
" And I went back to Cincinnati, and it was done it was done.
I attribute that to James Brown.
He got me out of that.
Like I said, he is the biggest star in black America.
And then, suddenly, you know, Edgar Hoover of the FBI and folks are like, "Okay, this guy's got a little too much influence.
"He's got these radio stations.
"That's a lot of people he's reaching outside of just music.
We need to shut that part of him down.
" And they did.
They put him on the enemies list.
ANDERSON: I mean, it just messed him up.
That's when it really started.
Talkin' about the hard drugs and that's what got him.
JUDGE: Next time, riding high with the man who trusts no one on part two of James Brown.
Skiddle-Dee-Dee It's about that funk thing I got a boom-boom in my ear I need a little more So that I can hear Oh! (ENGINE REVS)