James Brown was a tour-de-force in music and his influence is still very much alive and present through out all genres of music. His personality, leadership and style of musicianship created some of the most week known acts in music and some of the most well known and respected names in bass guitar including Bootsy Collins, Sweet Charles Sherell, and Bernard Odum.
Brown is arguably one of the most copied, imitated and re-created musicians ever to have lived for the reasoned mentioned above – in both positive and negative ways. In fact, Joe Tex, a soul singer from Rogers, Texas and fellow label mate of James Brown argues that Brown got all of his showmanship and on-stage characteristics from him resulting in a career long feud between the two until Tex’s death in 1982.
Regardless, the music of James Brown lives on, but few acts at first listen make you think, “Wow – is that James Brown?!”. This post is about three acts in particular who despite coming to prominence in the early-to-mid 2000s, bear an alarming musical resemblance to Brown. Everything from the vocal delivery to the band to the production quality sounds like a B-cut out of the old King’s Records vault.
For us bass players, if you loved Bootsy, Sherell, Odum and the other bassists of the Brown band, then these acts are for you.
1. Charles Bradley
Of all the figures on this list, Charles Bradley is one of the most fascinating. Born in Gainesville, Florida in 1948, Bradley has been active musically since (wait for it) 1965 but only released two albums in 2011 and 2012!
It wasn’t until 1996 when he returned to Brooklyn with family and began a small career as a James Brown impersonator under the name Black Velvet (link) making a modest living but gaining more musical popularity at the same time.
Gabriel Roth (better known as Bosco Mann, the bass player for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings) discovered Bradley and signed him to the go-to label of modern soul acts, Daptone Records.
– – –
Bradley’s music is just that: an impression of James Brown with all the traits we know and love, mixed with some Otis Redding and a touch of Bradley’s own take on classic soul and RnB music.
Off his 2011 release, “No Time for Dreaming”, the title track “No Time for Dreaming” is reminiscent of Brown’s more soulful tracks as are Bradley’s other tracks, “I Want You So Bad” and “Prisoner of Love”. Any casual listener of the track “How Long” might confuse it with “It’s a Mans World” because of the swooning 6/8 guitar lead and impassioned vocal delivery.
Of course, the topic of the bass playing must be covered. The backing band also signed to Daptone Records, the Menahan Street Band, provided Bradley with the musical support for his 2013 release, “Victim of Love”.
Nick Movshon, the band’s bass player, covers the role of what would the Bernard Odum or Bootsy Collins’ job with perfect grace. The bass lines provided to Bradley’s work both pay tribute to bass lines we know and love from James’ catalog including “Sex Machine”, “Mother Popcorn”, “This is a Mans Mans World” and “Good Foot” through note choice and in tone. Regardless of the make of the bass, the characteristic thumpy, rounded tone of the 1960s and 1970s is still very much present in the soul music throwback of Charles Bradely.
That being said, the quality of bass playing doesn’t slack on Bradley’s first album either. Both are exciting showcases of a modern interpretation on a well known sound from James Brown himself.
For James Brown fan, start with Bradley’s first work, No Time for Dreaming . You’ll be treated to classic James Brown-esque bass lines, groovy guitar funk and a tight drummer.
2. Lee Fields
There is definitely something special coming out of Daptone Records and Truth & Soul Records, the label backing another soul singer making a splash today despite having been playing shows since the 1970s.
Much like Bradley, Lee Fields, born Elmer “Lee” Fields, embodies some of James Brown’s iconic characteristics: sharp, short bursts of speed or sound in-between a soulful, exciting singing voice, a skilled backing band tailored to the music’s danceable qualities.
Also like Bradley, Fields has been an active musician for almost 40 years but achieving lack luster industry results. He has been touring, playing small shows and working behind the scenes largely outside of the mainstream and even most parts of the underground a number of years until achieving commercial success with the his first album, “Let’s Talk It Over“ in 1979.
Also like Bradley, the backing band injects sounds, style and feel from the 1960s and 1970s funk, soul and disco era. Off of “Let’s Talk it Over”, the tracks “Flim Flam”, “She’s a Lovemaker” and “Fight for Survival” sound like they were directly inspired from Brown’s “Get on the Good Foot” with the characteristic scratchy guitar funk driving the song over a tight, precise drum beat with a chugging bass line to top the whole piece off.
What more – Fields even includes the signature Brown “ha”, “ya” and other vocal punctuations throughout his songs.
Since signing to Truth & Soul Records in 2002, “Let’s Talk it Over” was re-released and Field’s has received a bit more of the mainstream spotlight in the same way his peers Bradley and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have. Fields has also released another album in 2011 called Treacherous and an album in 2002 with the backing band, The Explorers, Field’s own The J.B. band, The Dap Kings or Funk Brothers arrangement.
While you’re out picking up some Bradley, definitely check out Field’s “Let’s Talk It Over” if you’re looking for some new funk to jam out to.
If Charles Bradley and Lee Fields are James Brown’s high energy funky sides, then Darondo is James Brown’s mellowed, bluesy soul side. Darondo, born William Daron Pulliam, has been largely a mystery to much of the mainstream and underground, garnering him the name perhaps soul music’s best kept secrets.
Like Fields and Bradley, Darondo’s career spanned since the 1960s, but light of their presence only became known in the early-to-mid 2000s. Also like the aforementioned artists, Darondo only has a handful of releases under his belt, a 2006 release titled, “Let My People Go”, released from Ubiquity Records and a 2011 release titled, “Listen to My Song, the Music City sessions” from Omnivore Recordings.
Though Darondo’s number of releases might be small, their quality is in no way depreciated and are certainly worth a listen if you are someone who has an appreciation for James’ more “tame” songs that draw heavily from the blues shuffle, melancholy horns and melodic bass playing.
– – –
All in all, there are many acts out there that have a piece of James Brown in them, but few hit the nail on the head quite like these three artists. So few artists can be compared so confidently to James Brown in a way more than musically speaking. Each of these artists borrowed familiar stage antics, mannerisms and singing styles to create a modern James Brown: a lot of the beloved old with a healthy twist of new and exciting.
Definitely check out these artists work – you won’t be disappointed.
If any of the artists above caught your interest, check them out over here: