They didn’t call him ‘Mr. Dynamite for nothing. James Brown is perhaps the most enigmatic performer of his era, a funk and soul pioneer who backed his shimmering catalog with a stage show that never failed to impress, despite the various controversies that threatened to put end to his career.
A highly controversial figure, Brown’s life is a fascinating read, filled with as many highs as lows, with one thing certain: without him, many of our favorite bands that followed, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Public Enemy, would have sounded completely different.
It is a testament to Brown’s musical accomplishments that Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin once said, “He [James Brown] was almost a musical genre in its own right and it changed and advanced all the time so people could learn from it. Brown’s influence is so widespread that even proto-punk Iggy Pop spoke of her love for him, saying he was “a big, big problem for me”.
While we could spend forever discussing the significance of James Brown’s musical endeavours, it’s impossible to ignore the character behind it, with his increasingly raging off-stage persona. It has been noted that in the 1960s and 1970s Brown’s performances were at their peak and this was mainly because he had a strict no drugs and no alcohol policy for his band. Although he was known to serve unique highballs to his friends at his home in Queens, New York in the 1960s, intoxicants were banned when it came to performing.
Famously, this brought him into conflict with his various bands, as members of his first band, the Famous Flames, were fired for drinking, along with Catfish and Bootsy Collins and then fired in 1971 after intentionally taking LSD before a performance. Brown suspected the pair had been on drugs from the start, with the Collins brothers later performing with Parliament and Funkadelic.
However, Brown’s aversion to drugs would not last long. Assistant Bob Patton claimed he accidentally shared a marijuana joint containing PCP with Brown in the mid-1970s, which led the “I Got You” singer to hallucinate “for hours.” However, Brown would later refer to it as if he only smoked marijuana.
It was the start of a new chapter in Brown’s life, and by the mid-1980s it was widely known that Brown was a regular drug user, with his Revue singer Vicki Anderson telling Barney Hoskyns that he regularly used drugs. PCP since “before 1982”. ”.
Brown’s drug use in the 1980s gradually altered his life, stopping him several times over the decade. Although he had run-ins with the law before throughout his life, it was here that things took a harsher turn. In 1988, it was reported that he fired a shotgun at a man for using his office bathroom. He subsequently fled, resulting in a police chase on Interstate 20 near the Georgia-South Carolina border.
He was later duly convicted of various drug and driving offences, as well as assaulting a police officer and carrying a gun without a license. He was sentenced to six years in prison but only served two and was released in 1991. However, this would mark the beginning of the final chapter of his life, 15 years marred by various issues including sexual harassment and domestic violence.
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