"Are you really ready for some super dynamite soul?" the emcee, the skinniest man with the loudest voice ever to wear a tuxedo, bellows to the theater. The audience yells yes."Well, thank you, now it's startime," he continues screeching above the brass and the drums.
"Introducing ladies and gentlemen, a legend in his own time, the young man who has had over 44 soul classics, among these tunes that will never die tunes like 'Try Me,' 'Out of Sight,' 'Papa's Got A Brand New Bag,' 'Like a sex Machine,' and 'Get Up to It and Get Involved,' and 'Get up off That Thang.'" Now even the most listless observer is up, psyched by the drum rolls, by the screams of the faithful females in the front row.
"Introducing," the emcee says, "Mr. Dynamite, the amazing Mr. Please, Please himself, the King of Soul, the star of the show, James Brown."
The star glides onto the stage James Brown, James Brown, the audience is cheering and this short, stapping man who looks very menacing until he smiles a warm, broad grin, waves at the electrified darkness. Then he grabs the microphone, shakes his shoulders, and shouts, "I'm back, I' back." Two minutes into the hard-driving "Thang." Brown did the first of the next hour's dozen splits to the floor stiffened his ever-moving body to do "The Robot," then tipped the standing microphone over the edge of the stage spun around, split to the floor, and was upright, smiling triumphantly, before the microphone snapped back to standing position.
Backstage, in the dark of the Howard Theater, Danny Ray, the emcee, looked through his sunglasses at the man he's been hyping for 17 years. Brown, now 44, was twirling on his platform heels and swinging his head so forcefully that his lustrous black curls drooped. The energy hasn't diminished, despite a mild heart attack years ago and ulcers and despite the fact that James Brown is not the power on the charts and concert curcuit he once was.
J.B., says Ray, pushes himself because he's determined to make a difference. And J.B. himself, standing backstage in a terrycloth robe, scanning the audience, says, "I'm proud of what I have accomplished. And I want to pass it on provide a legacy and I know that sounds final but I realize only the kids can do that. White America is at a great loss with Elvis Presley gone, and I don't want black America to feel that same gap. So I keep on, giving the kids something to love, something to imitate. I'm proud that I am so well loved."
So James Brown is now dispensing memories, memories to the fans, who are kids, regardless of age.Outside the Howard, where Brown and his revue are appearing until next Sunday, 8 and 9-year-olds are hustling for tickets. Inside the audiences range from the 60-year-olds down, the majority in their 30s, the kids that got grown started years ago, some now with their own kids on their laps remembering when James Brown was new.
Fifteen, 20 years ago they stood outside the Apollo, the Regal, the Updown, the Royal and the Howard, waiting faithfully for hours to get a $2 seat in the balcony. Danny Ray psyched the crowd. And when the dark man in sequins spun onto the stage, moving his feet in scissors motions to dance called the "Slop," then kneeling on the floor, his processedpompedour touching the floor, they holdred.
In those days black city kids had parties in the basements of their parents' home or the projects. One red light burned. As the hour neared midnight, Frankie Limon and the Teenagers' uptempo numbers were taken off for James Brown's "Try Me" and "Bewildered." Everyone danced a try close, slow routine called the grind. The guys in their tab-collar shirts thin ties, and stingy brim hats clutched the girls, dressed in shifts, windowpane stockings and French heels. Actually no one moved their feet but did a body movement called around the world. After the dance all the girls had an Afro look that wasn't popular yet.
The the fans saw Brown put down the ballads for a string of songs with tight sledgehammer beat. They did the bop and the jerk and glowed over his financial success which turned to guaranteed gold in 1965 with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." They read in the Pittsburgh Courier, the largest black newspaper of the day, how he has a hit in Europe, how he played the first integrated dance in Memphis's City auditorium and how he helped it with the March from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
Then the fans started reciting the poetry of Baraka and Giovanni, worked hard to get their Afros kingsized, adopted Bobby Seale and Huey Newton and wondered what Brother James Brown thought about the changes. He recorded a song urging kids to stay in school, then helped clam down riots in three cities in 1968, and was criticized for being "establishment." Then he rebounded as a wrong cult figure with "Say It Loud - I'm Black and Proud." It was played right along with Nina Simone's hymnike "To Be Young Gifted and Black," and Baraka called him a poet.
Then the James Brown, the one with the two jets, six cars and encourage of 50 people, the one the Bill Crosby imitated on an album, the one those music Joe Frazier used to shape up, was suddenly endorsing Richard Nixon in 1972. Somehow the beat didn't sound right anymore. He has never retracted the statement, he'll believes that he was right, even though of the endorsement he'll follow him.
In Washington last week, a television interviewer, herself one of those kids of the 50s asked if he had any regrets. "The things I said I meant, I would say them all over again," answered Brown, firmly, without a smile. "I'm not locked into any political network. I'm independent. I say what I believe. And I don't believe in leaders out front runners."
What James Brown absolutely believes in are the many shades of James Brown. Starting with the one who climbed up from poverty and reform schools in Macon, Ga., to owning estates and businesses all over the state. That Horatio Alger reality, the kid who shined shoes outside radio station WRDC in Augusta and now owns the station, is part of his appeal.
"He's big but he's small," said middle-aged man, watching him sign autographs for cafeteria workers on Capitol Hill. And he hasn't forgotten the days or the people he passed on the way up. Because of the loyality he is appearing at the Howard, the first headliner at the landmark theater since it re-opened and closed again after one week in 1975, and giving a percentage of his gross to the theater.
While he pushes himself, he also displays an enormous ego. "I have sold more records than anyone else in the business and I haven't found 100 per cent of my capacity," he says.
On a day of public appearances, Brown requests, and receives, a police car escort. The sirens wail and Brown says. "You want to get the people excited, so they know someone big, james Brown, is around."
And, despite the ominous talk of legacies, he believes strongly in his future, one that's equally entrepreneur and entertainer. In the future he has a tour of Europe planned, his biggest ever with 27 dates, and his latest album. "Mutha's Nature," and his latest single "Give Me Some Skin," are both popular.
In the business arena, he already has several corporations, including a booking agency, a music publishing business, three radio stations and a television show. "Future Shock." "When I first came in the business, you didn't know how much you were making, you did six shows a day and didn't have any control. Now I do," says Brown, sitting under a hair dryer in his dressing room.
"I have not put out 100 per cent of what James Brown can do. I want to have a television chain and I think I can do it. There are not five black or white entertainers who own themselves, you are looking at one who does."
On stage the James Brown show, currently known as the "Future Shock Revue," is cooking. Al Hudson and His Soul Partners, a group that opened with the revue, were fired by Brown on Saturday. The Jewels, female trio, opens the show followed by the J. B.s, the band and Martha High, a graduate of Washington's Roosevelt High School, a featured vocalist. When Phineas Johnson, the sax player, stretches out on "Feelings," the audience goes wild.
And Brown doesn't disappoint. The lights flash and the audience stands up as he goes through all the motions of "Sex Machine." He screams "Jam. Jam," jumping up and down, and everyone responds.
Then he's down on his knee singing "Please, Please," the song that started him in 1956. He moans, he grunts, and then Danny Ray drapes him with a black and white cape. Some female fans move to the rim of the stage, and he walks off, exhausted, pleased, and returns in a minute to roars.
In the rear, a 30-year-old from West Virginia smiles, shaking his head. "I know I've seen thatfinale ever since I was 13."
The way James Brown looks at it, he still hasn't seen 100 per cent.