Ramblin’ Rhodes: New biography sheds more light on James Brown

The announcement that members of James Brown’s past bands would reunite for the fifth annual Major Rager music festival in April comes on top of a new biography about the late soul music legend.


Damon Wood of Las Vegas, traveled the world several times over with Brown for about seven years playing lead guitar in the Soul Generals band, meeting visiting superstars backstage and performing at venues ranging from night clubs and private parties to enormous European music festivals.

He recounts the good times and the bad times without bitterness or spite in Working For The Man Playing In The Band, My Years With James Brown co-authored with Denver journalist Phil Carson.

It is not due out until May in timing with JB’s May 3 birthday, but advance copies have been distributed by ECW Press of Toronto. Visit ecwpress.com.

Before and since Brown’s death at age 73 on Dec. 25, 2006, there have been many books about the South Carolina-born and Augusta-reared singer authored by family members, former band members and music journalists, including myself.

This is one of the best books from an insiders’ viewpoint about any entertainer going into details of what goes on behind the scenes while touring with a large group and working for a highly volatile, world famous celebrity.

Yet, through all of the pages, Brown emerges (as most insiders often attest) as being an average human; not at all perfect while still trying to be a perfectionist and showing kindness and humor in spite of his darker times fueled by drugs and the pressures of show business and family life.

“James Brown was one of the most charming individuals you’d ever meet,” Wood relates. “He had the power to make you feel unbelievably great. Onstage and off, he could be funny, generous and lovable.

“But he also had the power to chip away at your dignity just by what he made you endure every day.”

Like many bosses, Brown would use verbal praise and pay bonuses with his best workers according to Wood to get better performances out of his other employees.

“Sometimes during rehearsals he’d praise you in front of the band and you had to gracefully acknowledge the compliment, all the while wondering if he was setting you up making your colleagues resentful,” Wood revealed. “In front of an audience, he was always gracious and professional and called your name after you soloed.”

Wood tells many stories about how the glamour of being part of a band known throughout the globe was offset by the physical and mental challenges of getting from show to show and not knowing what equipment, food or housing might be at the next stop.

One particular journey in the fall of 1999 took the band on the tour bus from Augusta to Detroit (900 miles in 12 hours), and then to Albuquerque, N.M. (1,500 miles and 24 hours away), and then to Houston (another 900 miles) before heading another 1,000 miles back to Augusta. And at the wheel of the bus was a longtime driver who couldn’t read a road map (people in the band read it for him) and had to be encouraged to stay awake!

It was the band members, backup vocalists, dancers and sound/lighting professionals who had to stay awake at all times during each show to be alert for Brown’s impromptu hand signals changing each show around.

Wood recounts, “Every performance was fluid and in the moment. He could create a medley of his songs on the spot, in real time and call the arrangement on the fly because he had trained the band to watch him so closely.

“He could go into any song at any time or segue from one song to another after just one verse. He felt he had to keep the show moving at maximum excitement and, should a lull in energy seem imminent, he could punch up the show with a wave of his hand.”

Area readers especially will love that this book is interspersed with first-person, sidebar stories from Brown’s entourage, which was well known locally, that include Wood’s close friend, Keith Jenkins, backup singer Kelly Jarrell and highly respected Brown musicians Hollie Farris, Erik Hargrove, Robert “Mousey” Thompson and Fred Thomas.

“Like everyone who ever worked for Mr. Brown, I can’t help but look back to the days when he pushed us to our limits and beyond and shared the sheer joy and the pure excitement he conjured out of thin air with a holler and a dance step and a big sound,” Wood concludes.

“As I said at the beginning of the book, working for James Brown was the hardest thing I ever had to do. And through good times and bad, it’s still the greatest thing that ever happened to me. So far.”

JB BAND MEMBERS REUNITING: Check out TheMajorRager.com &FWBpro.com to find out more about Brown’s band members reuniting for the fifth annual Major Rager music event on Friday, April 6, at the Augusta Common across from JB’s statue in the 800 block of Broad Street.

Headlining the event will be the George Clinton &Parliament Funkadelic band.

Early bird tickets until 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 26, are $20. Tickets after that are $30 advance or $40 day of the show.

FOLK TRIBUTES IN NEWBERRY: The Newberry (S.C.) Opera House is offering a tribute show to Peter, Paul &Mary and Simon &Garfunkel at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, $25.

Real life folk legend Arlo Guthrie returns to Newberry at 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 5, $85, $75, $65. Call (803) 276-6264 or visit newberryoperahouse.com.

MANDOLIN PLAYER SAM BUSH is BACK: Bluegrass music star Sam Bush returns to the Imperial Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, for the Morris Museum of Art’s Budweiser True Music Southern Soul and Song series. Tickets are $15, $23 and $28 and available at the box office, 745 Broad St., by calling (706) 722-8341 or visiting imperialtheatre.com.

RONNIE MILSAP AT THE MILLER: Country music superstar Ronnie Milsap, also no stranger to Augusta, brings his piano playing and long list of hit songs including There’s A Stranger in My House and It Was Almost Like A Song to the Miller Theater at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17. Tickets are $49, $59 and $99. Call the box office at (800) 514-3849 or buy online at millertheateraugusta.com.

Sugarland in concert: Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 26, to see award-winning country duo Sugarland at James Brown Arena on May 25. The Still The Same Tour will feature guests Brandy Clark and Clare Bowen. Get tickets at georgialinatix.com, (877) 428-4849 and the arena box office.