We have the new double LP release of ‘In The Jungle Groove’ via Polydor, in stock.
“Put your hand on the box and feel this,
Lay your hand up there and feel it,
If you got any kind of soul you got to feel it.”
(James Brown, I Got to Move)
GET the message? This is not for the feckless or fainthearted. What you hold here is a funk bomb, primed to vaporize lethargy. A compound of full-length, full-strength masterfunk. An hour or so of GET UP and go. The jungle groove.
Now dig this. The album title is from an August 1970 James Brown recording that remains unissued. Well, almost: we’ve taken the liberty of tacking its intro onto the beginning of I Got to Move, a previously unissued recording from the same session. This is the second of two versions of I Got to Move that James recorded during the summer of ’70, both of them restructured from his 1967 hit There Was A Time, which was itself a live at The Apollo extension of an earlier hit, Let Yourself Go (currently available on the Polydor album AIN’T THAT A GROOVE, 422-821231-1).
The unissued In the Jungle Groove – an incoherent workout, hence its omission – was developed from the middle vamp of the version of Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose that is included here, a recording that first appeared with overdubbed audience as the main part of a medley on the 1970 album, SEX MACHINE. The original 1968 hit recording of Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose (also currently available on AIN’T THAT A GROOVE) was the base inspiration for the original hit version of Sex Machine; James then re-recorded both songs for the LP.
So Let Yourself Go begat There Was A Time begat two versions of I Got to Move, and Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose begat Sex Machine begat re-recordings of both and In the Jungle Groove. With me so far? Hang on to your hiney, there’s more.
THE version of Hot Pants featured here is also a post-hit re-recording that was made specially for the 1971 album, HOT PANTS. Talkin’ Loud & Sayin’ Nothing, on the other hand, is the recording from which a hit single was eventually edited (becoming an R&B No. 1 in 1972) but it has never been previously issued in full. This was also a re-recording: in February 1970 James first tried a ‘rock’ arrangement of the song that was pressed then immediately pulled off the market.
It’s A New Day may have gone through some changes, too, though possibly in name only; unheard tapes of what is obviously the same song are logged as You Can Hold Your Man and Can I Get Some Help? The three remaining tracks featured on this double album are the only known studio versions, although, again, they were never originally issued in ‘complete’ form as they are here.
James Brown’s music is organic not synthetic. It changed and still changes constantly, spontaneously, according to mood and circumstance. Some songs he has recorded several times and some themes he has re-interpreted many times, but never the same twice. (And many songs he has performed live a million times but seldom with the same arrangement for very long.) This compilation is drawn from a short but particularly volatile period of James’ career. Offstage and out of the studio he was cakewalking through quicksands too complex to detail here; within his musical ‘family’ he faced other pressures: the two-year period sampled here features three effectively different James Brown bands. Out of it all came some devastating music.
SIDE ONE features the two most exciting studio recordings that James cut with his ‘sixties band’ during their last six months together. (Brother Rapp, a strong third, recorded October 1969, is currently available on the Polydor album DOING IT TO DEATH, 422-821232-1). Aside from inevitable fluctuations – Maceo and Melvin Parker doing their military do, for instance – the core of this band had been kicking behind James since 1964, first under the musical direction of Nat Jones (1964-67) then Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis (1967-69). By September 1969 Maceo and Richard ‘Kush’ Griffith were co-leading the band. Stalwart St. Clair Pinckney had been on the bus since March 1961; newer arrivals included Griffith (joined May ’68), Fred Wesley (earlier in ’68) and Charles Sherrell (August ’68).
Pinckney temporarily left the band in October 1969 to complete his studies and Sherrell quit in February 1970 for family reasons but it was March 1970 that saw the dramatic change, when Wesley returned home to Los Angeles and the Parker brothers exited stage right with the rest of the band to form Maceo & All The King’s Men. Enter stage left, the JBs, featuring Phelps and Bootsy Collins.
Behind the scenes the understudies had been limbering up for a few months as The New Dapps, a James Brown Production auxiliary outfit. Suddenly they were summoned to the spotlight.
“That was the biggest thing that ever happened to me,” Bootsy told me in 1978. “One night we were playing a benefit gig, weren’t getting no money, and the next day Bobby Byrd called, ‘Hey fellas, y’all ready to gig with James?’ There I was on the phone, my mouth hung wide open. ‘With James!?’ We left (from Cincinnati) that evening about six o’clock. The gig was in Columbus, Georgia, and was supposed to start at eight. So when we got there we had to go straight on stage. We had on jeans and t-shirts, looking crazy, walking through the audience and they’re yelling. ‘Yeah, here come the band’ and we don’t know what’s going on. As soon as we got on stage and plugged in James calls out ‘Cold Sweat, hit it’ and that was it. Suddenly we’re James Brown’s backing band. No rehearsals, nothing. Y’see we knew all his tunes anyway. Every young black group at the time knew the James Brown repertoire.”
BOBBY BYRD, the founding Famous Flame who had been with James on and off since 1953, was vital help in stabilizing the newcomers during this period; likewise drummers Clyde Stubblefield (intermittently on the bus since early ’65, finally left in December ’70) and John ‘Jabo’ Starks (on and off, but mostly on, from late ’65 to the mid ’70s). Also St. Clair Pinckney, who rejoined the fold in August 1970; conga player Johnny Griggs (new to The JBs but an experienced pro) and Fred Wesley when he rejoined in December 1970, soon becoming The JBs’ m.d.
By the time Wesley was back the younger members of The JBs were already beginning to drop out, the Collins brothers finally leaving after the revue’s European tour in March ’71. Bootsy recently explained to interviewer Timothy White:
“It was acid that eventually made things extra crazy, same as with (George Clinton’s troupe) P-Funk, which I joined after leaving James’ band. One night with James I thought the neck of my bass guitar turned into a snake. I didn’t want no part of it and went back to the dressing room in the middle of the show. That pretty much cooled my deal with the Godfather.”
A CRAZY period, then, with some stoned young turks shepherded by a few veterans all rallying to the best of their ability behind the guvnor – and doing so fine that a decade and a half later the fallout is still heavier than a Chernobyl meltdown. Nuke suits, anyone?
With the Collins brothers and friends off and running The JBs were quickly realigned, forming the basis of a relatively stable unit that would accompany James until 1976 – although, inevitably again, with some changes, including the reappearance of old hands ‘Sweet Charles’ Sherrell, Jimmy Nolen and Maceo Parker. Despite further upheavals in the late seventies, at the time of writing Maceo, St. Clair, ‘Sweets’ and Johnny Griggs are pumping away in James’ current band, now called The Soul G’s.
Coincidental to the change in The JBs, James was also realigning his recording career: in June 1971 he switched with his back catalogue from King to Polydor Records, leaving the former company with a sell-off period on the newly issued smash hit, Hot Pants. To enable Polydor to rush release a HOT PANTS album he immediately recut the song. Although recorded only weeks apart and with the same band the two versions differ appreciably, the second – heard here – being just about as tight a fit as a body can take without tearing apart all the seams. In the jungle groove.