TURNIN IT LOOSE: DOUGLAS WOLK ON JAMES BROWN PRODUCTIONS


Baby Lloyd: I Need Love
From 7″ (Atco, 1960)

Johnnie & Bill: On My Way to School
From 7″ (Federal, 1962)

Bobby Byrd: It’s I Who Love You (Not Him Anymore)
From 7″ (King, 1970)

The Famous Flames: Who Am I
From 7″ (King, 1970)

(Editor’s Note: This special post comes to us from music journalist and fellow bloggateer, Doug Wolk. Doug is a big BIG fan of James Brown productions and rumor has it that he’s collected every single song every produced by Soul Brother #1, no easy feat, lemme tell you. These four here, for example, have never been on CD – as far as we could tell. Doug’s been sharing his thoughts on the JB master collection not just for us, but also Moistworks where he’s just wrapping up part 1 of 3 posts related to his JB collection. Here’s what he put together for Soul Sides. –O.W.)

Most of James Brown’s early singles were actually credited to James Brown and the Famous Flames. Occasionally, people think that the Flames were the band; they were actually the backup singers–although they weren’t always the same group of backup singers. The first recorded Flames were Bobby Byrd (who’s sung with Brown on and off through his entire career), Johnny Terry (who’d done time with JB at Georgia Juvenile Training Institute, and was lucky enough to get co-credited for “Please, Please, Please”), Sylvester Keels and Nashpendle Knox. Various other Flames rotated through the lineup: J.W. Archer, Bill Hollings, Lewis Madison, Eugene “Baby Lloyd” Stallworth, Bobby Bennett.

Occasionally, one of the Famous Flames would get to record something on his own. Bobby Byrd was by far the most prolific; most of his best songs are collected on Bobby Byrd Got Soul, but a few good singles are missing from it. One of them is “It’s I Who Love You (Not Him Anymore),” a “Dark End of the Street” rewrite with tortured syntax, some dubious rhymes, and a mix that fades out in the middle of its final verse. No matter–Byrd sells it, especially the barbed spin in the way he phrases the chorus: “I know he’s had you… hung up…”

Baby Lloyd only got to record a couple of singles–the other one is a version of “There Is Something On Your Mind” that owes essentially everything to Bobby Marchan’s version. “I Need Love” is notable for the fact that, a couple of years later, JB lit a fire under its ass and re-recorded it as “I’ve Got Money.”

I’m not entirely clear on who Johnnie & Bill were–a slightly later single, “This Is My Story,” was credited to Johnny and Bill–and I’m guessing they might have been Johnny Terry and Bill Hollings (if you know otherwise, please correct me). But the voice singing the harmony part on this version of “On My Way to School” is unmistakably James Brown. The other side of the single, incidentally, is “On My Way to School (Teen Age Version),” which updates the beat to what those crazy sock-hoppers were into. And the lyrics are blues common-stock–unusually for JB, the song is credited as “traditional.”

The Famous Flames’ 1970 single “Who Am I” had a writing credit for Johnny Terry; I suspect that’s him singing it, too. A few months later, JB produced an uptempo single version of it sung by Roberta DuBois, and in early 1972, he released his own version on the “There It Is” album. But it’s fitting that what appears to have been the last time the Famous Flames’ name appeared on a record was on a song about pleading for identity. A year later, one of the first singles on People Records was the occasionally anthologized “Stand Up and Be Counted” by the (not-famous) Flames, but it doesn’t seem to have been the same people standing up for the count. –Douglas Wolk

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