Tales From the Tour Bus (2017) s02e06 Episode Script

James Brown (Part 2)

1 (ENGINE REVS) Welcome back to the epic tale of the hardest working man in show business.
We left it last time with James Joseph Brown belting out anthems to a divided nation.
In 1968, his brand of funk reigned supreme.
Oww! Uh! Huh! Good Lordy! Do the four corners And do the horse Show everybody where you at You gotta be boss Way you do your little thing With a small ring Now get back baby James Brown's gonna do his thing Popcorn! Good God! Hey! Huh! Those who knew him in the early years always described James Brown as a man of discipline no drugs, no drinking to excess.
He was all business when it came to his career.
Well, the young James Brown might have had a bit of a problem with the older version.
Whether it was fame, heartache, or hubris, soul brother number one began a slow descent into a kind of intoxicated existence that he found so contemptible in others.
But that iron will never left him.
Even high out of his mind, he kept on singing and dancing right to the very end.
(THEME MUSIC PLAYING) GEORGE CLINTON (ECHOING): Oh! If there were a Mount Rushmore for funk, James Brown would have his own mountain.
You know, he might have his own mountain and his own valley.
I mean, he was that much of a dominant force.
MIKE JUDGE: Vernon Gibbs got to see James Brown at the peak of his powers as a writer for music publications like Zoo World, Creem, and Crawdaddy.
One of my first big writing assignments, I interviewed him, uh, backstage at The Johnny Carson Show.
It was the beginning of black nationalism, and James didn't have to make any reservations about his blackness.
He was the pioneer in that respect.
You know, already owning his own businesses, his radio stations, he was showing, uh, black people the way forward.
So I interviewed him backstage, and this guy barges into the room and he insisted that he had to see James Brown right now, because he had been pursuing him for weeks and James Brown hadn't given him an answer.
It was a Hollywood producer.
It wasn't anybody well known, but it was for a real movie deal.
James Brown basically told him, "Take a hike.
"You see I'm here being interviewed by this brother.
"You come in here disrespecting me, you can't do that.
" And the interesting thing that he said was that, "Nobody can make a movie about me "that would be better than my real life.
"If you want me to do a movie, "I'm gonna be the director, "you know, I'm gonna make the movie, so don't even bother.
" And, basically, he was right.
JUDGE: He was a boy from a broken home, raised in violence and poverty inside a brothel, who became a frequent guest at the White House.
It started in the early '70s with Richard Nixon, and it really didn't matter Republican or Democrat.
He visited Reagan.
He visited Clinton.
He visited Bush, both of them.
It was just part of being president, at some point you're gonna receive James Brown in the White House, damn it.
JUDGE: Alan Leeds got a backstage pass for the rise of Mr.
Dynamite.
He was an apprentice DJ at a black radio station who convinced James Brown to hire him as a tour manager.
In a sense, I kind of felt like I had gone to work for a mafia don.
You go from, like, riding a bus with no money in your pocket, and then on a Learjet to a hotel suite next to his.
Go figure.
He hit a peak from about '67 to '72.
He had some of the greatest records of all-time.
Make It Funky, Hot Pants, Funky Goodtime, which is also called Doing It to Death, Soul Power, Sex Machine.
He was the king, and everyone else was just part of his kingdom.
JUDGE: His entire career from the Chitlin' Circuit to the biggest venues, James Brown never took anything for granted.
We had a show in Philadelphia, and for whatever reason, the local promoter said to add The Dells to the show.
The Dells were a Temptations type group that were very, very, very big in the early '70s.
Amazing singers.
They went on stage and just killed.
- (HARMONIZING) - Girls were standing on the seats and hollering and screaming, and throwing panties at the lead singer.
They were tearing the place apart.
In the middle of their act, I go downstairs to the dressing rooms, and I see James outside his dressing room with Danny Ray.
JUDGE: Danny Ray was Mr.
Brown's personal valet and master of ceremonies, the man with the cape.
James is with Danny, smoking a cigarette, pacing across the floor outside this hallway.
This is totally out of character.
