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On covering JB and JB covering standard

 

James Brown/ “Georgia On My Mind”


By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

 

You want covers—which way you want it? We’ve got covers of JB’s classic “Cold Sweat” and we have James Brown covering his state song, Georgia On My Mind.”

Let’s start with
Georgia.” This is from a live concert in the late 1980s. By then JB was on the downside of his monumental career, but JB’s descent still left him higher than most pop performers ever reach.

 

Because of his quantum funk prowess, we sometimes forget that brother Brown was a distinctive and capable vocalist who could turn in amazing treatments of ballads and blues. “Georgia” is one of those amazing performances.
 
What I like most about this performance is its utter sincerity. Whereas there used to be the Famous Flames and their doo-wop derived backings, now there is a mellow female chorus coo supporting the Godfather.

 

Maceo is still there showing up with two brief solos, the first in his own bluesy voice, the second, near the end, fiercely channeling a Coltrane influence.

 

Just past the two-minutes-left mark, the band slips into a hip jazz waltz groove, further highlighting the John Coltrane influence. Topping it off is Brown at his blow-torch best, scorching the song with red-hot intense vocals that are surprisingly effective in this ballad setting.

Brown never tries to croon this one nor go for the intimacy of a whisper. Naw, this is full throated shouts from a barrel-chested man who is not afraid to testify and declaim his love. I love it. The arrangement and the vocal treatment—it’s a brilliant demonstration of the enduring and endearing power of JB.

         
 
Now “Cold Sweat” is a classic slow-mo(tion) one drop with a hip little hesitation on the up-beat that gives the groove an irresistible, shoulder-shaking shimmy.

 

This truly deft arrangement is really a combination of three distinct elements, each one of which is, in and of itself, the epitome of funk. First is the funky drummer on the bottom.

 

Second is the bass running a counter-riff on the top, thereby actually leading the melody. 

 

Third are the horns in a melodic-percussion mode, with a gruff baritone bottom that never quits. The original is one of the numbers James would use as a dance feature, and, good God, could the man dance.

 

You can bet you ain’t seen nothing yet, till you see him do the James Brown. But damn, imagine how furious he must have been stepping to keep up with this version!

Back in the summer of 1970 there was a 12-hour extravaganza in the old (long-ago demolished) Sugar Bowl Stadium in
New Orleans. Everybody from Ike & Tina Turner to Pacific, Gas & Electric to Isaac Hayes (with a full string orchestra) was on display that day. It was one of the greatest out-door Soul concerts of all time (yeah, better than WattStax).

 

I, for one, thought the promoters had made a gigantic faux pas by putting James Brown at the bottom of the bill, which meant that he would not appear until after 10PM.

 

The gates had opened before noon. By two in the afternoon over 60,000 people had nearly filled the gigantic football stadium. Somewhere right before sundown Isaac Hayes had everybody in the palm of his huge hands, massaging us with his mellifluous messages of love. 

 

Who in the world was going to feel like boogieing down after well over eight hours of Soul music?

 

Oh, me, of little faith… JB showed me something that night and ever since then I have been an undoubting protelytizer of the superbad, dead-on-the-one Godfather Phunk.

 

james brown 11.jpg

James Brown shaking his thang as only JB can

I remember standing on the field (I had a press pass), looking up and surveying the audience. James Brown was in full throttle and the whole goddamn stadium was throbbing like one huge heart at the height of orgasm.

 

I swear, it was awe-inspiring to see so many bodies up on their feet, synchronized in their movements, everybody bopping on the one. Not just waving their hands or clapping, not just, well, hell, maybe you can imagine what it sounds like if sixty-some thousand flat-foots respond when JB screams: STOMP YOUR FEET! The sound of it.

 

The sight of it! The feeling!

 

It was like everybody was wired up to the same control center. I don’t remember if JB played “Cold Sweat” that night, but “Cold Sweat” is precisely the kind of song made for stomping.
 
If you listen closely to the lyrics, JB is calling out dance steps and setting up for his amazing fleet-of-foot routines as well as featuring different members of the band. This was never meant to be a song in the sense of a vehicle for a vocalist, this was always meant to be a showcase for Mr. Brown the dancer.

