The JB’s Debut: Polydor not King

The debut album by The JB’sJames Brown‘s backing band that included a group of Cincinnati musicians who would soon join forces with George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic and later form the core of Bootsy’s Rubber Band — was originally scheduled for release in July, 1971 on the King label (SLP 1126), as noted on Discogs.  Starday-King even issued a test pressing, with Ron Lenhoff overseeing the engineering and editing of this four-song LP, half of which (“The Grunt” and “These Are the J.B.’s”) was recorded at King’s Cincinnati studios on May 19, 1970, and the other half (“I’ll Ze” and “When You Feel It Grunt If You Can”) recorded at Starday Studios in Nashville on June 30, 1970.

But alas, it was not meant to be** — as one Discogs contributor wryly observes:

Mmm. I wonder how many people have one of these [test pressings] … other than James Brown himself, Hal Neely, Dave Matthews, Charles Bobbit and anybody directly involved in King Records (as in office staff), most of the members of the band probably never got a copy of this TP, as this was at the precise point when JB’s catalogue got bought out by Polydor and the JB’s (Mk.1) had already exited stage left.  Probably 25-50 made max.

The original These Are the J.B.’s LP comprised just four tracks (click on audio links):

“These Are the J.B.’s”     The J.B.’s     recorded in Cincinnati – May 19, 1970

Bass: WilliamBootsyCollins
Guitar:  PhelpsCatfishCollins
Drums:  Clyde Stubblefield (A1 & B2)
Drums:  FrankKashWaddy (A2 & B1)
Congas:  Johnny Griggs
Flute & Baritone Sax:  St-Clair Pinckney (A1)
Tenor Sax:  Robert McCullough
Trumpet:  ClaytonChickenGunnels & DarrylHasaanJamison
Organ:  James Brown (A2)
Piano: Bobby Byrd (B1)
Engineer:  Ron Lenhoff
Producer: James Brown

James Brown would describe the band in his 1986 autobiography thusly:

They were called the Pacesetters and were all from Cincinnati.  They’d hung around King for awhile and then started doing session work there.  I had used them myself on several things.  Bootsy Collins (who later went on to become a big star with the Parliament-Funkadelic Thang and his own Rubber Band) was the bass player; his older brother, Phelps ‘Catfish’ Collins played guitar; Frank ‘Kash’ Waddy played drums; Robert McCullough played sax; a fella called Clayton ‘Chicken’ Gunnels played trumpet.

“These Are the J.B.’s” – songwriting credits per Discogs

Written by Phelps CollinsClayton Isiah GunnelsClyde StubblefieldDarrell JamisonFrank Clifford WaddyJohn W. GriggsRobert McCollough and William Earl Collins

“The Grunt” – songwriting credits per Discogs

Written by – Phelps Collins, Clayton Isiah Gunnels, Clyde Stubblefield, Darrell Jamison, Frank Clifford Waddy, James Brown, John W. Griggs, Robert McCollough, and William Earl Collins

“Medley: When You Feel It Grunt If You Can” – songwriting credits per Discogs

Written by – Art Neville, Gene Redd*, George Porter Jr.*, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Joseph Modeliste, Kool & The Gang, and Leo Nocentelli

Note:  “When You Feel It Grunt If You Can” includes portions of “Let The Music Take Your Mind,” written by Kool & The Gang and Gene Redd Jr.; “Chicken Strut,” written by The Meters; and “Power Of Soul,” written by Jimi Hendrix.

The following year in 1972, when Polydor released what would be known as the debut album by The J.B.’s, a much different collection of songs would would end up in the marketplace, as Food For Thought comprised ten songs [“The Grunt” & “These Are the J.B.’s (Pt. 1)” being the only overlapping tracks] vs. the four song set as mixed and sequenced by Ron Lenhoff.

Funk fans worldwide rejoiced in 2014 when the original four-song mix enjoyed release on vinyl (as well as digital download) for the first time, with a 12-page booklet of liner notes by Alan Leeds stating that, in fact, only two test pressings are known to have existed (so says a Discogs contributor).  Worth pointing out that “the originally scheduled issue of this album included overdubbed crowd noise — for this issue of the album, the original, undubbed two-track stereo mix was used as source.”

