Classics: James Brown & The Famous Flames – Cold Sweat (King Records)
As strange as it may seem along with time, James Brown had a very limited knowledge about music. And when I say music, I’m talkin’ about theory. Meaning that he would have to get his countless ideas eventually translated in order to move forward. This being pretty much what he felt like he had to do in order to reach a larger audience. Meanwhile turning himself into a R&B singer back in 1964…
Translating woud be once again what he asked his orchestra director, Pee Wee Ellis, to put his memorable ‘pops’ into the music of ‘Cold Sweat’. The latter takin’ on where the 1962 released ‘I Don’t Care’ had left as a matter of fact. Although on a slower Bluesy tip back then.
Ellis was a fan of Miles Davis‘ ‘So What’. So what he did in substance was that he took its ending riff and added a bass part to it. Meanwhile Brown added a few touches during the recording session. This while changing the guitar part, which made it real Funky. And in the meantime had the drummer do something different.
Musicologically speakin’, ‘Cold Sweat’ happened to be the first Funk song ever. With Brown morphing once again. But this time into a Funk Master. And eventually influencing others while introducing a fusion music which combined Blues, R&B, Jazz, Gospel and Funk. Bringin’ emphasis on the first beat of each measure (“on the one”) and eventually the 3rd as a difference with Jazz doin’ it on the 2nd and 4th.
Additionally, ‘Cold Sweat’ is the first recording in which Brown calls for a drum solo (with the famous exclamation “give the drummer some”) from Clyde Stubblefield. Meanwhile opening the tradition of rhythmic breaks that would become major in the production of dance music and form the foundation of sampling. It also features Maceo Parker on saxophone.
In other words, here we have a staple in the history of Black Music. Just like Vicki Anderson‘s ‘The Message From The Soul Sisters’. Almost with the same protagonists (James Brown, Clyde Stubblefield) and on the same label…
A native of Barnwell, SC, James Brown saw the light in a poor environment. Born to a mom who was 16 and a dad who was 6 years older. Then finally raised by one of his aunts after the separation of his parents. Brown also happened to spend some time in a remained home. Eventually makin’ an income from shining shoes at the time. He then formed a Gospel group – The 3 Swanees – along with Bobby Byrd and Johnny Terry in the early 50’s. Relocating to Macon, GA, Little Richard‘s hometown, they hooked up with his former manager, Clint Brantley. And by 1956, they recorded a demo of ‘Please Please Me’. Eventually impressing Ralph Bass who got them signing a record deal with Cincinnati-based label King Records.
Strangely enough, the 10 following records they did for the label didn’t make it, which got them next to be dropped. But the release of ‘Try Me’ changed the fortunes back in 1958. And by 1960, James Brown‘s band – The Flames – had expanded to a 20-piece combo. With the man’s stage presence standing as the most energetic anyone had seen. Then his 1962 live shows recorded at the Apollo Theatre in NYC establishing across the country. Meanwhile paving his way with gems such as ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’, ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’ and ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’. Then eventually getting him to be voted America’s #1 R&B singer the year after…
Brown was constantly reiventing himself. With props due to his musicians, beginning with Pee Wee Ellis who managed to be able to turn his countless ideas into music. This being how Brown and Co. happened to release the first ever Funk tune by the likes of ‘Cold Sweat’ back in 1967. He then recorded ‘Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud’ as a response to the American street riots in 1968. Eventually finding himself in the position of a (political) Black leader after the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr..
By 1970, James Brown came up with the influential ‘Funky Drummer’. A track which happened to be the most sampled beat in Hip-Hop. Meanwhile an unequalled amount of staples got him to stand at the top. From ‘Sex Machine’ to ‘Get On The Good Foot’ and ‘Funky President’. But also ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ and ‘It’s Too Funky In Here’.
Brown most likely evolved with his time. The 80’s seeing him eventually joinin’ forces with Hip-Hop icon Afrika Bambaataa on ‘Unity’. But also scoring one of his biggest successes ever with ‘Living In America’, from the ‘Rocky IV’ OST. His final Pop Top 10 hit with production work courtesy of the late Dan Hartman. He also happened to flirt with New Jack Swing vibes on the Full Force produced album ‘I’m Real’ back in 1988. Then with Brit-Soul with Soul II Soul‘s Jazzie B producing his ‘Universal James’ album, featuring the sadly underrated ‘Show Me Your Friends’ in 1992.
James Brown pretty much remained active until his death in 2006 even though he progressively lost the aura along with time.
He sadly died on Dec. 25, 2006, in Atlanta’s Emory Crawford Long Memorial Hospital from congestive heart failure, resulting from complications of pneumonia. He was 73.