By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
In concert, James Brown may croon "Georgia on My Mind" or punch out "Kansas City," but the Hardest Working Man in Show Business has a special place in his heart for Miami. Since he escaped from the watchful eye of King Records president Sid Nathan to cut the dance hit "Do the Mashed Potatoes, Parts 1 & 2" at Henry Stone's Dade Records in 1959, Brown has returned to town a number of times, most recently to Criteria Studios to lay down tracks for Love Over-Due, his first LP of new material since his highly publicized jail term.
But the local connection is not just professional. Brown also has a personal attachment to Miami. Or, more accurately, a personnel attachment. Two long-standing members of his band - keyboardist Larry Moore and bassist Jimmy Lee Moore, who are not related -make their homes in the area. Of the two, only Jimmy is a Miami native; Larry spent his childhood in Greenwood, South Carolina. But because they were black Americans growing up in the late Sixties (Larry is 40; Jimmy Lee 33), both men were profoundly influenced by Brown's seminal funk. "I grew up listening to James Brown," says Larry. "Everybody did. He had the music, and his music had messages. When I was young he would come pretty close by, to the auditorium in Greenville. I couldn't go because I came from a very strict religious thing. But I would stand out on the porch and listen if maybe I could hear a lick. It was only 51 miles away."
"It was always James Brown," adds Jimmy. "My father was an entertainer, played with Hank Ballard, and my mother plays a little drums also. All the records that were in the house were Mr. Brown's records. Like `Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing.' I wasn't playing bass at the time, but I heard the bottom on that song and needed to do it. I whined and hollered for a while, until my mother went and bought me a bass guitar."
According to the Moores, there's a simple formula for joining James Brown's band: Love the music when you're a child, pick up an instrument when you're a teen-ager, apprentice till you drop while you're still a young man, and then, finally, meet Bobby Byrd. The network of bands that moves around James Brown - including the JB's and outfits manned by horn-men Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley - operates like a sports league, with advance scouts and an extensive minor-league system. Both Larry and Jimmy became affiliated with Byrd, a longtime Brown associate and one of the original Famous Flames, and he recommended that they be promoted to the major leagues. In the early Eighties, James Brown called, and the Moores answered.
So what's it like being on-stage with the most exciting soul revue in the history of music? What's it like to stand by while the announcer provides the protracted foreplay (Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Soul Brother Number One, Mr. Dynamite, Mr. Please Please Please himself, The Godfather of Soul, the one, the only, Mr. Jaaaaaaames Browwwwwwwn!) and then the band, tight as leather pants, drops the opening chords of "Cold Sweat"? Well, when you're playing with James Brown, sometimes you feel so good you gotta jump back and kiss yourself. "I always thought if I could just meet him one day, what an experience that would be," says Larry. "And now I'm playing with him. It's hard to believe."
But following in the footsteps of the Famous Flames and the JB's isn't only a musical experience. It's also historical, and emotional, and spiritual. Here in the Nineties, with his prime in the past and his public persona often reduced to a tower of hair and a series of power grunts, it's easy to forget that more than any other recording artist, Brown revived black consciousness and moved it to the fore of pop culture, and he did so with unqualified dignity. Crossover, often a pejorative, meant something different for James Brown - that he would stand still and have others come to him. He called on his legendary strength while he fought prejudice in the Sixties, and others called on it after the April 5, 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., when Brown made a televised plea for calm in the black community. "The man is strong as a bull," says Jimmy. "I never knew anybody like him in my life. There are new stars all the time, and yet you only have but a few from the old school, those who I know know the way. I've never seen him with a common cold and I've been there eight years."
But if the current band has never seen their boss sniffle, they've been forced to withstand a much more serious challenge to the hagiography. Three years ago yesterday, Brown allegedly burst into an Atlanta insurance seminar, carrying a rifle and shouting incoherently. When police pursued, Brown led them on a wild three-state chase. The news of the chase, and the subsequent conviction on charges of aggravated assault and resisting arrest, shattered his band members. "When I first heard about that, it was really crazy," says Jimmy. "I thought I was dreaming. We had just gotten back from Europe, and I went to visit my father in Fort Pierce. When I got there I found out he was pretty badly sick. First a big flash came across the news about Mr. Brown, but I wasn't worried, really. I didn't know the details. So I went and laid down to get some rest, and I heard he had gotten jail. I jumped up like a nightmare. My father told me, `Junior, it was twelve years in a federal penitentiary.' We put the tape in to make sure. I felt like I was back to square one."