James Brown crossed over at 1:45 AM this Christmas morning. I am therefore listening to old skool JB this morning instead of Christmas carols.
Some musicians change everything. James Brown was one of those musicians. He grabbed lots of people, black and white. I remember hearing him back in my junior high school when I was all of 13 years old. We had no black people at John Muir Junior High - San Leandro, California was mostly white, with some Asian and Mexican folks. There was a creek on the northern edge of town - on the other side of that creek was Oakland, and an all-black neighborhood. So I grew up in the tail-end of the segregated era (San Leandro is nicely integrated now). Occassionally, the kids on the opposite sides of the creek would mix. That is where I first heard James Brown's music. James Brown was the entry-point for me into what I consider the best parts of American culture - I explored all the Motown artists, Ray Charles, and kept heading back in time, eventually finding Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, J.J Johnson, Count Basie, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, B.B. King and dozens of others. I also soaked up the music generated by the "offspring of JB" - Sly Stone, Tower of Power, Kool and the Gang, Parliament/Funkadelic, and on and on.
James Brown was the wellspring. He invented so much; he is much imitated, never equaled. And he is another American success story - abandoned by his parents at the age of 4, raised (and ignored) by relatives, on the streets of Augusta GA at a very tender age - and yet, he found his talent and put it out in the world for everyone to see and hear.
In his own way, he brought people together.
"Long hair hippies and Afro blacks. They all get together across the tracks and they party. On the good foot."