It’s difficult to summarize the life and accomplishments of James Brown in a manner that could actually do the man and his music justice. There simply is too much to mention, too much to devote whole paragraphs, chapters and books to. His music is irrevocably entrenched in American culture, from the all-night diner’s jukebox to hip-hop sampling. Along with Little Richard, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, Brown was part of an enormous transition in popular music, combining gospel traditions with R&B, mixing in rock beats and crossing racial barriers.
The best eulogy for Brown, who died Christmas Day of heart failure, must involve actually listening to his extensive catalogue. Dubbed “the hardest working man in show business” for a reason, Brown brought his fire to every record he produced, creating grooves that were more than the total sum of drums, bass, horns and guitar. Brown’s grooves are totally organic creations, infinitely compelling in simplicity and sophistication – no one can resist his beats, much less the desire to throw out an “uh!” or “good God!” when the mood strikes.
“I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door, I’ll Get It Myself)” and “Goodbye My Love, Pts. 1 & 2,” which can both be found on Foundations of Funk – A Brand New Bag: 1964-1969, are two iconic tracks that defy the constraints of popular music. The former is a political attack entirely removed from the poetry of Dylan or the straight-ahead rock of the Rolling Stones. The latter is one of the greatest funk ballads of all time. Brown made the groove – the funk-laced, sweating groove – his own creation, and the fact that he could deliver such a product again and again is staggering.
Brown isn’t leaving this world anytime soon. Few artists have been or will be able to burn hotter than he did or play as active a role in the evolution of music as he still does. His influence will live for as long as there is music to be listened to, performed and written.