Normally, he would be in the dressing room, under a hair dryer with a robe, just chillin'.
But he's dressed and pacing, and he was just muttering, "Fucking Dells, goddamn Dells! "They had 'em.
They had 'em in the palm of their hand, "and fucking idiots! "That's why I don't want this shit on my show! "They didn't know when to quit.
"They did what they came for "and now they still up there singing that shit.
"Danny, go up there and pull 'em off the stage.
"They been on too long.
Get 'em off the stage, get 'em off the stage, Danny.
Go get 'em off.
Get 'em off!" Danny looked at me, I looked at him, we walked over towards the stage area, and I said, "Danny, you can't You can't do this.
This place will riot.
" So we Dan and I just disappeared, just got the hell out of Dodge.
The Dells finally finished and came up, and it's time for James Brown.
He was fit to be tied.
Actually, he had to go through the crowd on the floor to get to the stage, so security would create a a lane, just like a boxer has to go through the crowd to get to the ring.
Despite all the security, by the time he got to the stage, girls had already tore the collar of his shirt.
He went out like Mike Tyson.
It was the best show I've ever seen him do.
This is a man's world This is a man's world Mm-mm, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah But it would mean nothing Nothing, nothing! Ah! Hey! Yeah! Yeah! LEEDS: He had a way of coming off stage the way a victorious boxer would leave the ring.
He'd be drenched with sweat, like, "I went to war and I won.
Still champ!" His whole career he was like that.
He always felt that all the odds were against him.
And they were.
It's not a lie, they were.
JUDGE: A child of segregation, when James Brown came to power, the whole landscape of black America was changing.
It started with the Black Panther movement.
Black Americans were just really discovering their roots.
Everyone was wearing dashikis, you know, people wearing Afros.
There was a lot of pride in the relationship between African nations and the black inner city.
You know, James Brown saw himself as an ambassador towards that.
The first time we ever went to Africa, it's like wow, wow, wow, man! When you going through it, you never know how deep the situation is, but when I look back at it, it's like that had to be deep.
And it should have been deep for us, but we's all just gettin' high.
'Cuz, you know, we're young, silly kids.
JUDGE: Bootsy Collins became the foundation of James Brown's band in 1970.
He was 19 years old from Cincinnati, Ohio.
Within a matter of weeks, he was touring Africa.
The people were awesome.
They thought we were like gods, you know, kings.
I remember that he was invited by the president of Gabon, and that was the only trip I made with him.
I went into it as a young man with, you know, dreams of nationalism, and of seeing what the future could be like.
Sometimes the reality takes over very quickly.
They didn't have policemen.
It was The army was like the police, and they were the toughest cats I had ever seen in my life.
They would just beat you down just because you looked at them the wrong way.
I remember there was this blind guy.
The guy just shot up the steps and tried to get in the dressing room, and he was telling the army guy, "Me wanna see James Brown.
James Brown, me want to see.
" And they started laughing at him, and they was like, "Him want to see James Brown, he can't see!" And James heard all that ruckus going on, and so he gets up, you know, "Let him in, let him in, let him in.
" You know, so they let him in, and James, you know, hugged him or whatever.
And next thing I know, the guy got out on the steps, and the army men beat him all the way down the steps.
I mean, they just didn't care, you know? Gabon was under the thumb of a dictator, which is very commonplace.
Guys get into power and they stay in power, because the president of Gabon isn't the president, he's president for life.
So what does that make him? It makes him a king.
James Brown was a king also.
So there were two kings getting together.
And when you're a king, you got to have a kingdom, and that includes serfs.
And James Brown had serfs.
That was us, you know, everybody in the band.
Anybody that worked with or for James Brown, he'd turn 'em into a monster.
JUDGE: Vicki Anderson sang backup with the JB's and also married the most important man in the entourage: the leader behind James Brown, Bobby Byrd.
We were on our way to Africa, and I don't think anybody had gotten paid, so Jimmy Nolen took James Brown's guitar and jumped, stomped it, and burst it.
So they went and told James, and oh, he was mad.
He was mad.
