By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
If the professional anxiety caused by the arrest was disheartening, the personal effects were devastating: "I had some cousins who were incarcerated in the same facility, and Mr. Brown told them to have me come and visit him. I didn't go. When he got out, he was riding me about it, saying `Mr. Moore, I sent for you and you didn't come.' I told him, `Mr. Brown, I just couldn't. I'm too used to seeing you in control. It would have been too hard.'"
Despite the trauma of the arrest, both men agree that Brown's attitude both during and after the jail term has deepened their respect for him. "He's so very much more focused," explains Jimmy. "I don't say that's the reason things are better, but they are."
"He's beautiful. He's always been that way, but now that he's straight - not that he wasn't before - things are wonderful," adds Larry cryptically. "But just to give you an example of how he is - how he always has been - I'll never forget when Mr. Brown sent for me, back in '83 or '84. I told him I couldn't come because I was taking care of my parents. They were both bedridden and very ill. I told him I don't have nobody that I can really trust. He said, `Nobody ever really turned me down before, but nobody ever turned me down for that reason. We'll hold your spot. I like what you're doing and I appreciate what you're doing. You don't have to worry about a job with me. You keep on doing what you're doing and God bless you for it.' I'll never forget that. It meant so much to me."
For the full band - which numbers over a dozen members and also includes veteran saxophonist St. Clair Pinckney, drummer Arthur Dixon, and a trio of back-up singers - the postjail period has been a particularly productive one. In addition to the relentless touring, which has included European dates and an HBO pay-per-view, the musicians had their first opportunity to record as a unit. "This was the first album in a long time that he used everybody. And we were doing eighteen-hour days. We would get tired and tell him we wanted to go. But when we heard the stuff, it was all worth it," says Larry. "And there's nothing like the energy of a live band. You can listen to rap records and hear the samples, and technology is fine. But when we went to record, everything in the studio was digital and Mr. Brown wanted only live instruments. The guys at Criteria were like, `Do you really want us to take all this out?' He did. He made them go all the way back, back to the beginning. Everything was analog. The engineers were thrilled; they finally got a chance to work. Oh, man, it was funky."
In homage to their fearless leader, the band members have even worked up imitations of Brown. "Oh, yeah. Everybody in the band can do it," says Larry. "We know how to sound just like him, with the rasp in his voice, tilt the head up, and put the jaw out. We call it the jib. You gotta have the jib. Ronald Laster, the lead guitarist, he has about the best Mr. Brown."
"One day he called my house and I answered the phone as him," laughs Jimmy. "He didn't mind. He has a sense of humor about himself."
Brown, though, appears to have no sense of humor when it comes to the quality of his band. Since the late Fifties, when he captained the first incarnation of the Famous Flames, his bands have been renowned not only for their flawless playing, but for Brown's merciless discipline. Papa don't take no mess, and if you miss a note, or a dance step, you might miss your next paycheck. Same procedure if you're caught underdressed, in sneakers or casual pants.
"Sometimes even on the best day he'll come up to you after the show and say, `Mr. Moore, you played nothing tonight,'" says Larry. Never one to stop at petty measures, Brown once persuaded the entire city of Palermo (a city accustomed to Godfathers) to go dry for an evening because he was concerned about his band members hitting the bottle before the show. "There's a whole city with its own customs and practices, and here comes this one who wants to shut down the place because he's worried that his band's gonna mess up," says Larry. "Talk about power; you tell somebody not to make money. And sure enough, nobody sold anything until the show started."
Larry pauses a minute, lets the impact of the story sink in. Then he glances down at his feet, where he is wearing a pair of verboten sneakers. "Do me a favor," he says, smiling wanly. "Don't tell him I had this stuff on.