Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Funk Connection

With all the tributes pouring in this week to James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, I wanted to add mine to the mix.

He was the fountainhead from which several very funky streams flowed. Without James Brown, there would have been no Parliament, no Funkadelic, no Prince, no Michael Jackson. There would have been no one to sample, no one to play really loud in sports stadiums, no way to tighten up. He also kept the lid on a racial explosion here in DC when MLK was assassinated, and was a leading figure in Muhammad Ali's Rumble in the Jungle in 1974.

He had his problems - drinking and women among them. But he was- and will always be - the Godfather.

I got the chance to interview the Godfather at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. (Actually, my funk meter was way beyond full that day, because I also interviewed George Clinton on the same day).

But here I am - country club, white boy, pale face - sitting in the House of Blues in Atlanta, Georgia. The room looked kind of like the Temptations described the "Psychedelic Shack" - carpets on the walls, incense, low, billowy couches to crash on. And I'm there waiting after the young lady who arranged the interview left me to find the Godfather.

And then, he came in.

He was smaller than I had imagined, but his presence filled the whole place. James Brown was wearing a blue double-breasted suit, no shirt (it was hot in Atlanta) black cowboy boots with silver toes, and his trademark hair and smile.

We shook hands and sat on one of the low couches for about 15 minutes to talk. I had to get over the "Oh my God, it's James Brown" reaction and try to ask intelligent questions. The fact that I was in the room with my soul hero was enough to make my trip worth the trouble.

But he was forever cool, and after the interview we shook hands, and he autographed a CD of a remix of several of his hits for me. I double checked my tape (yes we used tape in those days) and then sent the interview back to Washington for one of our music reporters to work with. It was a brush with greatness.

Rest in Peace Godfather. Make it Funky.

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