Given the variant titles and track listings in various markets worldwide, Discogs advises caution:

Different original editions and reissues have different titles and artwork, including Food For Thought; Pass The Peas; and Food For Thought – Pass The Peas – I Mean Gimme Some More.

Main cover (US, Canada, Spain)

Alternate cover (UK, Germany, France, Turkey)

Cover – Japan

“The Grunt” – famously sampled for 1987’s “Rebel Without a Pause” by Public Enemy – would enjoy single release on King in August of 1970, just three months after being recorded.  Billboard would select the single in the August 8, 1970 edition for its Top 20 Soul Spotlights “predicted to reach the Top 20 of the top-selling R&B Singles chart.”

King 45 + UK 45 on Mojo + Test Pressing of “The Grunt” – a steal at $120

A second single – “These Are the J.B.’s” (Pts. 1&2)” – followed in November, 1970Billboard‘s Ed Ochs would select the 45 for his “picks and plays” for the week of October 24, 1970 in his ‘Soul Sauce’ column.  Interesting to point out that the same Billboard November 21, 1970 issue that mentions Starday-King release of “These Are the J.B.’s” also notes that “the James Brown Show played Fargo, N.D. recently – the good response was particularly encouraging because this was the first time his show had ever played that state.”

Obituary for Phelps ‘Catfish’ Collins
Billboard — August 10, 2010

R&B guitarist Phelps “Catfish” Collins, a veteran of James Brown’s J.B.’s, Parliament-Funkadelic and his younger brother William “Bootsy” Collins‘ Rubber Band, passed away at his home in Cincinnati on Aug. 6 at the age of 66, following a long battle with cancer.

Bootsy Collins issued a statement saying that “my world will never be the same” without his brother.  “Be happy for him, he certainly is now and always has been the happiest young fellow I ever met on this planet.”

Bootsy’s wife, Patti Collins, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that Catfish “was a father figure to my husband.  He’s the reason why Bootsy is who he is.”

Catfish, eight years Bootsy’s senior, was the one who suggested his brother put bass strings on an old guitar, and the two were part of a Cincinnati group called The Pacemakers that became the rhythm section for the city’s famed King Records label.  James Brown recruited the Collins brothers, and starting in 1968 they played on Brown classics such as “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose,” “Super Bad” and “Soul Power” as the J.B.’s.

By 1971 they had left Brown’s employ, going on to form The House Guests and then joining Funkadelic in 1972 for albums such as America Eats Its Young and Cosmic Slop.  Catfish remained with the group — which also lost guitarist Garry Shider to cancer in June — until the mid-’80s.

“(Catfish) was a hell of a musician,” keyboardist Bernie Worrell, who played with the guitarist in Funkadelic, told the Enquirer.  “People seem to forget that the rhythm guitar behind James Brown was Catfish’s creative genius, and that was the rhythm besides Bootsy’s bass.”

George Clinton alumnus Dumine DePorres seconded that notion, telling Billboard.com that Catfish’s particular niche was playing “the subliminal stuff, those inferred parts that you might not be able to hear right out front but without it there’s a big hole.  It’s like the glue that holds the glue together.”

After Funkadelic, Catfish went on to play in Bootsy’s Rubber Band and also recorded with Deee-Lite, Freekbass and H-Bomb [Ferguson].  In 2007 he reunited with Bootsy, Worrell, Clyde Stubblefield and others for the soundtrack to the Judd Apatow comedy “Superbad.”  A number of Cincinnati musicians gathered to play a tribute show for Catfish during July at a club in Roselawn, Ohio [Celebrities night club in the Valley Shopping Center on Reading Road, just a mile down the road from the Carrousel Inn].

Funeral arrangements have not been announced for Catfish, who had two children.

Bootsy’s Brother Succumbs to Cancer
Cincinnati Enquirer — August 6, 2010

KENNEDY HEIGHTS – Before there was Bootsy, there was Catfish.

