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Fri August 1, 2014
Music Interviews

Fresh Air Pays Tribute To James Brown, 'Godfather Of Funk'

Originally published on Tue August 19, 2014 8:58 am

Even though James Brown died in 2006 at age 73, he continues to be influential — a new biopic about him called Get On Up, premieres in theaters Friday.

In the '80s and '90s, Fresh Air recorded interviews with Brown's biographer and two musicians who played in his band. And in 2005, James Brown chatted with Terry Gross after the publication of his autobiography I Feel Good.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross with today's show devoted to James Brown.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT ANTS IN MY PANTS, PART 1")

JAMES BROWN: (Singing) About that, tell me what you're gonna do. I got to know about that. Is your love for real? Do you know how I feel? Tell me what you're gonna do about that. I got ants in my pants, and I need to dance, come on.

BIANCULLI: He was called The Godfather Of Soul. It's impossible to imagine funk, or even hip-hop, without the rhythmic innovations of James Brown. As a singer, bandleader and performer, the influenced generations of musicians around the world. And even though he died in 2006 at age 73, James Brown continues to be influential. A new movie about him called "Get On Up" premieres in theaters today. Later in the show we'll hear from his biographer and from two musicians who played in his band - Maceo Parker and Bootsy Collins. But first an interview with James Brown himself, which Terry recorded in 2005 after the publication of his autobiography "I Feel Good." The man needs no introduction, but here's a great one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FATS GONDER: So now ladies and gentlemen, it is star time. Are you ready for star time? Thank you and thank you very kindly. It is indeed a great pleasure to present you at this particular time, national and international known as the hardest working man in show business. Man that sang "I'll Go Crazy," "Try Me," "You've Got The Power," "Think," "If You Want Me," "I Don't Mind," "Bewildered," the million dollar seller "Lost Someone." The very latest release, "Night Train." Let's everybody "Shout And Shimmy." Mr. Dynamite, the amazing Mr. Please Please himself, the star the show, James Brown and The Famous Flames.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Now we've all heard your MC introduce over the years.

BROWN: Yeah.

GROSS: Why did you want an MC to introduce you in this fantastic way?

BROWN: Well, because it's dramatic, it dramatize a lot and it's a buildup of what show business should be about. It should be a great fanfare and a production. Same as a minister would do at a church, or a coach would do to his team. You have to have a way of getting started - that's about the best way I know of, with the dramatic introduction.

GROSS: And one of the things your MC has always done, was put on your cape, take off your cape. Now, have you always had your clothes made for you?

BROWN: Most of time I design them. I started wearing red suits years ago, and they thought well, they're crazy. And - but we wanted people to say there he is, not where he is. And same thing applied to The Famous Flames.

GROSS: I want to play "I Got You (I Feel Good) one of your most famous songs. You have two versions of this. The first one you didn't release, you weren't happy with it - this was in 1964. What was wrong with the original version? What made you think it's not ready yet, it's not right yet.

BROWN: You got to get it to where it syncs with the people or where they're at you know. I recorded "I Feel Good" in Chicago and it was too sharp, too slick. Had a baritone you know, and it was (singing) I feel good, da na na na na na na, din da dun da, da na na na na - was all that sticatto, it hit right on all the points - (singing) din da dun da - and the vom, chi chi chi chi chi chi - so what we did, we wanted to get more of a funk feeling and a sanctified feeling so changed it and slowed it down. (Singing) Ow, I feel good, da na na na na na na, din dun da do dow, bon na - and that's two different kinds of things. So one is jazz because sharp mix, and the other one is kind of laid-back and gave a little rock 'n roll feeling to that sound as well. We went with the laid-back cut because that fit the street and fit the dancers. A good thing I could dance because by being able to dance, I could really tell that the new arrangement and new concept I had really felt right in place

GROSS: What was the difference between the dancing you could do with the second version compared to the first?

BROWN: Well, you could do the street dances. The first verse was - you might - you could do ballroom and everything with it, but the second verse was strictly for get down from the street. And we need street action, that's what basically wrong with the music today, a lot of it don't go street.