He came through our dressing room to go out to the bus, and Jimmy was sitting on the bus.
And that's the only time I know that James would take a gun on somebody.
But Bobby grabbed James' hand and hit it up against the window, and James could not move.
And Bobby Bennett is saying, "Hit him, Bo, hit him! Shoot him!" (LAUGHING) And, so Bobby had his hand so it wouldn't go off.
I mean, things like that.
Man, he just loved James Brown and wanted to be a dear friend to him and a brother.
We had a feud in Africa where everybody told me to ask Mr.
Brown for a raise, because everybody started seeing all this money that he was collecting.
You know, he had on his bed he had his whole bed full of money.
So I go in there and I asked Mr.
Brown.
I said, "Mr.
Brown, uh, "you know, like, everybody's feeling like, you know, you should be paying us more money.
" And he said, "Well, what you think, son?" I wasn't ready for that question.
"Say son, yeah, "I know they sent you in here "And I know that ain't you, "but you gonna learn "that you can only do that to Mr.
Brown so many times.
"And this is gonna be the last time.
I ain't gonna let you do it.
" And so I had to tell him, you know, that, Well, we gonna have to leave, you know.
"Well don't don't leave on my account.
" Next thing I know, we all gots tickets: one way to Cincinnati, you know.
TONY COOK: That James Brown that everybody heard about, you know, real strict, throwing fines and everything, he was that James Brown, you know.
JUDGE: Tony Cook came into the fold shortly after Bootsy bowed out.
He was from Mr.
Brown's hometown of Augusta, Georgia, and was picked out personally by the Godfather while he was still in high school.
He had a thing where he wanted to fly his drummers with him.
It was, like, mandatory I had to fly with him.
"I got to keep the drummers fresh, so the drummers got to fly with me.
" So I never really got fired, but I quit quite a few times, usually over money.
Uh, but we would be back on the plane, you know.
"Son, you come by the office tomorrow "and I'll have your money, and I'll give you a hundred dollar raise.
" He went through a bunch of different bands, because his stuff was so popular that every musician who played any kind of dance music knew his stuff.
But at some point in the mid '70s, the king started to fall off.
JUDGE: A series of events began to happen that not even a king could control.
He lost his first son tragically.
Teddy died in an automobile accident.
It wasn't too long after, the whole thing just fell apart.
JUDGE: He had Teddy when he was just 20 years old with his first wife, who he divorced at the top of his fame.
Starting in the late 1970s, James Brown put out 13 straight albums without hitting the top ten.
He began chasing the popular sound at the time, releasing The Original Disco Man in 1979.
The original disco, disco man You tell 'em He's the original Bona fide original The original disco man James said, "Tony and Melvin, I want you to play that disco beat "and play it on everything! "Play it here, this uh, uh, uh! Play it on everything!" So that's what we tried to do.
Of course, that didn't work out, you know.
JUDGE: There was one more thing that happened: the hardest working man in show business started getting high.
NELSON GEORGE: Suddenly, he was no longer the most important person in black music, and I think he couldn't handle it.
JUDGE: Writer and filmmaker Nelson George followed James Brown's career in the press and coauthored a book about Mr.
Dynamite.
Twenty years on top, all those nights working hard, and then suddenly, you're eclipsed by a whole new generation.
He started smoking weed here and there.
I'm not in a position to know who suggested that or where that started.
But just talking to people who were on the road with him years after I was, at some point, the weed at night ended up being spiked with angel dust.
Angel dust is one of the drugs that people forget about.
We all remember heroin, LSD, crack.
It's basically, like, some kind of animal tranquilizer.
Uh, sometimes they call it formaldehyde.
Why this became something people would consume, I have no idea.
I have smoked it on one occasion, not a shining moment for me.
It fucks with your head really seriously.
If I was gonna talk to somebody who was interested in becoming a druggie at age 55, that would probably be the last drug I'd suggest.
(LAUGHING) You know, it's like I mean, here's the hippest guy in the world doing the least hip drug in the world.
I grew up in Philadelphia in the '70s and '80s.
