JAMES BROWN: FUNK FOUNDATIONS



James Brown: Night Train
From 7″ (King, 1962)

James Brown: I’ve Got Money
From 7″ (B-side of “Three Hearts In a Tangle”) (King, 1963)

James Brown: Out of Sight
From 7″ (Smash, 1964)

All available on Star Time.

I’ve been working on a JB appreciation essay for MTV’s URGE site and in the course of doing research, I got into this tangential query of my own: where exactly did Brown and the JBs’ innovations for funk begin? Depending on who you ask, different scholars/critics have varying opinions. This what most agree upon: “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” was the first hit record by Brown that clearly put forward his and the band’s funk ideas (“Cold Sweat” further expanded on them). However, there were at least three singles before “Brand New Bag,” that also point to the new directions in rhythm that Brown was working with.

The first was 1962’s “Night Train,” a song that should be familiar to most out there (but I’m including it anyways). The rhythm isn’t as advanced as some of the later songs and the drums (played by James himself) are pretty straight forward rather than on some sophisticated syncopation tip. But the bassline – which is incontrovertibly funky – is definitely “on the one,” which nods to a proto-funk sensibility and you’ll notice that the horns on that song play much more of a percussive (rather than harmonic/melodic) function, which is one of the things that the JB horns would eventually become famous for by mid/late decade.

“I’ve Got Money” is a revelation – I had never heard it before until recently[1] and remember: it’s from 1963. That’s Clayton Fillyau on the drums, knocking out that wicked uptempo breakbeat (I’m assuming it’s also Jimmy Nolen on guitar). Fllyau didn’t grow up in New Orleans but he learned his drumming from NOLA stickmen which explains that prominent, second line style of syncopation he has going there. Seems like a lot of folks don’t tend to talk about this single as being part of the Brown funk evolution but Jim Payne’s Give the Drummers Some goes out of its way to credit the song as being incredibly important in understanding the connection between Brown, funk and the New Orleans’ second line tradition.

(Here’s a little bonus: “I’ve Got Money,” isolated in the left channel, which is where the drums are. Fillyau is killing it here. “Amen, Brother,” eat your heart out.

Last, there’s “Out of Sight,” the song that The Funky 16 Corners identifies as the main proto-funk song in the Brown catalog. It definitely sounds different from both “Night Train” and “I’ve Got Money,” – has more of that slinky swing that we associate with the JB sound. No wonder too – the basic rhythm on this song was retasked to become “Papa’s Got a Brand New Band.”

And with that – happy new year. Thanks for everyone for supporting Soul-Sides.com and Soul Sides Vol. 1 in 2006. Expect to see Vol 2 coming very soon in 2007.


[1] By the way, thanks to Doug Wolk with compiling almost every single JB or JB-produced single ever released. Sure makes doing research like this a lot easier!

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