GROSS: OK well, let's hear both of these versions back to back. The unreleased and the released versions of James Brown, "I Got You (I Feel Good)."

BROWN: Well, you'll notice that the unreleased has a baritone in it, a heavy sound. And the other one don't have the baritone - you'll see the difference.

GROSS: Let's hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT YOU (I FEEL GOOD)," UNRELEASED VERSION)

BROWN: (Singing) Ow, I feel good, I knew that would now. Ow, I feel good, I knew that I would now. So good, so good, I got you. I feel nice, like sugar and spice. I feel nice, like sugar and spice. So nice, so nice, cause I got you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT YOU (I FEEL GOOD)," RELEASED VERSION)

BROWN: (Singing) And I feel nice, like sugar and spice. I feel nice, like sugar and spice. So nice, so nice, cause I got you. Wow, and I feel good, I knew that I would now. I feel good, I knew that I would. So good, so good, cause I got you. So good, so good, cause I got you. So good, so good, cause I got you. Hey, oh yeah.

GROSS: Well, shortly after you recorded "I Got You," you recorded "Popa's Got A Brand New Bag" and I want to quote something that you say in your new memoir "I Feel Good." You say "Popa's Got A Brand New Bag" changed everything again for me and my music. I didn't need melody to make music. That was to me, old-fashioned and out of step. I now realized I could compose and sing a song that used one chord or two at the most. How did you start reducing your songs to being more about rhythm than about melody?

BROWN: A lot of my songs had melody - but like "I Feel Good," that's a melody and all that stuff but rhythm all the way through the song - but I went with a more of a jazz concert, gospel situation.

GROSS: At about this time your beats really start shifting from the two and the four, to the one and the three. Can you talk a little bit the shift?

BROWN: Well, actually...

GROSS: Yeah, go ahead.

BROWN: It started out with "Papa's Bag."

GROSS: Right.

BROWN: From that point on it was one and three. And even before "I Feel Good," "Papa's Bag" has a one and three.

GROSS: Can - can you maybe just clap for us the difference?

BROWN: Well, one is laid-back you know, it's like (singing) dun a ding bomp - one has syncopation (singing) chat oo da da oo bat do, dat do dat do da do bat do do bat - I mean, that's the difference. And you count it off right you - right on the one - (imitating band) bam, doon bang bag - and then the other one you say, one and a two and - you be on the two see. But two is the upbeat, and I'm on the downbeat - that's the difference.

GROSS: And was it hard to convince the musicians of this would work, or did they get it right away?

BROWN: No, I paid them.

(Laughing)

BROWN: And they play - and they played what I wanted and that was it, because they would have never agreed.

GROSS: They would have never agreed to it?

BROWN: They would have never agreed.

GROSS: Why not?

BROWN: Well, because it was in their head that most ought to do what Beethoven, Strauss, and Bach, Chopin - was correct. And they'd tell me that I was wrong. So they thought that that was a low in music. There's no low in music, there's a freedom in music.

GROSS: Some of the musicians in your band became famous in their own right later on - Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Bootsy Collins - and you know, I interviewed Bootsy Collins a few years ago and one of the things he said - I mean, he loved playing in your bad - but one of the things he said is that it was hard for him to be so disciplined. It was around 1970, the era when you were recording "Sex Machine," and he said you know, everyone was freaking out but we were standing up there being the tightest band in the land. Having to wear suits and patent leather shoes, and you couldn't jump out in the audience and freak out and act crazy, and that's what we wanted to do. Did you know that someone like say, Bootsy Collins, really wanted to be like, real wild and crazy, and you wanted this really tight, disciplined band?

BROWN: Well, I taught an organization, they didn't have organization. And discipline is very important. You wouldn't take - I wanted them where they could play West Point, as well as play the street on the corner. I mean West Point or the Navy Academy place - I wanted to be able to go anywhere. And see when I wanted to play "Papa's Bag" and stuff like I could play it for the president and I could go play it for the people in the street.

GROSS: Now, do you ever find musicians - I know you used to find musicians.

BROWN: Oh, yes. I'll do it now but you know, the musicians now - they have a lot more respect and they're more intense on doing it right.

