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The Famous Flames were an American rhythm and blues vocal group founded in Toccoa, Georgia in 1953 by Bobby Byrd. James Brown began his career as a member of The Famous Flames, emerging as the lead singer by the time of their first professional recording, "Please, Please, Please", in 1956. On hit songs such as "Try Me", "Think"," I Don't Mind ", and "I'll Go Crazy", the Flames' smooth backing harmonies contrasted strikingly with Brown's own raw, impassioned delivery, and their synchronized dance steps were a prominent feature of his live shows. Altogether, they performed on 12 songs (and 14 singles) that reached the Billboard R&B and pop charts. They are also featured prominently on numerous albums, including the groundbreaking Live at the Apollo, and appeared in the films T.A.M.I. Show and Ski Party as well as on various television programs. In 2012 the Flames were retroactively inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame alongside Brown. On their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame page, they are described as "a group of singers, performers and dancers that created the complementary elements of one of the greatest stage shows of all time."
The Famous Flames are sometimes erroneously identified as James Brown's band, a confusion partly fostered by their record companies' practice of misleadingly giving them label credit on recordings in which Brown is the only singer, while failing to put photos of the group on albums on which they actually did record. Although members of the group did play instruments in some of their earliest shows and recordings, by 1959 Brown had hired a touring band and the Flames contributed primarily as backing vocalists and dancers. The Flames also contributed as songwriters and choreographers, as well. The band was billed separately as the James Brown Band, and later as the James Brown Orchestra.
Founded after Byrd had sung with the gospel group, the Gospel Starlighters, the group was founded under the name, the Avons, and performed around the Georgia-South Carolina border. The group was known for launching the career of James Brown, who joined the group in late 1954, replacing singer Troy Collins. After performing under the names the Toccoa Band and the Flames, they became the Famous Flames on the suggestion of a club owner, Clint Brantley, who became their agent.
The group initially found fame with the hit ballads, "Please, Please, Please" and "Try Me". After numerous disagreements that caused group members to leave, the group's name changed to The Famous Flames With James Brown and then to James Brown and The Famous Flames, by 1959. Original group mate Byrd, who left in 1957, rejoined in 1959. The best known and "classic" lineup of the group included Brown, Byrd, Bobby Bennett and "Baby Lloyd" Stallworth, with Johnny Terry still on Brown's and the group's payrolls as the main songwriter of their material with some additional help from Byrd and Stallworth. This lineup remained together until 1968 when members walked out on Brown due to monetary disputes. Of the Flames members, only Byrd would return and provide Brown with vocals and songwriting and group management until 1973.
1.2 Early success and initial breakup,
1.4 Brown's ascension and the group's dissension,
1.5 Brown and Byrd's continued working relationship,
1.6 Later years,
2 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame controversy and 2012 Induction,
6 Billboard charting songs featuring The Famous Flames,
8 External links,
In 1949, James Brown, then sixteen, was sent to a juvenile detention center in Toccoa, Georgia after committing several offenses of armed robbery. While in prison, Brown, who had been singing with the R&B group the Cremona Trio while growing up in Augusta, formed another group called the Swanees, which included Johnny Terry. The band made up their instruments, which included a comb and paper, a washtub bass and a drum kit made from lard tubs while Brown himself played "a sort of mandolin made out of a wooden box." This led to Brown's first nickname, "Music Box". In 1952, Brown's reform baseball team played in an exhibition with another team that featured Bobby Byrd. Byrd and Brown met and became friends. Byrd and his family then offered to be Brown's sponsors for an early prison release. Brown himself wrote to the parole board that he promised to go on the straight and narrow. With the letter and Byrd's family's pleading, Brown was paroled on June 14, 1952. Authorities agreed to release Brown on the condition he didn't return to his hometown. In response, Brown moved in Byrd's parents' home in Toccoa, finding work as a dishwasher and also starting short careers as a boxer and semi-professional baseball pitcher.
Around this time, Byrd had formed the gospel vocal group, the Starlighters, which included Byrd's sister Sarah. Within a year, the group desired to perform R&B but was afraid of being confronted by church leaders for "singing the Devil's music", leading to the group to sometimes perform R&B under the name, The Avons, which included members such as Troy Collins, Doyle Oglesby, Sylvester Keels and Willie Johnson. After deciding to focus primarily on R&B, they retired the Starlighters and fully performed in the South Carolina and Georgia areas as the Avons. In 1954, Brown turned his attention to music, first in the gospel field, with the group the Ever Ready Gospel Singers, which included his old prison buddy Johnny Terry, who was also paroled from prison around the same time as Brown. However, the group hit a snag when they failed to get a deal, leading Brown to return to Toccoa when the group subsequently disbanded. Later in 1954, the Avons faced a tragedy when Troy Collins died from a car crash. Seeking Brown, Byrd asked Brown to replace Collins, to which Brown obliged. At first, lead vocals were split between Byrd, Keels and Brown. Admittedly after Brown joined, he asked Johnny Terry to join as well and also brought in a guitarist, Nafloyd Scott. Fred Pulliam replaced Willie Johnson. It was around this time that the Avons changed their name to simply The Toccoa Band to avoid confusion with two other groups who shared the Avons moniker. Under their manager at the time, Barry Tremier, the group began playing instruments, with Brown playing drums, Byrd playing piano and other members adding in percussion.
Early success and initial breakup:
By 1955, after seeing a performance by Little Richard, the group left gospel behind and changed their name again, to The Flames. While performing at his club in Macon, Georgia, Clint Brantley (who then was an agent for Little Richard) advised the group to add "Famous" to their Flames moniker to draw more people to his club. That year, Doyle Oglesby had left the group as well as Fred Pulliam and were replaced by Nashpendle "Nash" Knox and Nafloyd's cousin Roy, who left before the group signed their first recording deal. After Little Richard left Macon for Los Angeles after the September 1955 release of "Tutti Frutti", Brantley included the band at every venue Richard had performed, leading to the growth of the group's success.
The group began composing and performing their own songs during this time including a James Brown composition called "Goin' Back to Rome" and a ballad Brown co-wrote with Johnny Terry titled "Please, Please, Please". Before Christmas 1955, Brantley had the group record a demo of "Please, Please, Please" for a local Macon radio station. Based on two accounts, "Please, Please, Please" came together in the following manner: Etta James stated that during her first meeting with Brown in Macon, Brown "used to carry around an old tattered napkin with him, because Little Richard had written the words, 'please, please, please' on it and James was determined to make a song out of it...".; the remainder of the song came together after hearing The Orioles' rock 'n' roll version of Big Joe Williams' hit, "Baby Please Don't Go," taking the melody from the song.
"Please, Please, Please" was played on Macon radio stations, making it a regional hit by the end of 1955. The recording was sent to several record labels, who promptly passed on the record, though two labels, owned by Cincinnati-based King Records, pursued the group. Ralph Bass of Federal Records eventually won the bidding war, signing the Famous Flames in February 1956. A month later, they re-recorded the song in Cincinnati. Upon hearing playback, King Records founder Syd Nathan protested against the recording, deeming it unreleasable due to Brown's vocals and almost fired Ralph Bass on the spot.
"Please, Please, Please" was eventually released in May 1956. By September, the record had reached #6 on the R&B charts. Constant performing with the song while the group performed on the chitlin' circuit kept the record on the charts for a year, and by 1957, it had started selling well over 5,000 copies. The record eventually sold between over a million or three million. Most of the original Flames' releases after "Please, Please, Please" failed to generate any follow-up success, including "I Don't Know", "No No No", "Just Won't Do Right" and "Chonnie-On-Chon". By then, the group had a new manager, Ben Bart, chief of the Universal Attractions Agency, and Bart advised the rest of the group to change their name to The Famous Flames with James Brown. This led to issues with the original members of the group and Bart, who gave them an ultimatum of either "staying and working for $35 a night or go home". The group responded by going home, leaving Brown and Bart. Brown and Bart hired members of the vocal group the Dominions to replace the original Flames.