The older brother of Cincinnati’s legendary funk icon, Phelps “Catfish” Collins was a jovial guitar player with a huge smile, a mentor who helped shape his brother’s musical career as well as his life.

“He was a father figure to my husband,” said Patti Collins, William “Bootsy” Collins’ wife. “He’s the reason why Bootsy is who he is.”

Phelps Collins died Friday after a long battle with cancer. He was 66.

Mr. Collins was a lifelong musician and Cincinnati resident. He was born eight years before Bootsy, who gave him the nickname “Catfish” because he thought he looked like one.  He was fiercely protective of his family, once threatening to kill his father with a butcher knife if he saw him hurt their mother again, Bootsy told the Enquirer in an interview last year.

In 1968, Phelps and Bootsy Collins helped form local R&B band the Pacemakers, which became the rhythm section at the renowned King Records in Evanston.  They played with James Brown, backing him on such songs as “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” as part of a group that became known as the J.B.’s.

James Brown & the J.B.’s – Bologna, Italy – April, 1971

In 1971, the brothers formed a flashy funk group called the House
Guests with band mates including drummer Frankie “Kash” Waddy and
former Pacemakers singer Philippé Wynne.  Wynne went on to lead a group
called the Spinners, and the rest joined the free-wheeling Parliament-
Funkadelic.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame keyboardist Bernie Worrell played with the
Collins brothers in Parliament-Funkadelic.  Worrell said he and Catfish
were the elders of the group.

“He was a loving, caring person, but at the same time, he wouldn’t
take any bullcrap when it came to business,” Worrell said.  “He was a
hell of a musician.  He taught me a lot about rhythms.  People seem to
forget that the rhythm guitar behind James Brown was Catfish’s
creative genius, and that was the rhythm besides Bootsy’s bass.”

Phelps Collins later joined Bootsy’s Rubber Band and would go on to
play rhythm guitar on albums by Deee-Lite, Freekbass and H-Bomb [Ferguson].  He also performed on the soundtrack to the 2007 Judd Apatow comedy
“Superbad” with Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell and other original
members of the J.B.’s.

“He was one of probably the most underrated musicians in R&B and funk
history,” said Cincinnati bassist Chris “Freekbass” Sherman, who cites
both Collins brothers as influences.  “He’s such an amazing guitar
player.  No one did it like him.”

Patti Collins said her brother-in-law, a father of two who lived in
Kennedy Heights, made a life of music and continued to collaborate
with Bootsy as the brothers grew older.

About a month ago, local musicians gathered at Celebrities in Roselawn
to perform a tribute to Catfish, said Lincoln Ware, who hosts a daily
radio show on WDBZ-1230 AM.

Ware said Mr. Collins, always a boisterous and smiling presence,
clearly wasn’t feeling his best that night.  But he sat back anyway,
soaking in the music that had always meant so much to him.

Services are pending.

Fall, 1971 – “What So Never the Dance (pts. 1 & 2)”

The Other Lost King Album With the JBs

As it turns out, more than one planned project got shelved when James Brown made the big decision to leave Starday-King and sign on the dotted line with Polydor, to wit:

**TONIGHT – One Night Only!

Friday, September 28, 2018 from 6-8 PM | James Brown’s Lost King Album.

In August 1971, James Brown planned to release a triple vinyl album of his electrifying March 1971 concert at the Olympia in Paris, backed by the original JB’s, featuring Bootsy and Catfish Collins.  Sequenced and mixed by Brown himself for a King Records release, he considered it among his best work.  However, when Brown’s contract was sold to Polydor Records, the masters were shelved and the album was not released.  The complete concert recording would not be heard until 43 years later when Sundazed Records released it on “tri-fold” vinyl in July 2014.  Join Bootsy Collins protege, Freekbass, as he plays the album on his own Funk Radio show = streaming on Radio Artifact, and simulcast on Cincinnati’s WVXU FM (listen here).

Note:  Cincinnati music history fans will be interested to know that Kenny Poole (guitar) and arranger, David Matthews (organ) join The JB’s on one song — “Who Am I” — a tune on which James Brown plays on drums (assuming that Zero to 180 is correctly reading the musician credits).