GROSS: So Mr. Brown, what are some of the things you fined musicians for back in the day.

BROWN: Oh, a lot of major things. I did a total program like at West Point - they got to be clean, neat. Your shirt got to be pressed, shoes got be shined, the suit got to be pressed, they got to play correct, they can't be looking off when they should be watching me because then they miss something. I'll fine them. Those people would rather not get fined and so they have to look more disciplined, and that's in every situation. I'm sure the President of the United States has ways of making people account for themselves.

GROSS: What's the biggest fine you ever gave?

BROWN: I don't know, maybe 500.

GROSS: We'll hear more of our 2005 interview with James Brown in the second half of the show. Coming up, an interview with Bruce Tucker, who collaborated with Brown on his 1986 autobiography.

We're paying tribute to James Brown on this edition of FRESH AIR. Bruce Tucker co-authored Brown's 1986 autobiography, "The Godfather Of Soul." Tucker is a white writer who was teaching a course at Fisk University on the autobiographies of black musicians when he realized there was a big gap. James Brown hadn't written his story. Tucker convinced Brown to write an autobiography and became Brown's collaborator. I spoke with Tucker in 1990 after a new edition was published.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: Well, let's listen to the first hit that he had. And this is from 1956. The record was "Please, Please, Please." Would you like to say something about this?

BRUCE TUCKER: Well, this is James's first record. He recorded a demo of it in a Macon radio station. And it eventually got to King Records in Cincinnati. And he went up there, and The Famous Flames went with him. And they cut it. And it was a hit. It was a big hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE")

BROWN: (Singing) Please, please, please, please.

THE FAMOUS FLAMES: (Singing) Please, please, don't go.

BROWN: (Singing) Honey, please don't.

THE FAMOUS FLAMES: (Singing) Go.

BROWN: (Singing) Yeah, oh yeah, love, I love you so.

THE FAMOUS FLAMES: (Singing) Please, Please don't go.

BROWN: (Singing) Baby, you did me wrong.

THE FAMOUS FLAMES: (Singing) So you got me woman.

BROWN: (Singing) Well, well you done me wrong.

THE FAMOUS FLAMES: (Singing) So you got me woman.

BROWN: (Singing) So you done, done me wrong.

THE FAMOUS FLAMES: (Singing) Go.

BROWN: (Singing) Well, oh yeah, took my love, now you're gone.

THE FAMOUS FLAMES: (Singing) Please, please don't go.

BROWN: (Singing) Please, please, please, please, please.

THE FAMOUS FLAMES: (Singing) Please, please don't go.

BROWN: (Singing) Please, please, please, please. Honey, please don't. Well, oh yeah, love, I love you so.

THE FAMOUS FLAMES: (Singing) Please, please don't go.

GROSS: James Brown, "Please, Please, Please," recorded in 1956. And my guest, Bruce Tucker, wrote James Brown's autobiography with him. Fill us in a little bit about his background. He came from a really poor background.

BROWN: Yes. He was born out in the woods in South Carolina, and moved into Augusta, Georgia, which was a wide-open serviceman's town, in the late-'30s, early '40s. Lived with a brothel with an aunt named Honey Washington. They sold Moonshine Whiskey in addition to the other activities that went on in that house. Eventually, the house was closed down by the police. James, then as a - oh, as a pre-teenager I guess you would say, began getting into trouble here and there. He broke into some unlocked cars to steal some clothes, got caught and was sentenced to 8 to 16 years in prison for breaking into unlocked cars. Again, another extremely harsh sentence. He served only three of those years. He wrote a letter to the parole board saying that he wanted to get out and sing gospel for the Lord. He was known as music box in prison because of his singing. He got out, formed the group. And then about 6 years later, there came "Please, please, please." And then after that, he conquered the Apollo Theater in New York and went on from there to become the superstar that he remains.

GROSS: My guest is Bruce Tucker who wrote with James Brown the book, "James Brown: The Godfather Of Soul." And as you say, James Brown was really the godfather of funk. And the turning point for him, in terms of starting to play a funk, was his 1965 record, "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag." What was different about this record? And what did James Brown have to tell you about it?

