James Brown was the Godfather of Soul and Soul Brother No. 1. While everyone in his band contributed to his unique sound, it was the bass players – OK, and the drummers – who provided the foundation of the funk. William “Bootsy” Collins, who has been featured here before, is the most well-known of those who held the bass chair in the various incarnations of Mr. Brown’s band. But others contributed mightily as well, including “Sweet” Charles Sherrell, Bernard Odum, Tim Drummond, and Fred Thomas.
There are two excellent instructional books that feature Mr. Brown’s bassists: Glenn Letsch, “James Brown: A Step-By-Step Breakdown of the Styles and Techniques of James Brown’s Bassists” (Hal Leonard, 2009), and Allan “Dr. Licks” Slutsky and Chuck Silverman, “The Funkmasters: The Great James Brown Rhythm Sections: 1960-1973” (Manhattan Music, 1996). These books break down the bass parts of some of Mr. Brown’s most famous songs, including “Cold Sweat (Bernard Odum on bass) , “Licking-Stick Licking- Stick” (Tim Drummond), “Get Up (I Feel Like Being) a Sex Machine” (Bootsy Collins), “Give it Up or Turnit a Loose” (Bootsy), “Soul Power” (Bootsy again), “There It Is” (Fred Thomas), and “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing” (Charles Sherrell). We highly recommend both books.
Bootsy joined Mr. Brown’s band when he was a mere 18 and left less than a year later. In that short period of time, he revolutionized the funk. Here he is seen playing in Paris in 1971 at the Olympia in Paris. This concert was released on CD as “Love Power Peace.” Everything is perfectly executed on this tune, but note in particular at 3:42 when the band turns on a dime, segueing from “Brother Rapp” into “Ain’t It Funky Now,” and then at 7:21 when Bootsy takes a short solo that was inexplicably – and inexcusably – edited out of the recording. You can feel the platform shoes under your feet as you listen to Bootsy’s ingenious, heavily syncopated lines. Many feel that this is as good as it ever got.
Bernard was with the band from 1956 to 1969 when he left over a pay dispute and other issues, opening the door for Bootsy’s arrival. He played on such hits as “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” (1964), “I Got You (I Feel Good)” (1965), and “Cold Sweat” (1967). Here he is heard playing “I Can’t Stand It” in 1968, including a solo at 0:45. Tim Drummond, who later became Bob Dylan’s long-time bassist, played on the original recording.
Fred held the the bass chair in Mr. Brown’s band for more than 30 years, sometimes playing with a second bass player. In this video, the band plays a medley of “Get Involved” and “Soul Power.” It is difficult to identify the bass player but it is likely Fred.
Dance Lesson from the Man Himself
Here is a very special treat: a rare dance lesson from Mr. Brown himself. In case you have forgotten how to do the Boogaloo, the Funky Chicken, the Mashed Potatoes, the Robot, or the James Brown, check this out.