Who’s Left Holding King’s Bag?

[For an update on the perilous status of the original King Records site, click here]

A recent Cincinnati visit allowed me the chance to verify that the former King Records complex is still standing.  But for how long?  Polly Lucke, Zero to 180’s West Coast correspondent, recently brought to my attention a battle over this city-designated historic landmark that pits the current owners (there are two of them) against an influential group of supporters (the city’s mayor being one of them), with Cincinnati’s taxpayers caught in the middle.

King Records circa 1966

King Records Complex - 1960s-x

This past summer there was reason for optimism.  In August, 2015 the City Planning Commission had voted unanimously (1) to approve the application submitted by the Bootsy Colllins Foundation and the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation and (2) refer the matter to City Council, as reports WCPO’s website in an August 21, 2015 article entitled, “Support Grows for King Records HIstoric Preservation.”  One parcel in the King complex remains vacant, while the other serves a warehouse – according to the Cincinnati Enquirer in an October 7, 2015 piece, “King Records Now a City Landmark” – and Dynamic Industries (owner of the vacant property) seeks a demolition permit in order to expand:

“Mayor John Cranley said Wednesday his administration is working to acquire the King Records property in good faith. Cranley, recalling his days on City Council, said King Records preservation efforts date back to 2008 after council approved a motion to work toward designating the properties as historic. The motion, he said, was approved prior to the owner purchasing the property and the buyer should have known the designation could eventually happen.”

Cincinnati taxpayers, thus, were given an opportunity to vote in early November whether to tack on about $35 a year per $100,000 of assessed home value (i.e., Issue 22, the “parks levy”) in order to generate enough funds to “transform” 13 of the city’s public spaces, including the King Records Evanston Pavilion (as well as the vacant Jewish Community Center in Roselawn, my old stomping grounds).  As you may have inferred from the first paragraph, insufficient numbers came to the polls, sadly, to pass the new property tax.  King’s future, therefore, is in limbo.

Rendering for Xavier University‘s King Experiential Learning Center

King Records rendering

Martha Harvin – James Brown’s longest-running female vocalist – might possibly have set foot in King’s Evanston recording studios.

Photo of Martha Harvin courtesy of Blind Faith Records

Martha HarvinHarvin began her career as part of DC vocal group, The Jewels, who toured with the James Brown Revue in 1966 and did some studio recordings before Harvin’s singing partners grew tired of life on the road and returned home.  Harvin would remain with the James Brown Revue for more than 30 years.

Hundreds of handshakes to filmmaker, Jeff Krulik (Heavy Metal Parking Lot; Led Zeppelin Played Here, et al.) for directing me to Eli Meir Kaplan, who interviewed Harvin (a.k.a., “Martha High”) in December, 2014 for his DC music history blog, Soul 51.

Jewels Federal 45Jewels King 45-aJewels King 45-b

The Jewels, it turns out, would record one single each for Federal and King.  More intriguing, however, is the Jewels 45 written and produced by James Brown and released on the obscure (and mysterious) Dynamite label, “Papa Left Mama Holding the Bag,” a playful rejoinder to Brown’s breakthrough funk of 1965, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag“:

“Papa Left Mama Holding the Bag”     The Jewels     1966

Cincinnati’s CityBeat includes a piece in its September 9, 2015 edition about the challenges of creating heritage tourism in the city landmark overlooking Interstate 71 — “The Once and Future King:  In an Effort to Boost Evanston, Community Leaders Race to Preserve Its Famous Musical Legacy.

Jewels Dynamite 45

The Duel: Organ vs. Sax

In the early part of this century, reissue label, Hip-O, put out a comprehensive series of James Brown single releases that were issued from 1956-1981.  Historians & researchers will no doubt be studying these liner notes in decades to come as they try to organize and make sense of the James Brown legacy, particularly given the volume of recordings issued over the course of his lifetime.