Everyone in my neighborhood, they all loved James Brown.
My mother loved James Brown, my uncle loved James Brown.
JUDGE: Christian McBride is an Uber fan who grew up to be a virtuoso on bass.
A six-time Grammy winner, he's one of the greatest jazz artists working today.
The first time seeing him perform really did me in, 'cause I had never seen anything that intense in my whole life.
This was right at the beginning of the mustache period.
(SCREAMS) Hit me! Get back! MCBRIDE: There was so much energy coming off the stage, I couldn't react.
I'm ready Do the scrappin' The whole gig, I'm just like (GASPS) "Oh, my God!" You know? Questlove and I went to the same high school, and we were James Brown groupies, man.
Anytime James Brown was anywhere near Philly, we were there.
And then, um, things started happening to Mr.
Brown.
Talking about drug possession and possession of firearms and domestic violence.
I mean, we were like, what's this about? Fucking angel dust! JUDGE: Brown was arrested three times in six months in 1988.
More than once it was his wife at the time, Adrienne Rodriguez, who called the cops with a report of domestic violence.
I met Adrienne.
I knew of her attitude and everything.
She was a fighter.
And if James hit her and knock her down, she gonna pick up something and knock him down.
JUDGE: He was jailed in the aftermath of his biggest hit in a decade, a song that was featured in the biggest fight film franchise in Hollywood history, Rocky IV.
Living in America R.
J.
SMITH: James Brown performs it in the film, and it kind of brought him back, and he was becoming moving maybe from being a forefather of funk to being this institution.
I feel good! Well, he was suddenly re-contextualized in a sadder fashion.
JUDGE: Writer R.
J.
Smith penned a biography on Brown.
As he recalls, the trouble started in September 1988 at Brown's own business office in Augusta.
He was at his office one day, and, uh, in the other part of the office suite, there's an insurance seminar going on, where, I don't know, people are getting trained in how to sell insurance or something.
Somehow, somebody from the seminar was using his bathroom.
- (TOILET FLUSHES) - He felt very strongly that that was the wrong thing for them to be doing.
He came out with a shotgun, he enters the insurance seminar, and he wants to know who's used his bathroom.
And they better ask him before they ever think about that again.
James caught on fast the problems that that might, um trigger, and he jumps into his pickup truck and drives away.
JUDGE: Police reports from the day suggest he did not heed the authorities when they began to pursue him.
One of the cops pulled out, uh, his .
38 and shoots out his tires.
(GUNSHOTS) That does not stop James Brown.
JUDGE: At heart a country boy with deep knowledge of his home turf, he went back and forth across the border into South Carolina.
SMITH: The cops are chasing him, he's weaving around on rims.
He ends up driving into a roadblock, crashes, and he gets charged with attempted murder.
JUDGE: He got six years in prison for that one.
Questlove and I graduated from high school in the summer of '89.
Uh, James Brown was in jail already by that time, uh, so because I love him so much, I'm sending him letters every week, you know.
"It's gonna be all right, Mr.
Brown, you gonna be out soon.
You're gonna reclaim your throne, you know.
" I didn't expect a reply.
JUDGE: James Brown was released on parole in February 1991 after two years behind bars.
He went right back to work, and apparently, he also returned to his habit, the angel dust.
It was always an adventure with Mr.
Brown.
You know, um, he started telling us about the government is watching us through the TV.
He was obsessed that you were being looked at through the television.
"Don't sit in front of that TV! "Cut the TV off! Unplug it! Unplug it!" (LAUGHING) He'd go on about that.
We all could do an impression of Mr.
Brown, but there was one person that could do it and get away with it.
One of our guitar players, Ron Laster.
And then he got where Mr.
Brown, uh, would even ask him to do it.
He said, "Ron, do me, do me!" (LAUGHING) And Ron would do him.
(AS JAMES BROWN): "Everybody over there! Everybody right there!" (LAUGHTER) JUDGE: When his star began to fade, he always tried to keep the public conversation positive and focused on his music, but he was not entirely successful with his public relations campaign.
SONYA: We welcome you, James Brown.
