In an interview that took place a couple of years before his death in 2006 James Brown was asked the sixty-four thousand dollar question: Isn’t funk basically about sex?
The singer’s reply was that everybody needed some means of getting that monkey off their back. “If you don’t release that tension” he said wisely “You will be a crazy person.”
For many other artists of his stature it might’ve been considered an at best trivial and at worst impudent question, but James Brown’s story was laced with a carnality that was practically unique; raised in his aunt’s Georgia whorehouse, one of his first jobs to was to look out for johns. By the age of 16 he was serving time in jail.
How he went from convicted felon to become the most influential black musician of his generation is a story for another time, but his 1965 single Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag – on which created the basic template for funk single handedly – was the work of a near genius at the peak of his powers. Having helped to quell rioting in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination three years later, his peerless live shows were unmissable, extravagant theatre and as the new decade began he was more active than ever across many fronts, from politics to civil rights to philanthropy.
It would be years however before this hyperactivity became a distraction; even losing all of his original band in a dispute about money couldn’t slow the newly crowned Godfather of Soul down. Co-written with Bobby Byrd and recorded in a couple of takes, Sex Machine was wound up so tight it was like a musical tourniquet with not one note wasted, Brown’s coital grunts and hollers only broken up by a cat house piano and a call an response routine drafted in from the stage. Nobody else could’ve got away with it. Few would’ve even tried. Basically, it was about sex.