James Brown is recognized as one of the most influential figures in 20th century music. As a singer and songwriter, a bandleader and record producer, Brown was influential in guiding gospel and rhythm and blues into soul and funk. He also left his mark on numerous other musical genres, including rock, jazz, reggae, disco and hip-hop music.
In 1955, James Brown joined Bobby Byrd’s vocal group, The Avons. His early recordings were gospel-inspired rhythm and blues, influenced by musicians such as Ray Charles and Little Richard. Little Richard’s work was significant in Brown’s development as a musician and showman and Brown played the remainder of Little Richard’s tour dates when he retired. After the group’s name was changed to The Famous Flames they toured the Southern “chitlin’ circuit”, and then signed a deal with Cincinnati, Ohio label Federal Records, a subsidiary of King Records.
James Brown and The Famous Flames moved from Federal Records to King Records, in 1959. Brown began to have recurring conflicts with King Records’ president Syd Nathan. In one instance, Brown recorded the 1960 Top Ten R&B hit “(Do the) Mashed Potatoes” on Dade Records, a label owned by Henry Stone, and used the name “Nat Kendrick & The Swans” because Syd Nathan refused to allow him to record it for King.
While Brown’s early singles were major hits across the southern United States, he and the Famous Flames were not successful nationally until his 1963 LP Live at the Apollo. Brown wished to capture the energy of his live performance and paid to record the album himself. It was released on King Records over the objections of owner Syd Nathan, who saw no reason to record a live album with no new songs. The album stayed on the pop charts for fourteen months and peaked at #2.
By 1970, most members of James Brown’s 1960s band had moved on to other opportunities, and The Famous Flames singing group had disbanded, leaving only Bobby Byrd and James Brown. Brown and Byrd employed a new band that included future greats, such as bassist Bootsy Collins, his guitarist brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins and musical director/trombonist Fred Wesley. This new band, named “The J.B.’s” debuted on the 1970 single “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine.” Although The J.B.’s went through several changes, the band was Brown’s most familiar backing band.
Brown’s career spanned decades, and his recordings influenced the development of many musical acts such as, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Young Michael Jackson mimicked Brown’s dancing and shouting in the pop world as the lead singer of The Jackson 5. James Brown remains the world’s most sampled recording artist, with “Funky Drummer” leading as the most sampled individual piece of music.
Unterberger, Richie . “James Brown Bio.” Yahoo! Music. 16 October 2008. http:// music.yahoo.com/ar-289615-bio–James-Brown.