TUCKER: The difference in funk is that all of the rhythmic emphasis is on the one. It's on that first downbeat at the beginning of a measure. And it really drives the music forward. You can hear it in this song in embryo, and then later in later work quite clearly. And the other thing is the polyrhythmic complexity which is what James is known for. The other thing I think worth noting about this record is the date.in 1965, James was already leaving soul behind for funk. I mean, it's an amazingly revolutionary record if you put it in historical perspective like that.

GROSS: I really like something he said to you about this record. He said that he discovered his strength wasn't in the horns, it was in the rhythm. He said he was hearing everything, even the guitars like they were drums.

TUCKER: Exactly, yes. And I think that is the key to funk and the key to James Brown. Everything is used percussively - the voices, the guitars, the drums. He carried two and sometimes three drummers during this period on the road. Yes, everything is used percussively. I think one of the difficulties in making the case for musicians like James Brown for the importance is that Western music theory downgrades things that aren't important in European classical music, such as rhythm. And so there's no means of adequately notating it or so forth - or appreciating it. And so we're, in a sense, trained not to hear it, but it's there. And that's James's great achievement.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAPA'S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG")

BROWN: (Singing) Come here sister. Papa's in the swing. He ain't too hip about that new breed babe. He ain't no drag. Papa's got a brand new bag. Come here Mama and dig this crazy scene. He's not too fancy, but his line is pretty clean. He ain't no drag. Papa's got a brand new bag. He's doing the jerk. He's doing the fly. Don't play him cheap 'cause you know he ain't shy. He's doing the monkey, the mashed potatoes, jump back jack, see you later alligator. Come here sister. Papa's in the swing. He ain't too hip now, but I can dig the new breed babe. He ain't no drag. He's got a brand new bag. Oh, papa. He's doing the jerk. Papa, he's doing the jerk. He's doing the twist just like this. He's doing the fly every day and every night. The thing's like the boomerang. Hey. Come on. Hey, hey. Come on.

GROSS: James Brown's kind of a riddle to me politically. I mean, he had that really big, really influential record, "Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud" in 1968. He had supported H. Rap Brown. At the same time, he supported Richard Nixon and played at Richard Nixon's inaugural. Can you help reconcile those two different political parts of James Brown?

TUCKER: Well, it's difficult to reconcile the parts of James Brown because I think James Brown is deeply ambivalent about a great many things. And I think it shows up in precisely those kinds of oppositions that you've set up. He gave money to the H. Rap Brown defense fund. He also bought a lifetime membership in the NAACP. He was a great admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King. And he's very close to Reverend Al Sharpton. He made a record that was almost contemporaneous with "Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud" called "America's My Home," for which he took a great deal of heat from a great many people. So I think that here's a deep contradiction in him. And I think it's difficult to reconcile. I think it's difficult for him to reconcile because this country has greatly rewarded him and viciously punished him throughout his life, beginning from the time he was a child and right up to the present. The song "Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud," which appeared in '68, of course, cost him his crossover audience. People became afraid to come to his concerts and so forth. And if you listen to the song, of course what you immediately notice is that it's almost a children's songs. There's a children's chorus on there singing the refrain.

BIANCULLI: Bruce Tucker, speaking with Terry Gross in 1990. He collaborated on the 1986 James Brown autobiography, "The Godfather Of Soul." More about James Brown in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAY IT LOUD - I'M BLACK AND I'M PROUD")

BROWN: (Singing) Uh, with your bad self. Say it louder.

CHILDREN'S CHORUS: (Singing) I'm black and I'm proud.

BROWN: (Singing) Say it louder.

CHILDREN'S CHORUS: (Singing) I'm black and I'm proud.

BROWN: (Singing) Look a'here. Some people say we got a lot of malice. Some say it's a lotta nerve. I say we won't quit moving 'til we get what we deserve. We've been buked, and we've been scourned. We've been treated bad, talked about as just as sure as you're born. But just as sure as it take two eyes to make a pair, ha. Brother, we can't quit until we get our share. Say it loud.

CHILDREN'S CHORUS: (Singing) I'm black and I'm proud.

BROWN: (Singing) Say it loud.