One thing I discovered by simply looking at the musician credits:  those bongo drums sound unusual on “Let Yourself Go,” because bongos – believe it or not – were not part of JB’s pioneering percussion sound, generally speaking.  According to the musician credits in this singles series that someone kindly posted on the Discogs website, I only see a handful of recordings (five by my count) between the years 1966-1973 that include the bongos.

Thanks to the missus, I am fortunate to own the 2-volume reference set, The King Labels:  A Discography as compiled by Michel Ruppli.  And yet I am discovering time and again that Ruppli’s discography is not authoritative as I had originally assumed.  Thank goodness, therefore, for the input of other music fanatics and actual participants who were there when history took place.  For example, if I simply relied on Ruppli, I might have continued to labor under the delusion that the Famous Flames backed James Brown on another great single from 1967 when, in fact, it was The Dapps.

James Brown & The Dapps (Les Asch holding horn)

JB & The DappsMy appreciation to Mitch Bowman, thus, for pointing me to James Brown’s “Funky Soul #1″ b/w “The Soul of JB” 45 originally released on King.  Ruppli tells me that the A-side was recorded on August 17, 1967 in Cincinnati but has very scant information about its mate.  Moreover, the B-side is attributed (wrongly) to “James Brown and the Famous Flames” and adds (incorrectly) “probably band without James Brown.”  That’s about it for the historical details – only the year is listed, no musician credits – although Ruppli does add, intriguingly, that another composition of “unknown title” was recorded but remains (to this day?) unissued.

Thanks to P-Funk Portal for affirming Bowman’s assertion that his brother-in-law, Les Asch, and his fellow Dapps were the musicians who backed James Brown on this double A-side instrumental excursion.  Gather around everybody for a musical fight, and hear for yourself as James Brown dukes it out with Les Asch on their respective instruments:

“The Soul of JB”     James Brown & The Dapps     1967

Organ Solo:  James Brown
Tenor Sax Solo:  Les Asch
Guitar:  Eddie Setser & Troy Seals
Bass:  Tim Drummond
Piano:  Tim Hedding
Drums:  William ‘Beau Dollar’ Bowman
Trumpet:  Ron Geisman
Alto Sax:  AlfredPee WeeEllis
Tenor Sax:  Les Asch
Baritone Sax:  David Parkinson
Organ:  James Brown
Producer & Arranger:  James Brown

If I were in the producer’s chair (I see you rolling your eyes), I would have followed James Brown organ solo in the left speaker with Les Asch’s tenor sax solo in the right speaker in order to underscore the dueling aspects of this musical match.  As it stands, both solos erupt from the west.  Note, too, the writing credits that include Gladys Knochelman – would love to know her role in the creative process, as her name appears ever so infrequently in the epic story of James Brown.*

There’s no denying the global impact of the fresh funk created by James Brown and his various support players over the years, much of which was recorded in Cincinnati — note the impact felt as far away as Japan, as this web tribute to JB attests.  Hey, check out some of the prices that Dapps singles command on Ebay.

Don’t believe the hype:  The Dapps are the backing band here

James Brown & Dapps 45-bJames Brown & Dapps 45-a

Biff!  Bam!  Pow!  This is the thirteenth bout tagged as a Musical Fight

*Historical Postscript

Tony Oulahan would subsequently contact Zero to 180 to shed light on this piece’s playful reference to Gladys Knochelman’s artistic contribution to “The Duel”:

“So my grandmother was Syd Nathan’s assistant for most of her time at King records. She also was a copywriter at one point as well. She died close to 20 years ago. She had close relationships with James, his band and many of the other artists at King. She had a couple of engraved jewelry pieces that James gave to her. I wish I could say otherwise, but she had nothing to do with the creative process on the album. And from what I know it wasn’t James directly that gave her the credit. She loaned someone in his group some money and they couldn’t pay her back. They gave her this credit in lieu of payment. It could have been his manager or someone else in the band. I’m almost positive that it wasn’t James himself, I can’t remember exactly who it was.”

