James Brown and Elvis

Elvisblog has taken a look at the connections between Elvis and other singers, including Pat BooneJohnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis.  When the news of James Brown’s death on Christmas morning hit the media, I wondered if there had been much of a link between him and Elvis.  It turns out there was.


For one thing, they were both members of the first class of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.  Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke, and Ray Charles have also left us, so now five of the original ten have passed away.  The Hall of Fame website says this:  “What Elvis was to rock and roll, James Brown became to R&B – a prolific and dominant phenom.”


Elvis and James Brown both received Grammy Awards for lifetime achievement, as well as several individual Grammys.  Both performers made their mark with dynamic, but completely different, stage showmanship.  Elvis created excitement with his hip and leg movements, while Brown showcased fancy footwork, complete with spins, slides, splits, and drops.


However, there was also a personal connection between Elvis and James Brown.  According to Elvis Presley from A to Z, they first met at a party at the Continental Hyatt in Hollywood, and they became lifelong friends.  Brown visited Elvis at Graceland, and during one visit they sang several gospel tunes together at the piano, including “Old Jonah” and “Blind Barnabas.”  What a shame no tape recorder was running to capture this session.


James Brown authored two books, and one contains this quote about Elvis: “I wasn’t just a fan, I was his brother.  He said I was good and I said he was good; we never argued about that.  Elvis was a hard worker, dedicated, and God loved him… I love him and hope to see him in heaven.  There’ll never be another like that soul brother.”  That’s a pretty nice compliment coming from the man known as Soul Brother Number One.





James Brown and Elvis in Ad for Lipton Brisk Iced Tea



If I may, I’d like to mention my three favorite James Brown songs, in no particular order.  From the movie Rocky IV in 1986, I’m sure you remember “Living in America.”  This turned out to be Brown’s biggest hit in more than twenty years, and it managed to swell our patriotic psyche and to make us want to boogie at the same time.  Perhaps his greatest recorded achievement.


From the album Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag, I just love “Christmas In Heaven.”  Brown moves completely away from his trademark funk and soul to do a tender ballad surrounded by lush strings.  A most unusual James Brown song.


And, if you’ve ever seen footage of Brown’s stage act in the 60s, you know why I pick “Please, Please, Please.”  This was his first R&B hit back in 1956, and the live version of it evolved into one of the grandest pieces of concert showmanship ever.  The song’s lyrics are not much more than a painful lament begging a loved one not to leave: “Please, please, don’t go. I love you so.  Please, please, don’t go.”  As Brown repeated this, he got more and more sorrowful and started to sob.  Overcome with heartbreak, he stopped singing and dropped to his knees, hung his head, and shuddered in despair.  The music then stopped, and two men rushed in from off-stage.  They draped a cape over Brown’s shoulders and helped him to stand and move slowly toward the side of the stage.  The audience couldn’t help but applaud in encouragement.  The music began again, softly at first, then building in intensity.  Brown heard the cheers and the music, and it was like it recharged his battery.  His slumped body straightened and his facial expression changed.  Soon he threw off the cape and grabbed the mic and gave a fevered finish to the song.  It was a remarkable routine that certainly had to be admired by Elvis and any other performer who saw it.


James Brown was one of the celebrities who attended Elvis’ funeral on August 18, 1977.  In his autobiography, Brown wrote, “His death hit me very hard.  When he died, I said, ‘That’s my friend, I have to go.’”



©  2006   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.elvisblog.net


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