CHILDREN'S CHORUS: (Singing) I'm black and I'm proud.

BROWN: (Singing) One more time. Say it loud.

CHILDREN'S CHORUS: (Singing) I'm black and I'm proud.

BROWN: (Singing) I've worked on jobs with my feet and my hands. But all the work I did was for the other man.

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bainculli in for Terry Gross back with more of today's James Brown Show. A new movie about him called "Get On Up" opens today in theaters. Next we're going to hear Terry's 1989 interview with a longtime James Brown band member, saxophonist Maceo Parker. Parker also has played with funksters George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, as well as the J.B. All-Stars. Here's Maceo Parker with James Brown in 1969.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOTHER POPCORN")

BROWN: (Singing) Sometime I'm feeling low. I call another brother talking about Maceo. Maceo, blow your horn. Don't talk no trash. Play me some popcorn. Maceo, come on. Popcorn. Do the funky walk. Yeah. Get it. 1, 2, 3, 4.

GROSS: Maceo Parker joined James Brown's band in 1964 and played with Brown for most of the '60s and part of the '70s and '80s. I spoke with Parker in 1990 and asked about the discipline James Brown demanded of the band.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MACEO PARKER: You know, you got to be on time. You've got to have your uniforms and stuff, got to be in tact. You got to have the bowtie. You've got to have it. You can't come up without the bowtie. You can't come out without the cumber bun. Your shoes got to be - your pat leather shoes we were wearing at the time - got to be greased. You know, you just got to have this stuff. This is what I expect. And that was OK.

GROSS: Did you get to, like, if you left the band did you get to keep the costume?

PARKER: No, no, no, no. He bought the costumes, he bought the shoes. And for some reason if you decided to leave the group please leave, you know, please leave my uniforms with somebody.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: When James Brown started playing funk he started putting the accent on the first beat. When did he start telling you about the one in his music and putting the emphasis on the one?

PARKER: He always liked to have a heavy one. That's what he felt. That was his style. (Singing) Going to have a funky good time - that's where the one is, like, right there.

GROSS: Was it hard for you to pick up on that or did it seem natural?

PARKER: It was hard when I had to solo in that I'm used to hearing the accented beat being on two, like, if I would have done it would be (singing) going to have a funky good time 1, and 2, and 3, and 4. That's normally how everybody was recording. And you could hear easily I think the ears - it's easier to hear two and four and that's where the backbeat is normally.

GROSS: Right.

PARKER: You know, like that, two and four. But this was one. And at first, like I said, it was a little awkward. But, you know, we became used to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOING IT TO DEATH")

BROWN: (Singing) Hit it. How you feeling brother? Feeling good. You feeling good? There's so much boom. How you feeling man? I don't want to call your name. I don't want people to know you're in here. How you feeling fellas? We're getting down. Look here. We're going to have a funk good time. We're going to have a funk good time. We're going to have a funk good time. We're going to have a funk good time. We're going to take you high.

GROSS: Is it hard work working for the hardest working man in show business?

PARKER: It was hard but it was rewarding and it was fun because, you know, you're working with somebody who has this title. Hardest working man showbiz, that means you got to do your part, you got to keep up. And, you know, you never want him to say, hey man, you know, if I can do 10-15 splits a night, you know, at least you guys can do play the Le Vamp or whatever it is, you know, for 45 minutes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COLD SWEAT")

BROWN: (Singing) When you kiss me and you miss me, you hold me tight. Make everything alright. I wake up in a cold sweat. Maceo, come on now brother. Let them have it. Put it on them. Play the horn.

GROSS: Saxophonist Maceo Parker with James Brown. Coming up Bass player Bootsy Collins talks about his experiences in James Brown's band. This is FRESH AIR.

The super heavy baseline in James Brown's 1970 hit "Sex Machine" was supplied by Bootsy Collins. Bootsy continued to push funk in new directions, teaming up in the mid '70s with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, which combined funk with science fiction and psychadelia. Then he formed the spin off group, Bootsy's Rubber Band, that was focused on his colorful stage persona. I spoke with Bootsy Collins in 1994. Here he is with James Brown in 1970.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPER BAD")

BROWN: (Singing) Watch me, watch me, I got it. Watch me, I got it. I got something that makes me want to shout. I got something that tells me what it's all about. I got soul and I'm super bad. I got soul and I'm super bad. Now I got a move that tells me what to do. Now I got a move that tells me what to do. Sometimes I feel so nice I want to try my stuff with you. I got soul and I'm super bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: Well, listen I went back to James Brown's autobiography to see what he had to say about you...

