Musicians who worked with James Brown generally like the biopic Get On Up but say they should’ve been consulted on its making.
Saxophonist Maceo Parker, a vital cog in the James Brown machinery in the 1960s and ’70s, rates the film an 8 out of 10.
“What can you say? It had a Hollywood feel to it, therefore it served its role. I must say it was good,” he said.
Parker was especially impressed with Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of the late Godfather of Soul. “He really became James Brown. He did a remarkable job.”
But Parker and other band members wonder why no one asked them about their experiences with Brown.
“I have no idea why I was not contacted,” said Parker, who often worked as Brown’s bandleader, stage emcee and comedian. “Maybe they were afraid to pay us some type of consulting fee or something. I have no idea. I just know I was never contacted. It’s not like I can’t be reached. … I tour throughout the world. I’m not in hiding.”
Parker, who lives in North Carolina, joined Brown’s band in 1964, along with his brother, drummer Melvin Parker, when the two attended North Carolina A&T University.
Brown often referred to Maceo Parker by his first name on recordings, calling out “Maceo blow your horn” for solos.
“James really made me a household name – especially in Europe,” he said.
Parker also said he didn’t like the way he was played in the movie by actor Craig Robinson.
“That character cursed a lot. In reality, I never swore – and still don’t,” said Parker, who now tours internationally as The Maceo Parker Band.
Joe Collier, of Augusta, played trumpet for 21 years in the Brown outfit. Like Parker, he was thrilled with the notion that Hollywood finally chose to depict his former boss’ life on the silver screen.
“Really, it was quite an undertaking, considering the enormous life that Mr. Brown led,” Collier said. “It was difficult to capture the essence of his life – but at least this leaves an historical legacy surrounding his existence – especially for the youth.”
Collier says he too, was never contacted about lending his real-life knowledge about his former mentor.
Collier hesitated to grade the film, but noted, “The movie was good. The acting was great. I think they nearly captured Mr. Brown’s essence. But his full legacy would have been fully captured had they consulted his band. There are just so many nuances that he did that only his musicians would really know about – even down to his shoes. In the movie, I noticed he wore regular shoes. Band members know he typically wore ankle-high dress-boots.”
Augusta vocalist and bandleader Tony Howard spent about 15 years as a personal friend and contributing artist on projects.
“Frankly, I’m thrilled about the whole thing. It was a great movie. It gives people a chance to see Mr. Brown as a person. They did a good job in capturing him – and Chadwick Boseman deserves an Oscar for his portrayal. I admittedly had my doubts about him, but after seeing him transform himself into the young Brown, up through the aging man, I was sold. He carried the film. And, I’m glad they didn’t dwell on the drug-use stuff but they didn’t ignore it either,” Howard said.
Howard said he met Brown in the mid-1990s through performances with area keyboardist Walter Allen “Buzz” Clifford.
“It was his powerful music that helped make the movie. People were dancing and nodding in their seats. You couldn’t help it. I’d have to give it a 12 out of 10,” Howard said with a laugh. “It’s that good. People were applauding when the film ended.”
He and other musicians said they wished Danny Ray had been represented.
Ray says it’s not a big deal.
“I’ve been getting asked about that a lot lately, but it’s nothing I can control. But I really enjoyed the movie,” said the “Cape Man,” who draped capes on Brown as he feigned exhaustion toward the end of performances.
“We were tight. Like brothers,” Ray said. “He always looked out for me. I don’t have any regrets about not being in the film, but I do wish they would’ve contacted me for my input.”
Ray, who began working with Brown in 1961, said he appreciated his VIP status during the film’s premiere in Augusta.
Bassist David Weston played in Brown’s band from 1975 through 1982. His seven years included the high-flying church performance in the now-classic Blues Brothers movie in 1980.
“Considering all that I witnessed during my stint, it’s really unbelievable that one could even attempt to include most of the antics and happenings in a two-hour movie. There was lots going on. Some of it was crazy,” said Weston, who now co-leads the Preston & Weston trio.
He said he left the Brown organization in the early 1980s because he didn’t want to suffer the fate of too many side musicians in professional road bands – unstable living conditions as one ages, and a lack of retirement planning. “I had a family and wanted to pursue my education and another (more stable) career.”
Weston earned civil engineering credentials and worked at Plant Vogtle and Savannah River Site. He also pursued a successful venture as owner of the Word of Mouth (jazz) Cafe in downtown Augusta.
“I’m proud to have been a part of the Brown band. It’s an experience I treasure. I visited all seven continents and places most people can only dream of. He deserves having the movie just to display a piece of the lifestyle that we experienced.”
Clifford said he played several jazz gigs for the Godfather of Soul, including private jobs at his Beech Island home for family and friends.
“He had a dark side and good side. He had a big heart and was quick to help when others were in financial straits,” said Clifford.
“I’m just glad they didn’t just focus on his faults. We all have faults,” he said.
Henry Stallings, a distant cousin of Brown, worked as his personal hair stylist for 40 years.
“He always liked the way I did his hair, starting around the mid-1950s,” Stallings said. “I did all his styles, the processed style during the 1965 Ski Party movie, through his natural Afro days and even his permanent waves in the early 1970s.”
Stallings, who also owned a salon in Manhattan called Celebrity, traveled the world with his cousin.
“I’m just proud that I was a part of it all. Really, it’s an American success story and I’m glad the movie was made for the young people to learn from,” said Stallings, now 82.
He said Get On Up is pretty much true to its subject.
“The movie couldn’t show it all, but they did a good job of showing his independence and the fact that he was a self-made man,” Stallings said. “He demanded respect, but he dished it out, too. And that was during a real difficult period for a black man, but he earned his respect and was paid well for it.”
But the movie missed a couple of important opportunities, he said.
“I do wish they would have put my friend Danny Ray in the movie, and they could have filmed some of the scenes here in Augusta. … Augusta deserved that,” he said.