Earl Swindell’s first meeting with James Brown was backstage at the famed Apollo Theater in 1972. Swindell, who had earlier befriended Brown compatriots Charles Bobbitt and Bobby Byrd, was 20 years old. The first thing Brown did offer him a job.
“He called me to his dressing room and he offered me a job, as his valet,” Swindell said during a recent telephone interview from his home in New York City. “He was my idol, so of course I said yes.”
Swindell worked as Brown’s valet and later ran the singer’s promotions program at Polydor Records. His association with Brown was, Swindell said, deeper than just business.
“He took me as a nephew,” he said. “He took me as a son.”
Swindell served as a pallbearer at Brown’s funeral in 2006.
Swindell’s song, titled Bring Back the Funk (Blame the Funk On Me) and recorded under the moniker Third World Earl, was inspired by a conversation he had with the late soul singer in a dream. In it, they talked about the state of music and the necessity for the current generation of rap-focused fans to reconnect with the bedrock of funk.
“James Brown still has something to say,” he said.
The song, which features longtime Brown bass man Fred Thomas, features the pearls of wisdom dropped during that dreamtime conversation laid over a typically slinky funk track, something fans might have found coming from Brown in the early ’70s.
Swindell said that his goal with the track is to pay tribute to his mentor, both musically and lyrically.
“Sometimes when an artist passes away, the public forgets about them,” he said. “I feel like it’s my duty to keep James Brown’s name an music style alive.”