How did all of this trouble begin? Living in America (LAUGHING) There's nothing wrong.
Nothing wrong at all? You're not in any difficulty, but you're out on bond.
No, I'm not.
Have all the charges been dropped? Yeah, I'm out of love.
I know people have made fun of him, but I remember being very sad about it, I mean it's just really sad that he had lost himself that much.
JUDGE: Christian McBride finally got to play on the same bill with his hero.
It happened at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1993.
That was the thrill of a lifetime.
And of course, being a James Brown scholar, while we were playing, you know, I could see, like, Danny Ray and Martha High and all of these, you know, James Brown veterans on the side of the stage.
JUDGE: He was introduced to Martha High and began to work Brown's camp in hopes of sparking a collaboration.
Martha High was the mother hen of the James Brown organization.
She was really the person to know if you really wanted true entry into the James Brown world.
JUDGE: This courtship lasted years and culminated with an invitation to James Brown's Christmas party in 1996.
MCBRIDE: So we're sitting there having dinner.
I'm sitting there, quiet as a mouse, just, you know I mean, it was just it was out of the blue, he says, uh, "Mr.
McBride!" (GASPS) "Yes, Mr.
Brown" you know.
"Y'all know Mr.
McBride's been, uh, "contacting me about doing this project.
Now tell me more about this, son, wh-what you want to do?" So I gave him this whole thing, how much he loved jazz and "I know that your special brand of funk was infused by jazz values, you know, improvisation.
" He just kind of he sat there.
He just went "Y'all see that? "Now that young man knows his stuff.
"He's studied James Brown.
"Now, see, I appreciate that, son, you're doing your homework.
"That's what I'm talking about.
"Man, I've been telling all my friends that I know "the great Christian McBride "got, got your records, been checking you out.
So enjoy the party, son.
" I was like, "Okay.
" About three hours later, uh, party's over, people are starting to leave, and, um, I take a picture with Mr.
Brown and Miss High.
Right before the camera click, James Brown leans over and he says, uh, "You don't fool me, son.
" I said, "Excuse me?" He says, "I'm hip to you.
I know what you're doing.
You don't think I know, but I I know what's happening.
" I'm going, "What? What are you talking about?" "Don't give me that, you know, you tryin' to take Miss High from me.
" (LAUGHING) "You trying to take her for your own organization.
" I was like, "No! No, I'm not, Mr.
Brown.
" He said, "Son, I think you misunderstood something.
"I ain't making no record with you.
"I don't make no records with nobody.
"If this record's gonna happen, "it's gonna be a James Brown record "with Christian McBride as a guest, "not a Christian McBride record with James Brown as a guest.
"And another thing, that record of yours, "it ain't nothing.
You can't play no bass.
"Who told you you got talent? You ain't nothing, son.
You can't play no bass.
" JUDGE: The next time Christian McBride saw his hero, it was at his funeral.
The last time I saw James Brown was in an all-star show at the Hollywood Palace, and this was about three or four months before he died.
And it was one of those shows where everybody just comes on and does one or two songs.
Timberlake was there, and Black Eyed Peas were there.
And God knows who else was there.
I went down to his dressing room, and we chatted for about an hour, talking about old times, people we had worked with together that were no longer with us.
It was It was, uh, two old men, sitting on a park bench, kicking it, and it's I'll treasure it, because, um, you could tell he wasn't healthy.
He'd gotten frail.
JUDGE: He had been almost super-human all his life.
Even in his old age, his showmanship was everything to him.
It may have kept him going.
That cape did it for him.
His knees, where his pants were, they were all bruised, but he still would go, still would do that cape thing.
James did that up until he died.
JUDGE: James Joseph Brown died Christmas Day, 2006 of congestive heart failure.
He was 73.
In the end, Brown never trusted anyone in Hollywood to tell his story, and he was right.
No film, TV show, or cartoon could ever do justice to the king.
Skiddle-Dee-Dee It's about that funk thing I got a boom-boom in my ear Need more, need more, need more I need a little more So that I can hear Oh! (ENGINE REVS)