Funk Under Fire (Literally)

Years ago I remember being spellbound by a Mojo feature article that interviewed several of the musicians in The Famous Flames who had toured Vietnam with James Brown in 1968 and played for a large number of very grateful soldiers right in the heart of the war zone.  I quickly devoured this piece – and then filed it away with my other 20 years or so of music magazines … into the abyss.

Recently, in the course of researching SW Ohio’s glorious contributions to the history of funk and soul, I got to thinking — “Sure would be nice to put my hands on that article about that harrowing time James Brown and his band did a musical tour of Vietnam in 1968.”  Fortunately, I got the urge to try an Internet search, and lo and behold – “July 2003” would be the Golden Ticket.  One minute later, after a trip to the archives, I had the July 2003 issue of Mojo in my hand.  What on earth had I been waiting for all this time?

Hats off to James Maycock, who tells this incredible story where music and politics would intersect spectacularly, with lives being put on the line in a moving demonstration of the American credo, E Pluribus Enum.  How fascinating to find out, for example, that James Brown had offered to take his entire 22-piece band orchestra to entertain the US troops in Vietnam on his own dime – and yet the federal government, surprisingly (or not), said no.  James Brown would eventually lobby LBJ himself at a Presidential State Dinner in May, 1968 — a direct consequence of Brown’s own heroic intervention in Boston in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination that kept untold numbers of people safe at home and out of harm’s way due to his insistence that his group’s live performance on April 5, 1968 be locally televised.

JB & Boston Mayor, Kevin White – Boston Gardens – April 5, 1968

James Brown & Mayor Kevin WhiteMaycock reveals the political machinery at work:

“The trip was the outcome of James Brown persistently pushing the US authorities for offical consent to tour.  ‘I’d been trying for a long time to get the government to let me go over there.  I offered to pay all my expenses.  But for some reason they didn’t want me to go.  I don’t know if they thought I would be too political.’  Like an increasing amount of the American public, Brown was also conscious that a disproportionate number of Afro-Americans were being drafted.”

JB’s stylist, Marva Whitney, grappled with vietnam’s heat & humidity – to no avail

James Brown in Vietnam-bb

Thus arranged (or so they thought), Brown’s 22-member ensemble began their musical tour in Korea, with the understanding that the whole orchestra would press on to Vietnam.  But with the escalation of hostilities, Brown was given word that only a 6-member musical crew would be allowed to continue at that point.  How moving then to discover that, while most of the group was only too happy to bow out of the tour, Tim Drummond (a “playing cat” as Brown would characterize him) immediately jumped at the chance:

“I said, I want to play Vietnam, because I want to show people back here that black and white can get along.”

Ultimately, Brown would carry out his musical tour of Vietnam with these six band members:   Clyde Stubblefield (drums), Tim Drummond (bass), Jimmy Nolen (guitar), Maceo Parker (saxophone), Waymon Reid (trumpet) & “esteemed funky diva” Marva Whitney.  As the writer points out, “Bob Hope retreated to the safety of Bangkok in neighbouring Thailand after each of his shows, but as Drummond points out, ‘We were in the thick of it.'”

By way of illustration, Tim Drummond would recount:

“So we come in 20 feet off the ground where the Viet Cong were sleeping.  They only moved at night … Right where we had just [crash] landed, here comes the Viet Cong who were coming after the plane.  We’d woken them up.  [The US] were bombing the Viet Cong, who were coming after the plane thinking we’re still on it.  That was a real toe-tapper!”

Marva Whitney describes the preceding “white-knuckle emergency crash”:

“The pilot said, ‘Everybody get out!  And I mean move it!  We’re in the marshes, the doors open, no time for a ladder.  Would someone give me a helping hand?  Forget it.  It was every man for himself, including me.  I had to jump from the plane.”

Clyde Stubblefield (out of view), James Brown & Maceo Parker

James Brown in Vietnam-aa

Being in a war zone meant having to be ever alert and strategic in your actions – Drummond describes one particular situation:

“In my hotel room, the window was facing the president’s palace.  It had a sign on it saying, ‘Don’t open the blinds with the light on behind you at night, you will be shot as a sniper.'”

