Saturday, April 5, 2014

Classic Letterman: James Brown Blows the Roof Off the Sucka

Here's one of the best musical performances in the history of late night and - according to some - the last great television performance by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

Brown sings, grunts, sweats and dances through 13 minutes of music. The funk is still flowing even as the closing credits roll:

This is from a 1982 (first season) episode of Late Night with David Letterman.

In his book, We'll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives,Paul Shaffer rights about this appearance by Brown:

The best move I ever made was to perform with Mr. Brown on Letterman. His first appearance came in 1982 when we were on NBC.

"Mr Brown," I said, "this is the honor of a lifetime. Just tell me what you'd like to play."

His answer astonished me. "What do you guys want to play, Paul?"

At the time, my World's Most Dangerous Band featured the great Will Lee on bass plus Steve Jordan, drums, and Hiram Bullock, guitar - three brilliant cats. I let the band pick the songs. Steve said, "Sex Machine" for the drumming. Hiram said, "There Was a Time" for the rhythm guitar. Will was cool with all of it.

On "Sex Machine," James wanted a fast tempo. That's the tradition of live R&B. It's all about energy. Steve Jordan, though, was a young buck who wanted to re-create the groove he'd heard on wax. He didn't quite understand that when you deal with the Godfather of Soul, you put the groove where he wants it. James won out and the funk got thick. He played his short keyboard solo and at the end of the song slapped me ten. I told him I wouldn't wash my hands for a week. During the break, as the band played a small portion of "I Got the Feeling," James took note.

When we were back on the air, James said, "Hey Dave, you know what I'd like to do right now? Before you close, can we close with 'I Got the Feeling?' "

"Sure thing," said Dave. "Soon as we come back from one more break."

Once the commercial was over, we hit it: an unrehearsed full-blown version of "I Got the Feeling." The audience went crazy. Dave joined the James Brown Fan Club.

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