James Brown: Papa Was a Mixed Bag

James Brown with his wife Velma Warren.
James Brown with his wife Velma Warren.

In a review of the new book about singer and soul man James Brown, “Kill ‘Em and Leave” by James McBride, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Carroll recalled many memories of the man many considered to be the true father of soul.  The book clarifies a misconception perpetrated by the James Brown biopic “Get On Up.”  In the film, Brown enters an office building holding a shotgun and after it accidentally goes off, it’s followed by a high speed chase.

But McBride points out that what actually happened was that Brown entered the office with a non-operable old hunting rifle, after a series of break-ins, because he thought he was being robbed again. Then a low-speed chase resulted in 17 bullets being shot by police into the car that Brown was driving, nearly igniting the gas tank.

But one salient point of the biography is that Brown didn’t want to be known by anyone. His lawyer, Buddy Dallas, said that in the 24 years he worked with him “I have never known a person who worked harder at keeping people from knowing who he was.”

Brown’s musical output was the stuff of legend–he sold more than 200 million records, wrote 832 songs, recorded 321 albums, and won 45 gold records, and he was one of the first artists to ever record a live album that became a number one record. He also put the emphasis on the downbeat, McBride writes, and his musical innovations were picked up by musicians like Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone.  Brown was also famously cruel the book asserts, and this is one of his saddest legacies. “Capriciously fining band members, running senseless, endless, punishing rehearsals for hours, sometimes til daylight, for no reason other than to show who was the boss.