As we have been discussing in the Podcast this week, James Brown was not only the Godfather of Soul, but he was probably the baddest of the bad asses ever to walk the earth. This legend walked to the beat of his own drummer, and that drummer better had kept the beat tight, or there was hell to pay. The man ruled the world, but like many thrust into superstardum, either the good times rolled too hot, or the bad times just caught up and smashed him. Either way, shit went down hill fast for Brown. If I’ve learned one thing in my life, you need to go big or go home; and no matter what this legend did – he did it big.
At the height of Brown’s fame, the rot set in. He was pursued for $US4.5 million in unpaid taxes. His radio stations, playlisting only black music, failed. His band mutinied, saying Brown worked them too hard, paid them too little and never gave them proper songwriting credits. Ace players Fred Wesley, Bootsy Collins and Maceo Parker left. Then he was accused of paying radio stations to play his music. Brown’s eldest son died in a car crash and his second marriage broke up. When disco erupted, his music sales dried up and his record contracts were severed. In 1987, a super-bad year, he was arrested five times for using drugs – mainly PCP, a smokeable powder that can render users delusional. The culmination of his personal troubles came in 1988, when he entered an insurance seminar high on PCP and bearing a shotgun before leading police on a half-hour, high-speed car chase from Augusta, Georgia, into South Carolina. The police had to shoot out Brown’s tires to end the chase. The incident led to Brown spending 15 months in jail before being released on parole in 1991. Not that much later in his career, two things happened that summarize both the devil and the dignitary in James Brown: he went to the White House as a VIP, and was dubbed the “secretary of soul and the foreign minister of funk” by then US Secretary of State Colin Powell. Then, only weeks later, he was unceremoniously arrested at dawn and charged with criminal domestic violence. His wife, Tomi Rae, was reported to have been scratched and bruised, but she dropped the charges.
From time to time, we here at rockandrolljunkie.com like to post one of those “This Day In Music” historical quips. Well, just past the 25 year mark, here is one of those moments, outlining the baddest of bad ass rock star criminal outbursts – like it or not, this shit is legendary. Chased over and over along multiple county lines – classic.
December 15, 1988: Legendary singer James Brown, also known as the “Godfather of Soul” and the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” becomes inmate number 155413 at the State Park Correctional Institute in South Carolina. Brown had had several run-ins with the law during the summer of 1988 that landed him on probation, but his reckless spree on September 24 resulted in numerous criminal charges, including assault and battery with intent to kill.
On September 24, Brown entered an insurance seminar in Augusta, Georgia, armed with a shotgun and a pistol, and ordered everyone to leave. He then took off in his pickup truck and attempted to outrun police, who chased him into South Carolina and then back into Georgia. Even after police had shot out three of his tires, Brown continued to drive on wheel rims until he ended up in a ditch six miles down the road. After the incident, Brown’s wife, Adrienne, said that he was on medication for jaw surgery and was “not in his right mind.”
Although several police officers claimed that they shot out Brown’s tires because he had tried to run them over, Brown offered a different version of the story. He claimed that while he was in the process of surrendering to a black police officer, a group of white policemen who had just arrived on the scene began smashing the windows of Brown’s truck. Purportedly fearing for his life, Brown then took off as the officers began firing. Brown, who had already been charged with carrying a pistol and PCP possession earlier that year, was sentenced to six years and six months in prison on charges of failing to stop for a police officer and aggravated assault. After his release three years later, he managed to stay out of trouble for a while and even went on tour, which—considering his wild stage antics—was quite an accomplishment for a man well into his 60s. But in 1998, Brown was again charged with drug possession—this time for marijuana—and was required to enter a 90-day drug treatment program. Brown died in December 2006, at the age of 73.