James Brown

Believe it or not, soul legend James Brown is 65 years old today.

No other African-American artist has had as much influence on current

popular music than "The Hardest Working Man In Show Business," who was

born poor in the deep Southern U.S. (exactly where is disputed and some

sources even dispute the year). He picked cotton as a youth, but

eventually became a thief. He was convicted of armed robbery at age 16

and spent three years at a juvenile detention center. He then spent

time in boxing and baseball, but an injury led him to music. After

singing gospel in churches, he joined a gospel group called the Swanees,

which he later renamed the Flames. Federal Records signed them in 1956

and the group's first record, Please, Please, Please, became a


By 1958, when "Try Me" became a #1 R&B hit, Brown was the star

of the group and formed the J.B.'s, a stage band in which he began to

perfect his wild gyrations and hip-twisting. After leaving the Flames,

Brown began concentrating on dance music. In 1963, he released his

early masterpiece, The James Brown Show Live at the Apollo.

Widely considered one of the greatest albums ever made, it showcases Brown's

incredible stamina as a performer and features a great deal of audience

interaction. It

set the stage for the prime of Brown's career: 1965-75.

In 1965, Brown received complete creative control from King

Records (Federal's parent company) and, beginning with "Papa's Got a Brand

New Bag," he became

R&B's biggest star and creative force. Concentrating on rhythm, his

music dispensed with verses and choruses, setting a musical precedent

for its reliance on tempo, groove and energy. A long streak of R&B


followed, including


I Got You (I Feel Good)" (RealAudio excerpt), "It's a Man's, Man's,


World," "Give It Up or Turn It Loose" and


Bad" (RealAudio excerpt). During this time, Brown

became known as "Soul Brother Number One." In addition to founding

programs for

poor black youths, Brown began recording songs with social messages such

as "Don't Be A Drop Out" and "America Is My Home." In 1971, he became

his own manager and parted with most of the J.B.'s. His music became

even more unconventional, relying on stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and

his style

became of less interest to the pop world. By 1975, he had run into trouble

with the Internal Revenue Service and his fans turned to young R&B acts,

leaving Brown to

flirt with film stardom. By the '80s, Brown was without a record

label, although his unparalleled energy in concert ensured that he could

still attract an audience. The emergence of rap later in the decade

reawakened music fans to Brown and he enjoyed a top-10 pop hit in

1986 with "Living In America." But in 1988, his wife accused him of

assault, and the next year, he led police on an interstate car chase after

allegedly threatening people with a handgun. He was sentenced to six

years in jail and was paroled after serving two years. Polydor began

reissuing his catalogue, keeping him in the public eye throughout this

inactive period. In 1998, he was again charged with firearms possession

after spending weeks in a mental hospital for an addiction to

painkillers. He was sentenced to a rehab center but has not yet spent his

time there,

postponing it in order to tour. Brown was planning an early May birthday

bash in

New York City, as he has in past years, which was to include tribute

performances by such acts as Chris

Whitley, Frank Black and the Fleshtones for an eventual CD release. But

the Associated Press recently reported that the bash has been scrapped

in favor of a televised tribute.

Other birthdays: Pete Staples (the Troggs), 54; Christopher Cross, 47;

Steve Jones (Sex

Pistols/Neurotic Outsiders), 43; and David Ball (ex-Soft Cell), 39.