On March 13th I had the opportunity to speak to The King, also known as James Brown. He's recorded a CD and toured the world in support of Gravelands. This album is sung like Elvis but the songs are all by singers that have passed away. Nirvana's Come As You Are sits next to AC/DC's classic Whole Lotta Rosie, Sinatra's New York New York and Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Chile. Mr. Brown performed with his band.
Highwire Daze: What are you looking forward to seeing in L.A. today?
James Brown: I'm going to Universal Studios to relax and have a good time.
HD: I was surprised to find out that you're a relatively young man. You're 31?
James: Next month I turn 31. I don't feel young though.
HD: Does your family keep you young?
James: Physically I feel tired. It's tough raising five kids.
HD: Would you rather be with them or touring?
James: I'd rather be with my family. I see this [album and tour] as a great opportunity to make our lives better as a family.
HD: What made you decide to leave your job as a postal employee and make this album?
James: How the whole album came about, Bret was I'd been singing at a club and I was approached by a guy called Bob Kennedy who asked me if I'd like to make a record. Immediately I thought 'Yes, of course.' Who wouldn't want to make a record? We sat down and we had a drink. I asked him what did he have in mind, since I don't have any musical background. How I got involved in singing was a complete accident because an aunt of mine played a joke on me in a club in order to get me up on stage to sing with a band. So I asked Bob Kennedy what he had in mind for the record and he said he wasn't sure. Vocally, he said I was the closest thing to Elvis Presley. Which I've taken as an amazing compliment. I suggested to him that for a time I imagined what it would be like if Elvis was still alive what would he record? I'm not saying what is on the Gravelands album is what he would have recorded but this is how we led up to the concept. I suggested the old Eddy Cochrane song Something Else and I really love the way the Sex Pistols did the song. He thought it was not a bad idea, it was a good song, it was perfect for Elvis. Then we talked about modern day songs. Then he suggested an Elvis tribute to Nirvana. My response was 'You're serious, are you?' He gave me a copy of the Nevermind album and I took it home. He called me up a few days later and I told him I didn't want to pursue that [an album of Nirvana songs]. From the album I thought Come As You Are as a very eligible track. I can imagine Elvis singing it. So we had those two songs. On the telephone he suggested Bob Marley's No Woman, No Cry and I thought Elvis singing reggae was another crazy idea. He said we didn't have to do it in a reggae style, we can change it and give it a slightly country feel, a ballad. I've never recorded anything in my life and to me it was an experience that I never expected to lift off the way it has. I've seen parts of the world that I've never dreamt of seeing. I'm all over the place and I'm wondering if this is really happening. It's hard to adjust to.
HD: Having faith in yourself led you take the leap?
James: I haven't giving up my job, Bret. I went straight from school and worked in the post office back home for 13 and a half years when this all came about. I had to be very careful in what I was going to do. I have five children, a wife and mortgage. So I had to be very sagacious in my decisions. People where expecting me to just walk out on my job. I told them I wasn't going to, I've got family to support, can you compensate for this? Then I came up with an idea and I went to my employer and asked for some time off. I still have my job waiting for me if nothing works out musically.
HD: You would probably be one of the more talented members of the post office if you do go back. What has the reaction from the fans been like during your live show?
James: One show [in Germany] sticks out in my mind is at the end of a show, girls were actually giving me pieces of their jewelry, and there was one girl who was crying her eyes out. I was wondering what I had done to provoke such a reaction from another human being so that at the end of a show they would have gone crazy.
HD: We'll try to not let that information get back to your wife.
James: (Laughs) She had been there for a few shows and it just so happens that the shows she was there for--I couldn't believe it, all along nothing had been happening--and one of the shows that she went to when she spent a few weeks on tour someone actually threw underwear up on the stage. I just thought 'what a most inconvenient time for this to happen.' I just picked them up and gave them to Paul, my lead guitarist.
While performing at he Viper Room someone threw a bra up on stage, causing a blush to rise from the humble singer, a person who never thought he would be in the position to make women's knees weak and hearts to ache for the family man. He's James Brown to his friends and relatives, but you can call him The King.