After several other recordings failed to chart, the Famous Flames were in danger of being dropped from Federal by 1958. Johnny Terry gave Brown a ballad that was based on the song, "For Your Precious Love" by Jerry Butler & The Impressions titled "Try Me". The song became the Famous Flames' first number-one R&B hit in early 1959. Following the song's success, Brown suddenly fired the interim group members of the Flames, "Big Bill" Hollings,J.W.Archer,and Louis Madison, due to them disobeying his rules of drinking before a show in the Bay Area. These men, along with another former interim member, Willie Johnson, stayed in that area, and went on to form a San Francisco-based splinter group, The Fabulous Flames, and were signed by the small Bay-Tone Records label. By then, Brown and Terry had found Bobby Byrd performing with the ex-Original Flames and asked him to find newer members.At this point, The Famous Flames ceased being a vocal/instrumental group, and became a straight vocal group, as there was no need for additional instrumentalists, since Brown, in the interim, had already began to employ his own road band, the old J.C. Davis outfit,(The Bucketheads), which became the first incarnation of the new James Brown Band (now a separate entity from The Flames,who were now all vocalists save for Byrd, who sang and occasionally also doubled on keyboards). Original Flames members Bobby Byrd and Johnny Terry returned, and new Flames members Bobby Bennett and Lloyd Stallworth were added. Along with Brown, these four men comprised the definitive and longest-lasting lineup of The Famous Flames . Byrd helped with bringing J. C. Davis' band the Bucketheads to back Brown on tour. Soon, the Bucketheads became the first unofficial James Brown Band, with Davis as Brown's bandleader. Byrd then auditioned singers and dancers to join the Famous Flames. Eventually "Baby" Lloyd Stallworth and Bobby Bennett joined the group, alongside Brown and Terry. Byrd soon rejoined the group as a member due to Brown's insistence. The group (now James Brown and The Famous Flames) then performed at the Apollo Theater in April 1959, Brown's first performance there, opening for Little Willie John.
That year, Brown also scored his first solo hit with "I Want You So Bad", which peaked at the top twenty of the R&B chart. Ironically, this song was credited to James Brown and The Famous Flames, as would a majority of the recordings that were released during that time. In 1960, Brown and the revised Flames started recording hits regularly with songs such as "Think" and "I'll Go Crazy". By 1962, three factions of "The James Brown Show" were recorded: James with the Famous Flames, James with his instrumental band, and James by himself vocally, sometimes recording duets with other singers. In 1962, the Famous Flames had a hit with "Shout and Shimmy", which was actually their rendition of The Isley Brothers' "Shout", but the song was dismissed by a critic as "a truly shameless ripoff of the song... basically the fast parts of "Shout" with the gospel inflections removed and the word 'shimmy' added." Their 1963 live recording at the Apollo Theater was released as Live at the Apollo became a best-selling release, peaking at number-two on the pop album chart, selling over a million copies and staying on the charts for fourteen months.By this time, Brown and the other Flames had worked so hard at their craft, word-of-mouth had began to spread about their exciting stage show,and the group eventually became the top-ranking Rhythm & Blues group in America,on record and on tour. Famous Flame Bobby Bennett, in a 2012 interview , stated: "We were the stars of every show that was out there. Everybody else worked under us:The O'Jays,Temptations, Four Tops,Smokey Robinson and The Miracles". In 1964, the group reached a peak in its popularity when they appeared in the 1964 American International Pictures concert film The T.A.M.I. Show, which had theatrical release in theaters across the U.S., and which, for the very first time, impressed the mainstream rock audience with their explosive performance, with Brown in particular, showcasing off impressive dance moves that later made an impression on younger artists. Brown & The Flames also debuted their landmark performance of "Please, Please, Please" in which Brown would collapse on his knees, causing Famous Flame Bobby Bennett and MC Danny Ray to drape a cape (or towel) on him and walk him off before Brown decided to return to the microphone, this would be a trademark in Brown's shows for the remainder of his career. The group's performance was received so well, and caused such a sensation, that the festival's follow-up band and last band to close the show, The Rolling Stones, struggled to match it.In a 2012 interview for Goldmine Magazine, Flames member Bennett stated: "When we finished performing that night, Mick Jagger would not go on stage," recalled Bennett. "Mick Jagger refused to go on stage. He said, 'I will not go on stage behind James Brown and the Famous Flames." He wanted to wait a day before he went on stage because he didn't want his act to be killed. And he did not come on. He couldn't dance a lick."
In 1964, the group recorded another successful live album, Pure Dynamite! Live at the Royal,which like "Live at The Apollo", reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Pop Album chart, but as before with the Apollo album, the group's name was not placed on the cover though they were clearly on the record, and were included in the album's intro. The Flames also contributed to the recording of the 1964 studio album, Showtime. Again, Brown, and not the Flames, was included in the credit alone though they were featured on the cover of the album. King Records caused further confusion by listing some James Brown solo recordings as recordings by The Famous Flames when the group wasn't on it; this had started back in the group's Federal days with the ballad "I Want You So Bad". This confusion made fans of Brown believe for years that the Famous Flames was actually Brown's backing band, instead of the vocal group that they actually were.At the same time,King Records did not rightfully credit the Flames by putting their faces on albums on which they did actually record,posting only Brown's face on the covers. In 1964, James & the Flames had another top 40 hit with the blues ballad, "Oh Baby, Don't You Weep", which reached number 23 on the pop chart, and number four on the Cashbox R&B chart and later released their last recording together, "Maybe the Last Time", which was a b-side of James Brown's Smash recording, "Out of Sight", for which, ironically, The Flames did not receive label credit.