BOOTSY COLLINS: Oh, God.

GROSS: So, he writes, I think Bootsy learned a lot from me. When I met him he playing a lot of bass - the ifs, ands and the buts.

COLLINS: Yeah, he right.

GROSS: I got him to see the importance of the one in funk. The downbeat at the beginning of every bar. I got him to key in on the dynamic parts of the one instead of playing all around it. Then he could do all of his stuff in the right places after the one.

COLLINS: That's absolutely correct. Yeah, absolutely correct.

GROSS: Was it hard to make the adjustment to playing on the one?

COLLINS: No, because I knew he knew something. I mean, you know.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: You know, and I was there to learn. It wasn't like, you know, this is my part and I'll fly if I want to. I knew it was James's party, you know, and whatever he knew I wanted to find out because, you know, he just had this - the band was the tightest band in the land and he had this thing going on. We wanted to find out the heck it was, you know.

GROSS: Had you been playing on the two and four before?

COLLINS: Actually, I started playing with the guitar and I wasn't actually a bass player yet. So I was learning to play bass, you know, and I wanted to play bass. So it was like all those other if, ands, and buts is what I was playing when I picked up the bass, you know. It was like, oh, you mean I've got to play on the dominant note, oh, OK. So it was, like, all brand-new to me, you know. And I just didn't feel like a normal bass player, you know. But by James telling me that it all kind of made sense and once I start hearing it, you know, what was actually happening when I did that - it was like, oh. And then I can still do this and I can still do that. So it was a groove, it was really a groove.

GROSS: Let me play one of the recordings you made with James Brown. Why don't we hear "Sex Machine." Do you want to say anything about the rhythm you're playing on this?

COLLINS: That's pretty much the - the whole rhythm is what I've figure I've been doing ever since. When you hear "Sex Machine" that's pretty much where I'm at now.

GROSS: OK. Here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEX MACHINE")

BROWN: (Singing) Fella's I'm ready to get up and do my thing. I want to get into it, man. You know, like a sex machine, man. Moving, doing it, you know. Can I count it off? Go ahead. 1, 2, 3, 4. Get up, get on up, get up, get on up, stay on the scene like a sex machine. Get on up, get up, get on up, get up, stay on the scene, like a sex machine. Get on up, get up, stay on the scene, like a sex machine. Wait a minute, shake your arm and then use your farm. Stay on the scene like a sex machine. You got to have the feeling sugar bone. Get it together, right on, right on. Get up, get on up, get up, get on up, get up, get on up.

GROSS: My guest is Bootsy Collins. Now tell me how your image changed when you started playing with James Brown - what you did on stage, what you wore on stage.

COLLINS: Oh, that's good, that's good. What I wore on stage, oh, man. Well, as you know or may not know those were the days, like, in the '60s getting ready to go into the '70s but, you know, it was another kind of movement going on. And kids were, like, coming up front and wearing, like, bleached jeans and T-shirts and afros and, you know, the Granny grasses. And, you know, we was all freaking out, we was having a freaking party, you know. And I don't know, then here we are. We're playing with James Brown and, you know, we're an army now. You know, it's like woah. You know, so it's like - but it was good for the fact that it kind of brought us off of the street. Were out there doing what everyone else was doing, acting crazy, doing firebombs and doing everything. You know, so getting with James kind of brought us off of the street. And, you know, I think we kind of realize that and at the same time, you know, it gave us a opportunity of really doing something that we wanted to do. So, you know, we kind of put everything else in the backseat because this is what we wanted to do. Even though, you know, we wanted to dress crazy - we didn't know how crazy we wanted to dress but we didn't want to wear suits, you know, we knew that.

