James Brown

Christmas Day 2006 was bittersweet, because James Brown, the seemingly indestructible 73-year-old “Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” passed on to a well-deserved vacation. Brown had been admitted to Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta due to pneumonia, and, ultimately, died of heart failure. His musical influence is immeasurable, and the loss is as great as the man himself. Brown was a true pioneer who earned his status as an international icon over the course of five long decades. He was as responsible as anyone for the evolution of R&B, which earned him the title, “The Godfather of Soul,” and he ushered in the funk era in 1965 with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).”
Publish date:
Updated on

Brown’s influence may be greatest of all on modern music. His funk was cleaned up and recycled as disco, and sampled blatantly by rappers to become the backbone of hip-hop. Brown’s own popularity faded as the music he inspired took hold, and that extends to any rock band that has ever funked it up, or vice versa. The most obvious examples are George Clinton’s early Funkadelic work, and Led Zeppelin’s Brown send-up, “The Crunge,” where Jimmy Page completely apes the 9th chord vamp made famous by Jimmy Nolen, Brown’s most notable guitar player. Nolen’s contribution to Brown’s work is often underestimated. A close look at the liner notes to the Star Time box set reveals that Brown’s funk epiphany occurs precisely at the moment Nolan joins on guitar.

Brown’s hit machine lost steam by the end of the ’70s, but he never quit working. His cameo as a preacher helped 1980’s The Blues Brothers become an instant cult-film classic, and his subsequent appearance in Rocky IV helped him score a comeback hit with “Living in America.” Other than the time he spent in prison during the late ’80s stemming from a notorious drug-induced car chase with police, Soul Brother #1 continued to perform and record right up until the time of his death. Since the turn of the century, his 46-year-old son, Daryl Brown, has been leading the band on guitar.

“It was so exciting and educational to play with a funk legend, and even more so because he was my father,” Daryl told GP. “He was grooming me to lead the band once he retired.”

Brown plans to carry the torch under the moniker Daryl Brown & the Soul Generals, and he credits his father for sparking a musical revolution.

“My father’s influence on music is everywhere,” he explains. “His impact was similar to that of basketball star Wilt Chamberlain. He changed the game forever. There’s no need to invent the wheel now. James invented it, and all we have to do is apply our creativity.”