“I’m ready to get up and do my thing. I want to get into it man, you know….Like a, like a sex machine.” (James Brown, Get Up I Feel Like Being Like A Sex Machine)
James Brown is undoubtedly the person responsible for turning soul music into the funk music of the late 60’s and early 70’s. With his high-energy performances played to chunky rhythms he carved out a style of heavy rhythm and blues that was unlike anything that had been heard before.
When we think of funk we can’t help but think of sex; it’s the dirty baselines, the suggestive vocals and the frantic rhythms that get us all hot under the collar. The sense of abandonment within the music allows us to lose our inhibitions and it is music that makes us want to dance freely.
Funk originated in the US. A mixture of soul, rhythm & blues and jazz it emerged as African American musicians began experimenting with new sounds.
When James Brown first began performing he was a soul singer and there was little that made him stand out from the countless other singers on the scene at the time. It was through sheer perseverance and thanks to a keen ear that kept itself firmly to the ground that Brown developed his own style of music and introduced the world to funk rhythms.
“Out of Sight” was a smash hit record in the US which showed James Brown’s descent into the murky world of funk but it was the release of “Papa’s Got a brand New Bag” and “I got you (I feel Good)” which really brought the music into public consciousness.
Brown’s reputation for being a slave driver was never better illustrated than when his entire band walked out on him in 1969. Never one to be defeated Brown enlisted a Cincinnati band, The Pacemakers, featuring none other that legendary bassist Bootsy Collins and his brother, guitarist Catfish Collins. Together they began to play harder, dirtier funk and the gauntlet was laid for other musicians to join the fold.
Bootsy Collins later went on to join George Clinton’s bands Funkadelic and Parliament. While James Brown is known as the “Godfather of Soul” George Clinton is considered by many to be the “Godfather of Funk” a title he has earnt through dedication to the funk movement .
Clinton’s original outfit “The Parliaments”, a 60’s Motown vocal group was renamed Funkadelic following a dispute with their record company. Funkadelic played a style of funk that was outrageous and wild and toyed with psychedelia. Together with sister group Parliament, Funkadelic began to progress the P- Funk movement into the 70s.
Originally P- Funk referred to the music of George Clinton (Parliament-Funkadelic) but the term soon took on other connotations. P Funk now underlines the quality and essence of something. In funk terms P Funk is the daddy of all funk “I want the bomb. I want the P-Funk. I want my funk uncut.” (P Funk, Parliament)
Funkadelic’s most successful song was the anthem “One Nation Under a Groove”, a song which captured the imagination of the Civil Rights Movement by urging people to lay down their arms and simply get their groove on.
Meanwhile Sly and the Family Stone, a successful American rock band, began to play their take on funk music. Made up of family trio Sly Stone, his brother Freddie and their sister Ross the band were hugely influential and scored a string of top ten hits until drug abuse and ego clashes finally tore the band apart.
Funk has heavily influenced many styles of music from the disco of the 70s to the hip-hop of the eighties and nineties. Jazz funk has been heralded by the likes of Herbie Hancock and artists such as Prince have built careers out of creating music featuring scratchy guitar riffs and groovy baselines.
Today with the growth of dance music and sampling, funk beats and baselines can be heard in all genres of music from break beat to house to drum n bass. Forty years after he brought funk to the masses James Brown is still one of the most sampled artists.
Pioneers such as Brown and Clinton may be in the autumn of their lives but like true professionals they are still funking things up. Sadly they won’t be here for ever but even after they are long gone the music will live on.