These seven musicians (appointed honorary Lieutenant Colonels for this tour) would play three performances a day, often in the sweltering 120+ degree tropical heat.  According to Drummond, “That was the best the band ever sounded, stripped down like that.  Oh, we got tight!  Man, I wish we had recordings of that [stuff]!  We were smoking!”

Among the funk highlights in the band’s set:  “Get It Together“; “I Got the Feeling“; Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and a particularly key track from pop’s peak year – “Let Yourself Go“:

James Brown & the Famous Flames     “Let Yourself Go”     1967

[Check out Brown instructing 2nd drummer, John “Jabo” Sparks to hit an accent on the snare each time JB emits a grunt (*note: video since removed – above mix differs).]

James Brown 45-aJames Brown 45-b

Brown claims that it was Hope himself, interestingly enough, who would clinch the Vietnam tour at the May, 1968 State Dinner:  “[He] told some of the USO people, ‘If you’re going to get anybody to perform for the troops, James Brown is the man.”  The sad joke at the time was that “Armed Forces Radio Network offered two kinds of music:  country and western.”  Soul offerings were rather limited at the military PX — says Maycock:

“Prior to Brown’s 1968 visit, the United Service Organisations had brought over to entertain soldiers were generally insipid country and western troupes.  Drummond admits, “We’d call them ‘Tex Nobodies’ – meaning they were country singers who hadn’t made it!”

Compared to previous USO offerings, these shows were clearly a huge deal for the soldiers – Drummond says they easily outdrew Bob Hope (over 40,000 at one show, he claims).  According to Brown, “Dug out of the side of a hill, around the rim, at the top, tanks were pulled up like at a drive-in.  Guys were sitting in their hatches looking down on the show.”

And yet the surreality of the bitter warfare, coupled with the rampant drug use among the soldiers, would induce serious cognitive dissonance amongst the musicians.  Maycock writes:  “Indeed, the musicians were understandably uptight, although they concealed their feelings from JB.  Marva: ‘They weren’t going to let the boss man see.'”

Whitney remembers, according to Maycock, “some GIs just wanted to touch her hand.  Others confided in her.  Marva says, ‘The fellas with the less education were put on the front lines — “We’re in trouble over here!”  They would say that.'”

Several months after returning home, Whitney would be completely thrown by an unexpected moment of post-traumatic stress:

“I’m walking down New York City, shopping.  All of a sudden, I start shaking and can’t stop.  I’m going into shock.  I know it.”  Brown himself would later say, “I don’t know how I made it.  God was carrying me all the time, it was like footprints in the sand.”

James Brown in Vietnam – courtesy of Corbis

James Brown Performs for American Soldiers in Vietnam

One final quote from Maycock’s riveting piece of history underscores music’s special ability to nourish the soul and bring people together in peace and fellowship (from Vietnam veteran and musician, Dave Gallaher):

“Tim Drummond being there did more good than anyone might realize.  Because of the hostilities that had developed racially, I think James showing up with a white musician put everyone on a little bit of notice about cooling out.  Showing that a white man could get in there and play that music.  I think it was very timely.”

“From the Back Side”: James Brown’s Parting Gift to King?

Son’s of Funk – i.e., Fred Wesley & the JBs – with a 1972 single release on the King label:

Is it really true – as YouTube contributor, BuckeyeCat2002, recalls – that “this James Brown / Fred Wesley cut was given to King Records as a going away present by James Brown?

As it turns out, both parts of this rare soul 45 would be included in Ace’s top-notch collection of King Funk, and Dean Rudland’s CD liner notes affirm that this two-part instrumental recording by The JBs was, indeed, “given to King as a favour by James himself a couple of years after he had left to go to Polydor.”

Even though the artist on this track is but one of several amusing variant names for Fred Wesley & the JBs, it is fascinating nevertheless to discover that this 45 would be the only one to be released under the name, Sons of Funk.

Brown’s last release for King would be “Soul Power (pt. 1),” which reached #3 on the soul chart and hit the US Top 40 (#29), as well as UK Top 100 (#78) in 1971.  The Collins brothers, Bootsy and Catfish – neighborhood kids who lived close to the King studio – played as part of The JBs on “Soul Power,” an epic 3-part soul tune that was, curiously enough, recorded in Washington, DC.

