That’s MISTER James Brown to you, and he called everyone “Mr.” too. While technically growing up James, he was always called “Jimmy” and to a young Brown, “Mr.” connoted respect — both given and received. As a kid who grew up a call-girl wrangler and shoeshine boy in terrible circumstances in the Deep South, he almost miraculously morphed into THE greatest entertainer of the 20th century (forget Sinatra, Elvis, and yes, Michael Jackson). Much RESPECT indeed.
Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown is a a look at that journey, a peek into the life of a demanding, tyrannical (and at times lonely) genius who fined his bandmates for wardrobe slip-ups and missed notes, and even got into armed confrontations with them!
Drummer Melvin Parker (brother of sax legend Maceo) tells of a backstage altercation where JB had planned to pop Maceo in the mouth so he couldn’t blow his horn, so a packin’ Melvin intervened. It’s terrific pistols at dawn stuff, but really, that’s just one fascinating kernel in a documentary that puts Brown’s music into the context of the tumultuous Civil Rights movement and the assassination of James Meredith and Dr. Martin Luther King. Or, as it’s said in the doc: “Brown’s whole sound is an assertion of black beauty and black pride.”
There’s some great music nerd stuff, as trombonist Fred Wesley recalls how he was a less-than-enthusiastic funk music fan, but appreciated how James Brown was doing something different, so he decided to join the band when the offer was extended. Mick Jagger talks about 1964’s seminal concert film, The T.A.M.I. Show, and how he stole a bunch of Brown’s moves (Maybe Adam Levine would’ve written about JB if his name were an extra syllable). Questlove, the effortlessly cool drummer from The Roots, breaks down “grace notes” and how a tambourine is used in church and how JB’s two drummers created the nasty funk sound.
But what’s so great about Brown is…that he made poet Ezra Pound’s famous modernist injunction, come true: ‘Make It New!
That’s what Brown was all about.
Cold Sweat, is arguably the first funk track, throwing everything on “the one.” Brown basically created a sound that has its reverberations to this day in hip hop. Most people are lucky enough to create one style of music, let alone lay the foundations for another. LEGEND.
***1/2 (out of 5)