GROSS: So you were wearing matching suits onstage while everybody else was wearing jeans and tye-dyed T-shirts?

COLLINS: Yeah, while this movement was going on - the peace, the love - that was going on, you know, here we are, you know, getting stuck with wearing suits and patent leather shoes, you know. But at that time, you know, it was the start of it so it was cool, you know. We said, well we'll eat this because, you know, we definitely, you know, want to be with James, you know, so if you wanted to be with James that's what you had to do.

BIANCULLI: Bass player Bootsy Collins speaking with Terry Gross in 1994. "Get On Up" a new biopic about James Brown opens in theaters today.

To wrap up our salute to James Brown, let's hear a little more from the godfather of soul himself, whom Terry interviewed in 2005.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: You know, pop songs have always been about love and sex, but they never really used the word sex before in the lyrics, I think. What made you decide to actually use the word sex in "Sex Machine"?

BROWN: Well, sex, I don't know, if you're not far from it with the dancing and all that stuff and emulation that you do when they get on the floor whether it's ballroom, two-stepping, the funky chicken or the James Brown - all these different things. And that's what's in your mind if you go by a pool and see young ladies out there in their bathing suits - swim suits because the men don't wear them; the women do. I decided I would use that term because we was at this dance. I mean, a fellow's (inaudible) at this dance, and she's just sitting there, and he's sitting there. Nobody's doing anything, almost like wallflowers. So the fellow jumped up and said, get up. I feel like being like a sexy machine, and just danced. So that started - that was the concept. And it's not (inaudible) or really just somebody else's girl or man. He said, I got mine, don't worry about his. They were like, I like it the way it is. I mean, me and (inaudible) fine. I got mine. Don't worry about his, you know.

GROSS: Was anybody worried - either your producers or disc jockeys about playing a record with the word sex actually in it?

BROWN: James Brown was so - just it was no problem.

GROSS: OK. Here's sex machine recorded in 1970.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEX MACHINE")

BROWN: (Singing) Fellas, I'm ready to get up and do my thing. I want to get into it, man, you know. Like a sex machine, man. Moving, doing it, you know. Can I count it off? 1, 2, 3, 4. Get up. Get up. Stay on the scene like a sex machine. Get up. Get up. Stay on the scene like a sex machine. Get up. Stay on the scene like a sex machine. Wait a minute. Shake your arm then use your form. Stay on the scene like a sex machine. You've got to have the feeling sure as you're born. Get it together. Right on, right on. Get up. Get up. Get up. Get up.

GROSS: That's James Brown. He has a new memoir called "I Feel Good." How did you learn to dance and, specifically, to do splits?

BROWN: Well, I guess all that comes from playing baseball.

GROSS: Wait a minute, most baseball players do not do splits.

BROWN: Well, now they don't. But in those years, that Jackie Robinson, the first black man who came to Major League Baseball, and he was doing the split on first base. There was another black baseball team called the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs before blacks - those were Negro leagues. And eventually, when Robinson got into Major League Baseball, he brought some of those tricks with him. You know, we missed so much because had those black men been able to play baseball then, it would be like the (inaudible) today - 90 percent of all the players are black.

GROSS: So you first, I think, danced when you were a kid. And you danced on the street for pennies.

BROWN: I danced to pay the rent. For the soldiers.

GROSS: Tell us about some of those hardships, about what life was like when you were very young. James Brown, your mother left when you were four, I think? And you were - you lived with an aunt. What was the house like?

BROWN: Well, it was very, very hard. I didn't have a place because my mother left. And my dad took me to see my grand-aunt - great-aunt. It was his grand-aunt. She raised me, kind of babysitted me when my Daddy didn't. Basic menial work that didn't have any skill about it. But they had to go all over the country to find work like - somewhat like they're doing now, having to find a place that commonly we can make it 'cause we're not telling kids to get an education today because we never know what's going to be up there for you, and if there'll be anything for you. So it takes character and the contents of your character, like Dr. King said.

BIANCULLI: James Brown speaking to Terry Gross in 2005. A new movie about him called "Get On Up" is in theaters today. Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews "Guardians Of The Galaxy," the newest entry in the big-budget Marvel action movie franchise. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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