The Famous Flames
The Famous Flames started with Bobby Byrd, Sylvester Keels, Doyle Oglesby, Fred
Pullman, Nash Knox, Baby Roy Scott and James Brown (later Nafloyd Scott would join
playing guitar). They sang gospel and rhythm & blues. They started playing juke joints,
and their popularity increased. They later started playing at different colleges. During this
time he married his first wife Velma Warren and later had a son Teddy. James had written
"Please, Please, Please" and recorded a demo. It was rejected by many record
companies, but was eventually signed to King Records. James had made it a hit by
performing it across the country. The was no promotion by the record company, but after
James left town, it became a local hit. When they got to New York, they signed with
Universal booking which provided more gigs. Universal later asked them to change the
name of the group to James Brown and the Famous Flames. This led to the first of many
breakups of James's various bands.
When Little Richard retired in October 1957, James was called to fill his bookings. He
performed with the Upsetters and the Dominions. He recruited a new band from members
of the Dominions. They recorded "Try Me" which became #1 on the R&B charts and #48
on the pop charts. Disagreements caused the Famous Flames would break up again in
Oakland , CA. James was scheduled to do the Apollo a few weeks later and Bobby Byrd
came to New York to help him put a band together, and they were a hit. From that point
on, James was in demand and started doing a string of one-niters. By 1960, James
returned to headline the Apollo and recorded "Live at the Apollo" in 1962. By June 1964,
James would record with the Famous Flames for the last time
Make It Funky
Some feel that funk as it's known today, started with "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag".
The difference was in the rhythm, it was "on the one". The beat was accented on the first
and third beats instead of the normal second and fourth beats. James used an offbeat bass
line, while the horns and guitars played contrasting rhythms. This rhythmic arrangement
created a new sound that changed rhythm and blues. Follow up songs like "Licking Stick"
and "Cold Sweat" helped to define funk music. This new style was copied by other artists
and started the genre of funk. James took funk to a new level with the addition of The
The horn section was one of the tightest but funkiest ever! Fred Wesley and Maceo
Parker were helpful in the success of both James Brown and George Clinton! Both Fred
and Maceo were bandleaders for James at different times. Fred's trombone was the
funkiest I ever heard. Maceo's sax had become an important part of the "James Brown
sound". While James was in charge of the band, he couldn't control their natural abilities.
I feel that their contributions have been overlooked by many.
The JB's were a replacement band for his sixties band that included Fred Wesley and
Maceo Parker. The band was in Columbus, GA on March 9th,1970 for a concert and were
upset with James. They refused to play unless their demands were met. Not intimidated,
James Brown called his agent to find The Pacemakers, a band that toured with Hank
Ballard and Marva Whitney. The Pacemakers were a teenage band that included brothers
Bootsy and Phelps "Catfish" Collins (bass & guitar), Clayton Gunnels, Darryl Jamison,
& Robert McCollough on horns, and Frank Waddy on drums. They were tracked down
and flown to Columbus to perform behind James that night. James eventually started the
concert with the new band along with Bobby Byrd and John "Jabo" Starks, and the old
band left. Their performance was shaky. They were very loose in contrast to James's
usual tight band, and met with Bobby Byrd just prior to going on stage. Within a short
period of time, they became the "New Breed Band" named by James, eventually
becoming The JB's. Bootsy's rhythmic bass style gave the band a new dynamic sound and
brought him to the forefront. Bootsy based his style from Larry Graham (Larry developed
his rhythmic bass sound from playing with his mothers trio. When the drummer left the
band, they became a duet with no drummer. He used his bass to also provide the rhythm).
They began making new arrangements of James's hits for The JB's. "Give It Up, Turn It
Loose" with a new arrangement eventually became "Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex
Machine", and the legend of The JB's was born! They took James Brown to a new level
of funk and were loved by the public. Eventually Fred, Maceo, and others came back into
the band. After a year, they also had a dispute with James and quit the band to later
joined Parliament / Funkadelic.
The sixties were a turbulent time in America, especially for blacks. Segregation, the Viet
Nam war, poverty, drugs,and urban blight were some of the problems that faced blacks.
James had always tried to help blacks, and it became evident after the assassination of
Dr. Martin Luther King. James was scheduled to play the Boston Garden the night after
the assassination. James flew to Boston to perform. He was met by a black city
councilman and was told that the mayor wanted to cancel the concert. They felt that
cancelling the concert could increase the possibilites of violence. They tried to convince
the mayor to change his mind when it was suggested that the concert be televised. James
wanted to do that but had contractual agreements prohibiting it. He felt that if people
stayed home to watch there would be no rioting. He arranged permission to televise the
concert and the city guaranteed the box office receipts. There was no rioting in Boston.
James later went to Viet Nam to play for the soldiers in June 1968. He returned in the
middle of controversy. Some were criticizing him for being an Uncle Tom. They felt that
going to Viet Nam showed his support of the governments position on the war. His song
"America Is My Home", which he felt was misunderstood, was fuel for for the criticism.
James had received pressure to record a song that supported the Black Power movement.
James responded with "Say It Loud (I'm Black And I'm Proud)". The song became a
catalyst in the Black Power movement, and #1. The song was an anthem that showed
black pride and defiance. It had cost James though, it was #10 in the pop charts, the last
song to be in the pop top ten. He had alienated some whites and his problems with the
government began, being spied on by the FBI and IRS.