Thursday, September 15, 2011
James Brown – The Payback
1973 was a great year for heavy music – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Raw Power, Billion Dollar Babies, Tres Hombres, Razamanaz, Houses Of The Holy and the debut from Montrose among many others. And yet, James Brown’s massive 2LP set The Payback might just be the heaviest of the bunch. Recorded throughout the year as JB dealt with controversy over his endorsement of Richard Nixon and, more importantly, the tragic death of his son Teddy, The Payback is as heavy as it can get.
The massive title track was one of the first to be recorded after his son’s death. If you’ve ever wondered why this song is so intense, that’s why. James Brown is well known for his incredible grooves and this is one of the all time best. To literally add insult to injury, this song was submitted for use in a movie soundtrack but the director rejected it for not being funky enough! Can you believe that shit?! The two ballads of the album, “Doing The Best I Can” and “Forever Suffering,” were also recorded at this session and it’s obvious that James is trying to alleviate some grief. Even if you didn’t know the back-story the raw emotion is obvious.
James Brown always had the greatest bands and this is certainly no exception. His musical director at the time was the incredible trombonist Fred Wesley. It was Fred’s job to translate JB’s humming and grunting into something the musicians could understand. The core of the band includes the saxophones of Maceo Parker and St.Clair Pickney, Fred Thomas on bass, Jimmy Nolen and Hearlon Martin on guitars and John Starks on drums. Sweet jeezus, what a line up. These guys can play anything and James really puts them through the ringer. “Shoot Your Shot” contains a monster bass-led groove and everyone takes turns on some rapid fire solos. Total high energy and very spontaneous sounding.
“Take Some…Leave Some” is a slower one built around a funky wah-wah guitar lick with great counterpoint from the horns and a nice message from James about sharing what you have. “Time Is Running Out Fast” is a deep, deep swamp boogie complete with jungle call vocals and exotic percussion. “Mind Power” is another unbelievable groove with some excellent cowbell. “Stone To The Bone” was released as a single but in edited form. The LP version is 10 minutes long and an unedited masterclass of pure funk power.
The original double LP had two songs per side, each one ranging from about 7 to 12 minutes but not one of them ever seems too long. When the grooves are this strong you want them to go on forever. This is without a doubt some of the heaviest music JB ever committed to wax and it’s often overlooked in his discography because of the lack of multiple hit singles, but it’s long been a favorite of musicians and dope heads for decades. There’s been a massive energy crisis ever since JB left this planet. It’s up to the rest of us to replenish the fuel. So the question is are you ready for The Payback?