Brown’s first single release for Polydor meanwhile – “Escape-ism (pt. 1)” which was written by Brown’s arranger & bandleader, David Matthews – would hit Top 10 R&B (#6) and Top 40 (#35) in the US.

“Fat Eddie”: James Crawford’s Mighty B-Side

Of course, no discussion about Cincinnati in song would be complete without a reference to the city’s storied indie label that helped give birth to rock & roll music – King Records.

September 14, 1967 may not be a date that registers strongly in Cincinnati local history, but it should:  for on this date, James Crawford recorded a mighty slice of James Brown-produced funk – “Fat Eddie” – at King’s recording studios on Brewster Avenue:

“Fat Eddie” — co-written by Crawford with James Brown and Bud Hobgood — was selected as the B-side of “I’ll Work It Out” and released by King in October, 1967.

Alto Saxophone:  Pee Wee Ellis
Tenor Saxophone:  Maceo Parker
Baritone Saxophone: St-Clair Pinckney
Bass:  Bernard Odum
Drums:  Clyde Stubblefield
Guitar:  AlphonsoCountryKellum & Jimmy Nolen
Organ:  Bobby Byrd
Vocals:  James Crawford

Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven offers this biographical profile of James Crawford:

A member of the James Brown Revue for several years, Crawford is one of several artists who were so mesmerised by the Great Man’s personality and success that they attempted to make their vocal styles indistinguishable from the real thing.  He came from Toccoa, Georgia where he sang with a young Bobby Byrd in the Gospel Starlighters, and where he may have started his involvement with JB.  Crawford never really mastered James’ crude “rasp”, having a naturally purer tone to his voice, but his sense of timing and dynamics are straight Brown.  No doubt the presence of Brown sidemen like Nat Jones – not to mention James’ own production skills – reinforced this tendency.

He cut some funk/boogaloo tracks of course, like “Much Too Much”, “Help Poor Me” and “Honest I Do” but also recorded some really cracking ballads. “Strung Out” was the first, a simple but very effective song.  A great plodding bass line, piano triplets and subdued horns back Crawford up as his voice cracks with emotion – lovely.  “Stop And Think It Over” is another first rate performance, over a stop/go structured ballad, with minor keyed chord changes and a sympathetic string section.  Think Brother James on “Man’s Man’s World” and you’ll be in the right territory.

“Hooray For The Child Who Has It’s Own” is fine deep soul as well, the “climbing” horn chart and arpeggio piano giving Crawford room to show his abilities.  “I’ll Work It Out” may just be the best of the bunch though.  For my money it’s his most committed and emotionally compelling effort, and the backing is just magic, with the guitar and horns meshing to superb effect.

James Crawford 45 medium

The Real Cincinnati Kid

This blog’s first post is a tip of the hat to my hometown, Cincinnati, and the record label  that recorded the rhythm & blues and hillbilly bop that helped give birth to rock and roll, King Records.

In 1965 King’s most famous and influential artist, James Brown (along with The Famous Flames) ushered in the new funk with the landmark 45, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”  That same year Steve McQueen starred as “The Cincinnati Kid,” a professional gambler in 1930s New Orleans, who challenges the reigning poker champ to a big match in a film that featured music composed by Ray Charles.

Cincinnati Kid - Prince BusterThe following year saw the release of a tune also bearing the title, “Cincinnati Kid,” but musically and lyrically being something else altogether.  Instead Prince Buster, one of the leading lights of the Jamaican rocksteady sound, slyly calls out praise and respect to the “real” Cincinnati Kid – James Brown – (without actually naming him) in a particularly funky track for 1966 that clearly shows the influence of the new sound being laid down in a recording studio on Brewster Avenue (that still stands) in the Evanston neighborhood of Cincinnati across I-71 from my old high school.  The Cincinnati-Kingston connection.  There you have it – listen for yourself:

“Cincinnati Kid”      Prince Buster     1966