Brown's ascension and the group's dissension:
In 1964, James Brown and fellow Famous Flame Bobby Byrd formed their own production company, Fair Deal, as an attempt to promote their recordings - that of the Famous Flames and Brown and his instrumental band - to a crossover audience. As a result, Brown signed a contract with Smash Records, a subsidiary of Mercury to distribute the records. After the release of the danceable 12-bar blues hit, "Out of Sight", however, Brown's record company King stopped Brown from releasing any more recordings as he had not been obligated to make deals without the label's consent, resulting in Brown not releasing any recordings for a year. This led to the Famous Flames being on Brown's recordings less and less, settling as a stage performing act. In 1965, King released Brown's first recording in over a year with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag". Thanks to the exposure of his 1964 performance with The Famous Flames on the T.A.M.I. Show concert film, the song became a smash hit, Brown's first as a solo artist to reach #1 on the R&B charts and also reached the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100. The song also provided one of the first glimpses into a new sound cultivated by Brown and the James Brown Band that would later be labeled as funk. In an unusual decision, however, King Records still credited the recording as being by "James Brown and The Famous Flames" despite the actual other Flames not participating on the recording. The same was said of two more Brown solo hits, "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and at least 18 more recordings until 1968.
These hits and more contributed to their popularity. The group found themselves performing in Hollywood movies such as Ski Party and appearing twice on The Ed Sullivan Show during 1966 (where The Flames were, sadly, uncredited). The group had also began to perform overseas and became a major attraction. Famous Flames member Bobby Bennett later explained that they couldn't go sightseeing in European cities due to fans mobbing them. Brown's solo obligations led to the group's further dissension as they felt they weren't being paid properly by Brown. In 1968, King released the group's second live album at the Apollo but this time cut off the Famous Flames' introduction after the group had left Brown by then. The 2003 CD re-release of the album corrected that mistake, and restored The Famous Flames' name credit to its rightful place on the album. By then, while the Famous Flames had reached massive popularity, dissension again threatened another more permanent breakup. Brown had settled on the role of being a full-fledged solo artist by then and was no longer using the Famous Flames on recordings of his.This happened as a result of Brown's "new deal" with King in 1964, giving him full creative control over his recordings upon his return to the label. Another example of their growing problems was their choices of transportation: Bobby Bennett would say all the group members including Brown used to travel together to gigs in a station wagon. By the peak of their success, some of the Flames rode by bus, Bobby Byrd rode his own car but James Brown had separated himself completely from the group now arriving in either his custom-made Cadillac or his own Learjet. Another source of tension was monetary royalties that the Flames felt they were not getting for all of their hard work with Brown.Flames member Bobby Bennett described this as "the beginning of the separation between James Brown and (the rest of) the Famous Flames."
By 1968, most of the other Famous Flames decided they could no longer work with Brown or continue their musical careers. Johnny Terry had since left the group.Lloyd Stallworth also grew tired of the road and walked out following Terry. Bobby Bennett also sought retirement because he had hated the conditions in which they were forced to work in. He and his wife Sandi also had a growing family and he wanted to be more at home. Eventually he was the next to walk out on Brown, later moving and settling in Maryland. With only Bobby Byrd remaining, the two Flames recorded two songs including the hit "Licking Stick - Licking Stick", which was credited as a "James Brown and The Famous Flames" recording. Following the release of "Licking Stick - Licking Stick" and "I Guess I'll Have to Cry", King no longer billed recordings as "James Brown and the Famous Flames", only using Brown's name. Byrd would continue an on and off-again collaboration with Brown, mainly as the show's emcee. Contrary to popular belief, Brown didn't fire the Flames, the group quit on their own accord after many claims of non-payment of royalties.The Famous Flames had quietly disappeared....forgotten by the music industry, Disc Jockeys, Music writers and historians, and the general public, while Brown, having changed his style from R&B to Funk, went on to become a worldwide solo superstar. Brown decided to go at it on his own with his James Brown Band until they too would leave him before a gig in 1970.
