The Soul Of James Brown

James Brown (300)

hide captionJames Brown performs at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1981.

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It should come as no surprise that James Brown has inspired countless tributes and covers, both good and bad. On the heels of an excellent compilation of tributes to the funk kingpin, called Jump Back! Imitations, Interpolations and the Inspiration of James Brown, I felt justified to dig into my collection and turn up some companion pieces for a study into the icon's soul. Here are five of the most unusual and exceptional examples, from inspired tributes to psychedelic reinventions.

The Soul Of James Brown

Bus People

Augusta, Georgia (Here I Come)

  • Artist: Bus People Express
  • Album: Augusta, Georgia (Here I Come)
  • Song: Augusta, Georgia (Here I Come)

"Augusta, Georgia" doesn't sound like it was recorded in 1991, but it was. Brothers Jan and Max Weissenfeldt, then teenage funk fans (and later of the Poets of Rhythm and the Whitefield Brothers), journeyed from Munich to the U.S. in search of rare 45s. Unaware of the country's size, they booked a bus trip from New York to New Orleans. It might have been a tough ride, but upon their return to Germany, they recorded this ode to James Brown and his hometown and self-released as a 45 on their Hot Pie and Candy Records label. If their vocalist, Bo Baral, hadn't returned to his normal voice as the recording ends, you'd swear that this song was recorded by a black band touring the Chitlin' Circuit in the late '60s.

 
Popcorn

Popcorn/Oye Como Va

  • Artist: East of Underground
  • Album: East of Underground
  • Song: Popcorn/Oye Como Va

A contest for army bands sponsored by the U.S. Army in Germany yielded a double album featuring the contest's winners: a white band (the aptly named Soap) on one side and a black band (East of Underground) on the other. East of Underground's album, a masterpiece of stoned psychedelic covers of the likes of The Mamas and the Papas, Funkadelic and the Undisputed Truth, also paid homage to James Brown with this devastating cover of "Popcorn."

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  • "Popcorn/Oye Como Va"
  • Album: East of Underground
  • Artist: East of Underground
  • Label: Wax Poetics/Lettuce
  • Released: 2007
 
Cry Babies

It's My Thing

  • Artist: Cry Babies
  • Album: Cry Babies
  • Song: It's My Thing

James Brown's diva Marva Whitney recorded her response to the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing" (the sassy "It's My Thing") in 1969. Out of the multitude of songs released by JB's proteges, "It's My Thing" inspired the most covers. This uptempo, psychedelic cover of the song, by Brazilian supergroup Cry Babies, is probably the weirdest. Unfortunately, it's never been officially reissued.

 
The Fabulous Originals

It Ain't Fair, But It's Fun

  • Artist: The Fabulous Originals
  • Album: It Ain't Fair, But It's Fun
  • Song: It Ain't Fair, But It's Fun

The intro gives it away: These Ohio-based high-school students heard JB's "Super Bad" and had to give it a run of their own. They weren't the only high-school band to cover that stuttering classic –- the Kashmere High School Stage Band of Houston also did it on its Thundersoul album, released to the Kashmere students in 1970. But The Fabulous Originals go one step further than Kashmere, upping the ante on Brown's already frantic tune with the infectious enthusiasm that only amateur (but talented) musicians could put forth.

This song appears on Midwest Funk: Funk 45's from Tornado Alley, put out by Now Again.

 
Boogaloo Combo

Hot Pants Road

  • Artist: Boogaloo Combo
  • Album: Com Muito Ritmo
  • Song: Hot Pants Road

The Boogaloo Combo released two albums on the Brazilian subsidiary of CBS in the early '70s. The albums are chock-full of benign covers of soul, rock and boogaloo songs from the era. But for some reason, the band heard "Hot Pants Road" by Brown's backing band The JB's and decided to one-up it with this driving, expertly executed (if all-too-short) cover.

This song appears on Brazilian Beats, put out by Mr. Bongo.

 

Egon is the general manager of the Stones Throw label. He also founded Now-Again Records, which reissues American funk and soul albums, and the Soul-Cal imprint with Peanut Butter Wolf. He DJs funk and psychedelia sets at venues all around the world.

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