One night the band readied for a set and the black king walked in. The hair led the way.
"Right there stood James Brown, and we were going to play with him," Ellis said. "We had to play it hot that night, I can tell you. Burned, we did. James Brown could burn."
Because the Godfather of Soul, born in
"Get On Up!" the movie about Brown's life, opens Friday nationwide, including at
"I got my ticket already," said
"We knocked it out, but nobody did that song like James Brown himself. The cat was a legend. The guy had something in him that you didn't just see or hear -- you felt it in your soul. The Godfather of Soul, that sure was him."
Brown's 1956 release of "Please, Please, Please" launched a career that went up and down like a roller coaster -- years of success, valleys of trouble with the law and changing music tastes -- until his death on
Portraying himself in "Rocky IV" in 1985 -- and his hit song "Living in America" from that movie -- might have given Brown mainstream pop icon status, but he had been a bona fide star for decades before that.
After the concert, Brown went to the Friendship gym and played an after-hours gig. Live performances were always his bread and butter. The music, the dancing, the shouting, the hair. He was music and showmanship, capes and shiny shoes and not apologizing for a minute that he came out of juvenile detention and church music -- and somehow put it all together with showmanship that had no match.
Brown sang about longing and love and race and, yes, sex. The movie takes its name -- "Get On Up" -- from a line in his 1970 hit single, "Get up (I feel like being like a) sex machine."
When Brown released the 1968 single "Say it Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud!" black musicians heard themselves in the music, too. Brown was dubbed "the hardest-working man in show business" because of his non-stop touring. Black acts in those days had to tour almost non-stop to make money, even if they had hit records.
"James Brown was like a God, man," said Willie "Bluesman" Roach of
"You wanted to be a singer like James Brown. You wanted to hear the crowds like there were at the James Brown shows. You hoped that someday you could make it like James Brown."
Roach even had his own hair "marceled" -- straightened hair, conked hair -- like Brown's trademark coif after seeing him perform.
"There is no counting how many young black men saw James Brown on television, in a concert, on a record sleeve, then went out and got their hair processed." Roach said.
And the late
"My father did James Brown's hair when he came through
"James Brown was not going to perform without his hair just right, and my father was ready to be there to make it just right."
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