There is a North African singer from
Carthage, Tunisia whose family moved to France
when she was 12. During her teenage years she formally studied music and then at 24, dropped her first single, rapping over a Grandmaster Flash track.

 

Three years later, she debuted Yalil, her first of three albums. That album contained “Belly Dance” and, the remix with the sample of “Cold Sweat,” promptly marched up the French dance charts. Her name is Amina Annabi. She is also an actress of note and a politically committed artist.
 
Amina’s re-visioning of “Cold Sweat” is very interesting for the drum beats which manage to be both exotic-sounding and funky. Over the last ten years of so, I have played the track a number of times on the radio and usually someone calls in totally intrigued by this, this… what is this, who is this… that is always what people want to know.

   

                          

 

Amina Annabi from Tunisia. She illustrates the international influence of James Brown on dance music, especially the electronic, Euro-pop dance scene.

“Cold Sweat” is not just a dance song, there is also a jazz element, especially in terms of some of what Maceo does on tenor. By the way, during his early tenure with James Brown, Maceo played tenor, probably because Mr. Brown’s music director at that time, Pee Wee Ellis, played alto.
 
Trombonist Craig Harris leads a mixed-bag of mostly jazz musicians, but with some R&B stalwarts, on a second cover of “Cold Sweat.” Harris even calls the band Cold Sweat.

 

I’ve long admired Harris’ musicianship, his off-kilter and technically adventurous approach to his chosen instrument. The trombone is rarely used as a lead instrument in contemporary popular music, but Craig does it and does it extremely well.
 
As might be expected, Harris’ version of “Cold Sweat” features a saxophone solo. It’s whirling dervish David Murray spinning off into the stratosphere with his ultra-altissimo high notes. David can play above high C for hours with an unmatched and superb control of his instrument.

 

Technically there is no comparison of Maceo Parker to David Murray. Murray is gifted with a double-dose of saxophone talent that he honed to an even higher level through years of hard work. For handling the full range of his horn, the only other living tenor saxophonist who might give him a run for the money is Pharoah Sanders.

 

     

      Craig Harris

 

David is a jazz player and, as such, spins off longer lines and plays across the bars focusing on melodic or harmonic development, whereas Maceo the funk player is playing melodic rhythm-riffs that are complete within two to four bars. Part of the brevity of Maceo’s phrases is because he is accompanying a dancer, i.e. James Brown, whose dance steps are generally a series of striking moves.
 
In checking out trombonist Craig Harris’ jazz version of “Cold Sweat” one is immediately struck by the fact that the jazz musicians want to play, not dance.

 

They would get quickly bored if they had to play the same three notes for fifteen minutes, but horn players on a funk set are adept at doing just that.

 

Moreover, a good funk player can invest so many minute variances in those three notes that neither the player nor the audience ever tires of hearing the seemingly endlessly-repeated riff. And that goes doubly so for the rhythm section.

 

A good jazz rhythm section is always inventive, always improvising, always finding a variation to make while keeping the pulse, the beat, while swinging non-stop. But jazz swing is not the same is funk grooves.

 

I think Harris’ version of “Cold Sweat” really illustrates the differences from the horn players on top to the rhythm section holding down the bottom. Same tune going for a similar type of feel, and though both version are well executed, the differences are unmistakable.

Finally, we have JB doing a live version. If the original was some classic superbad heavy funk, this live version recorded on
August 24, 1968 in Dallas, Texas
is some black-hole, ultra-funk that only a James Brown could conceive and deftly execute.

 

The tempo is damn near doubled. The wicked drummer is a space booster playing with rocket ship intensity. Fortunately, whomever engineered the session gave us excellent placement in terms of miking the bass drum.

 

You can really hear how Stubblefield is syncopating the downbeats with the double-bumps and even triplets pumping up the excitement. What he does would make the average drummer’s foot fall off even attempting to keep up. I have eternal admiration for Clyde Stubblefield.


OK, you got it. “Cold Sweat” and Georgia.”
Folk covering JB and JB covering a standard. There ain’t nothing more to be said.

With thanks to www.kalamu.com/bol where this piece was originally posted.

 Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop. 

 

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