Brown and Byrd's continued working relationship:
While Brown's credited innovation of funk music had made him a superstar, following the disbanding of the Famous Flames, Brown was struggling to keep up with the pace of the grueling process he had set up for himself. Without the powerful singing and dancing of the Famous Flames backing him up, Brown was now on his own. Having acquired the nickname, "The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business" which he took from Little Richard. Brown not only was recording himself and his band, he had also set up concert tours that kept him on the road for nearly the entire year without any breaks. After the tours finished, the band would record songs Brown had written or thought of while performing. However, the constant touring, recording and other ventures Brown involved himself in, including philanthropy, caused some to worry about Brown's health after he had contracted diabetes. Brown's growing addiction to controlling his band also caused further strain and figuring they weren't being paid for their recordings or their performances, members of Brown's band, including Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker, all walked out on him.
Desperate to find a replacement group, he again called Bobby Byrd, who was still living in Cincinnati and working at King Studios, to help find him a new band. Like he had done before when Brown sought to bring back the Famous Flames, Byrd found a band that had once auditioned for them - The Pacemakers, which included the talented Collins brothers, 25-year-old guitarist Phelps and his 19-year-old bass-playing brother William, who were known simply as "Catfish" and "Bootsy". The band was told by Byrd to get onstage with Brown during a gig as he had a few minutes before he was set to hit the stage. With Byrd tagging along, he eventually rejoined Brown and the band, Byrd and Brown traveled to a recording studio later that night to record what became a landmark song for Brown, "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine", which Byrd had written. Brown finished the song and the band recorded the song in one take. This band would later be referred to as the first incarnation of The J.B.'s. With the help of Byrd and the Pacemakers (Catfish and Bootsy especially), Brown had finally emerged as the leader of the new funk movement after Sly Stone and George Clinton as the genre had become accepted as a new musical art form in R&B as folks were starting to feel comfortable using the word in a positive light.
"Sex Machine" was one of first since 1968 to feature Byrd but since King no longer was releasing records under the "James Brown and the Famous Flames" billing, Brown was credited solely. Brown and Byrd sung co-leads together on several more hits including "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved, "Soul Power" and "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing". In 1971, Brown signed with Dutch-based Polydor Records after 15 years associated with King Records. Under the new deal, Brown and Byrd formed the People record label. Byrd is sometimes referred to as a member of the J.B.'s band as he contributed piano and keyboards on records like "The Grunt" and "Make It Funky" (Byrd is prominently featured on the latter record's intro asking Brown, "what you gon' play now?!" to which Brown replied memorably, "Bobby, I don't know, but whatsoever I play, it's got to be funky!") as well as the social commentary, "King Heroin".
Byrd would also return to his solo career within Brown's auspices again, writing and releasing songs such as "I Need Help (I Can't Do It Alone)", "Hot Pants (I'm Coming - I'm Coming)" and "I Know You Got Soul", the latter song featuring Brown singing with him. By 1971, Brown and Byrd and the J.B.'s packed audiences in the United States and abroad. A good example of Brown's and Byrd's partnership during this time was seen on performances recorded for TV including a performance of "Sex Machine" on the Mike Douglas Show and during a performance of the song during a show in Paris. After the Collins brothers left Brown to join George Clinton's group, Funkadelic, Byrd hired another bassist and guitarist and helped to compose with Brown more hits of his though Byrd, as it happened during the Flames years, would be uncredited for some important songs such as "Super Bad" and "Hot Pants". During this period, and following the Collins' departure, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker returned to the band heading the band off away from their initial funk roots to a more jazz-oriented sound. However, by 1972, Byrd again complained of not being paid money for contributing to Brown's funk sound just as he had complained of not being paid during his Famous Flames years. In 1973, Byrd officially walked out on him while Brown was recording the soundtrack to Black Caesar.
