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Updated: 19 Jan 2019.
When James Brown rolled the Rolling Stones – plus the first funk record
Watching HBO’s new documentary on James Brown debunked one old myth that’s been around for years, amongst many other things, and also enlightened me on the first funk record.
According to legend, the Rolling Stones were blown off stage after being forced to follow James Brown’s electrifying performance during the filming of the T.A.M.I. Show in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, in 1964.
|Three young Stones (Brian, Keith and Mick) chat to James Brown backstage at the T.A.M.I. Show in 1964. Jan and Dean were the compares.
T.A. supposedly stood for Teenage America. I don’t think it was ever actually established what M.I. meant.
The myth goes that the 31-year-old Brown, upset at playing second-fiddle to the headlining Stones, stormed off set resolving to show the young English upstarts a thing or two. On the night of the performance, JB pulled out all the stops to produce mesmerising dance routines and a performance of raw power to put Mick Jagger, firmly in his place. You only have to watch Brown swivelling across the stage of the ball of one foot to know he had no equal on the dance floor except Master Juba in the 1840s. If you think Michael Jackson could dance, take a look at James Brown in his clip.
The clip above was originally James Brown’s T.A.M.I. performance in 1964 but that clip is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Dick Clark Productions. Sorry about that.
Mick Jagger, who produced the new ‘Mr Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown’ doco, doesn’t deny Brown was the T.A.M.I. Show’s star performer, but says there was never any animosity between Brown and the Stones.
We were great fans of James Brown, Jagger said, and great friends. We learnt a lot from him. That’s not a quote, incidentally, it’s a paraphrase. Here’s an actual Jagger quote from the documentary: “If you watch the film, it appears it’s us against him; and you go, well y’know, ‘they’re not quite as good as James Brown’.
But”, Jagger says with a grin and a shrug, “whatever …” Now just take a look at the poster below and marvel at the line up.
|What a line up. Concerts don’t get much better than this.
What actually happened, says Jagger, was that the whole studio was cleared and the Stones went on about an hour or two later. “They relit the whole thing and a brand new audience was brought in”, said Mick. “It was another audience of screaming teenage girls. I don’t think they had even seen James Brown.” Take a look at the Stones’
performance that followed James Brown and hour or two later. Keith Richards is supposed to have said it was the biggest mistake of their career following Brown. But while it may not have been their best gig ever, it certainly wasn’t a poor show. It’s the same line-up, too, with the band in exactly the same stage positions, as I saw ‘live’ back in England that same year. Except in the American show, you could actually hear the Stones above the screaming. All I heard in England was “Little Red Rooster”.
The Stones’ T.A.M.I. performance in 1964 (which used to be on this post) has also been removed by YouTube.
Even if you’re not a James Brown fan, ‘Mr Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown’ is a fascinating film featuring the opinions of some of America’s top musicians. One excellent snippet of information came from Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis, Brown’s legendary one-time band leader and saxophonist, who I was surprised to learn lives in sleepy Somerset, England.
|In their prime. Pee Wee Ellis (left) and James Brown
In 2014, the now 78-year-old was given an honorary doctorate by Bath Spa University for his contribution to the local music scene. Pee Wee Ellis continues to support local music as patron (and a principal performer) of the Bristol International Blues and Jazz Festival.
Pee Wee said in the film, “I’ve been told ‘Cold Sweat’ was the first really funk composition. My jazz influence was creeping into his (James Brown’s) R&B so the combination of the two is where funk came from.”
|Pee Wee in 2014. he’s still going strong.
Cold Sweat, recorded by James Brown and His Famous Flames in 1967, is generally considered to be the first funk record. With music by Pee Wee Ellis and lyrics by Brown, Cold Sweat was number one of America R&B charts and number six in the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart,
If you’ve read these historic blues pages before, or my books ‘America’s Gift’ and ‘How Blues Evolved’, you might know of the New Orleans dance hall known by its black patrons as the Funky Butt Ballroom during the 1890s. This was apparently named after the pungent stench produced by the hall’s sweat and booze-soaked clientele and provides us an early example of the word funk.
Pee Wee Ellis, back in 2000, attributed James Brown’s drummer Clyde Stubblefield’s adoption of New Orleans drumming techniques, as the basis of modern funk.
Said Pee Wee: “If, in a studio, you said ‘play it funky’ that could imply almost anything. But ‘give me a New Orleans beat’ – you got exactly what you wanted. And Clyde Stubblefield was just the epitome of this funky drumming.”