Even though he passed in 2006, no one else has been able to lay claim to James Brown’s famous moniker, “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” Truly an icon in his own time, Brown solidified his place not just in music, but in pop culture as well.
Author R. J. Smith explores Brown’s legacy, both on stage and off, in his new book, “The One: The Life and Music of James Brown.” The title does not refer to Brown’s placement on any list, however, but to his intense obsession with the first beat in a series of four.
His attention to detail was one of his master attributes, as he was known for fining or firing band members for numerous offenses, including trying to achieve a shine on one’s shoes by cutting corners with Vaseline. Also covered is Brown’s turbulent childhood growing up in the South, and the inherent paradox in how a man who was so outspoken as an activist for fairness in society routinely abused the people, specifically women, in his life. Finally, Smith traces Brown’s life to the very end, when his issues with growing old and not having access to the limelight pushed him to eccentric habits and activities.
Why did Brown succumb to his demons the way he did throughout his life? What impact did he have on popular music and society? What are your most vivid memories of James Brown, musical or otherwise? Why does Brown still captivate and hold our attention today?
RJ Smith, author of “The One: The Life and Music of James Brown” (Gotham)