Although Byrd reunited with Brown on several occasions in the ensuing decades during live gigs, the Famous Flames never performed with him as a group again. Brown wrote dismissively of them in his 1986 autobiography, claiming that though "they were a good stage act, they couldn't really sing all that good." However, elsewhere he referred to them favorably as "a bunch of real fine quartet singers". In 2003, Byrd and his wife, Vicki Anderson, sued Brown and Universal Records (which now owned the King Records catalogue), claiming they were cheated out of royalties from samples of Byrd's 1971 hit, "I Know You Got Soul". Despite rumors of bad blood, Byrd contended he "still loved"Brown and felt the matter was more due to issues with Universal than with Brown, though Anderson contended that Brown should have paid them. Any hint of a reunion with the Famous Flames ended first with the death of Lloyd Stallworth in 2001, followed by Johnny Terry in 2005 and Brown in December 2006. An emotional Byrd performed at Brown's public funeral in Augusta, singing "Sex Machine" and "I Know You Got Soul". Byrd followed Brown in death barely 9 months later, in September 2007. Bobby Bennett, the last living member of The Famous Flames, lived long enough to see the group inducted into the 2012 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In an interview that year, Bennett said that "James didn't want to pay us what we were due... But we all remained friends and stayed in contact with one another throughout the years." Bennett died on January 18, 2013,less than a year after the group's induction.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame controversy and 2012 Induction:
In 1986, the first committee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced that James Brown would be one of the Hall of Fame's first charter members to be inducted. Oddly, Brown's former group the Famous Flames were not included in the induction. In its criteria, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame only inducts artists whose first recording had been out for more than 25 years. Because "Please Please Please" was actually a group recording, as was "Try Me" while the first three albums were credited under the James Brown and the Famous Flames billing and since Brown's first solo albums, The Amazing James Brown and James Brown Presents His Band/Night Train occurred in late 1961, missing the 25-year criteria, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame president and chief executive officer Terry Stewart contended that Brown was indeed eligible for induction but as a member of The Famous Flames . About the rest of the Famous Flames not getting inducted back in 1986, Stewart went on to say: "There was no legislative intent why they weren't included; somehow they just got overlooked." But Flames member Bobby Bennett later explained that Brown's 1986 solo induction may have been a result of the dissension among the other Famous Flames members and Brown: "We'd been having differences for years ... all on account of the money," Bennett said. "James wanted the money for himself, and we wanted to get paid our money."
Rock Hall CEO Terry Stewart set up a special committee in 2011 in which bands and groups that had been eligible for induction but were left out because of the impact of the bands' lead singers/front men, finally correcting issues that had been implicit in the first two years of the induction ceremony. The Famous Flames (Byrd, Bennett, Terry and Stallworth) were inducted in April 2012 alongside other "backing groups" such as The Midnighters (Hank Ballard), The Comets (Bill Haley), The Crickets (Buddy Holly), The Blue Caps (Gene Vincent) and The Miracles (Smokey Robinson). In reality, these were not really "backing groups" at all, since their lead singers were all members of their respective groups in the first place. Smokey Robinson, who did the induction honors for all of the groups, including his own Miracles, stated:"These are not "backing groups". These are the groups." Bennett, as the group's only surviving member, accepted the induction in person in Cleveland. Bennett further stated the induction was not only a correction for the R&R Hall of Fame committee's mishap in 1986 but also a reunion: "For years, I felt like we were all separated," says Bennett. "I feel like we're whole again, I wish we could all be here as one group," he says. "Yes, James Brown was the most famous of the Flames, but we were all Famous Flames."
Backstage, during the ceremony, Miracles lead singer Smokey Robinson, who inducted the group, said, "If James Brown was the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, The Famous Flames were the hardest-working group".
In their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame page, the Famous Flames were described as representing Brown's "greatest period of impact as a driving force in soul music and as a live performer", stating the group "not only sang but also were part of the stage choreography that made Brown's shows so spectacular" and that "although Brown was the undisputed leader", the group "played a significant role in his success" further stating that before "he busted out to become the Godfather of Soul", Brown was "initially just one of the Flames".
In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Bennett said the group was "one unit, and we had great chemistry", stating the group "did specific things on each song, and James Brown did his thing as a member of the (group)."
The personnel of The Famous Flames varied widely in the group's early years. For example, when "Please, Please, Please" was recorded on February 4, 1956, The Flames was made up of Brown, Byrd, Johnny Terry, Sylvester Keels, and Nash Knox with Nafloyd Scott on guitar, but Terry was the only member of the original lineup (aside from Brown himself) to perform on the group's next hit, "Try Me", in 1958. According to Brown's autobiography, group founder Bobby Byrd (who briefly left the Flames upon the group's initial break-up) returned to the group shortly thereafter. King Records never put the Flames' faces on any of the group's album covers, a practice that prevented the record-buying public from getting to know the members other than Brown himself.
The longest-lasting Famous Flames lineup consisted of Brown, original member / founder Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett, and "Baby Lloyd" Stallworth. This lineup lasted a full 10 years, from 1958 to 1968, with original member Johnny Terry coming in and out of the group during this period as a substitute and occasional 4th member.
The only members of the Famous Flames that, so far, have been honored by The Rhythm & Blues Foundation for their achievements, have been lead singer James Brown in 1993, and group founder Bobby Byrd in 1998. Despite their 2012 Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Famous Flames as a group,have yet to be honored by either The Rhythm & Blues Foundation or the Vocal Group Hall of Fame as of 2013.