James Brown Blows Away the Rolling Stones in 18 Electric Minutes (1964)

On a recent road trip through the Deep South, I made a pil­grim­age to sev­er­al sacred shrines of Amer­i­can music, includ­ing oblig­a­tory stops in Mem­phis at the gar­ish Grace­land and unas­sum­ing Sun Stu­dios. But the high­light of the tour had to be that city’s Stax Muse­um of Amer­i­can Soul Music (“noth­ing against the Lou­vre, but you can’t dance to Da Vin­ci”). Housed in a re-cre­ation of the orig­i­nal Stax Records, the muse­um main­ly con­sists of aisles of glass cas­es, in which sit instru­ments, cos­tumes, and oth­er mem­o­ra­bil­ia from artists like Book­er T. and the MGs, Sam & Dave, The Sta­ples Singers, and Isaac Hayes. One par­tic­u­lar rel­ic caught my atten­tion for its radi­at­ing aura of authenticity—a bat­tered first press­ing of James Brown’s 1956 “Please, Please, Please,” the song that built the house of Brown and his back­ing singer/dancers the Famous Flames—a song, wrote Philip Goure­vich, that “doesn’t tell a sto­ry so much as express a con­di­tion.”

“Please, Please, Please” was not a Stax release, but the muse­um right­ly claims it as a sem­i­nal “pre­cur­sor to soul.” Brown bequeathed to six­ties soul much more than his over-the-top impas­sioned delivery—he brought to increas­ing­ly kinet­ic R&B music a the­atri­cal­i­ty and show­man­ship that dozens of artists would strive to emu­late. But no group could work a stage like Brown and his band, with their machine-like pre­ci­sion break­downs and elab­o­rate dance rou­tines. And while it seems like Chad­wick Bose­man does an admirable impres­sion of the God­fa­ther of Soul in the upcom­ing Brown biopic Get on Up, there’s no sub­sti­tute for the real thing, nor will there ever be anoth­er. By 1964, Brown and the Flames had worked for almost a decade to hone their act, espe­cial­ly the cen­ter­piece ren­di­tion of “Please, Please, Please.” And in the ’64 per­for­mance above at the T.A.M.I.—or Teenage Awards Music International—at the San­ta Mon­i­ca Civic Audi­to­ri­um, you can see Brown and crew for the first time do the so-called “cape act” (around 7:50) dur­ing that sig­na­ture num­ber. David Rem­nick describes it in his New York­er piece on this per­for­mance:

…in the midst of his own self-induced hys­te­ria, his fit of long­ing and desire, he drops to his knees, seem­ing­ly unable to go on any longer, at the point of col­lapse, or worse. His back­up singers, the Flames, move near, ten­der­ly, as if to revive him, and an off­stage aide, Dan­ny Ray, comes on, drap­ing a cape over the great man’s shoul­ders. Over and over again, Brown recov­ers, throws off the cape, defies his near-death col­lapse, goes back into the song, back into the dance, this absolute aban­don­ment to pas­sion.

It’s an act Brown dis­tilled from both charis­mat­ic Bap­tist church ser­vices and pro­fes­sion­al wrestling, and it’s a hell of a per­for­mance, one he pulled out, with all his oth­er shim­my­ing, strut­ting, moon­walk­ing stops, in order to best the night’s line­up of big names like the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Mar­vin Gaye, the Supremes, and the Rolling Stones, who had the mis­for­tune of hav­ing to fol­low Brown’s act. Kei­th Richards lat­er called it the biggest mis­take of their career. You can see why. Though the Stones put on a decent show (below), next to Brown and the Flames, writes Rem­nick, they looked bland and compromising—“Unitarians mak­ing nice.”

via The New York­er

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every Appear­ance James Brown Ever Made On Soul Train. So Nice, So Nice!

James Brown Saves Boston After MLK’s Assas­si­na­tion, Calls for Peace Across Amer­i­ca (1968)

James Brown Gives You Danc­ing Lessons: From The Funky Chick­en to The Booga­loo

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (12)
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  • Andre says:

    Every­one knew his name where I grew up in the Philly projects. But few got to see him. All I can say is, he earned every acco­lade ever giv­en him. Before Lebron became the King of bas­ket­ball, James was and is the King of soul.

  • Dee Brown says:

    I saw Lit­tle Richard do the “cape act” around 1953/4 in San Anto­nio’s Munic­i­pal Audi­to­ri­um. He was part of a Rhythm and Blues Review…many acts such as Chuck Berry and Frankie Lymon. Don’t know if Richard start­ed it but James def­i­nite­ly adopt­ed it as his own, refined it, and made it icon­ic.

  • Joly MacFie says:

    It nev­er struck me before, but you can see James Chance doing his own wacky ver­sion of the cape act at the end of this video http://youtu.be/KhRi2EtCVZY

  • simone gad says:

    wish i had seen this live. incred­i­ble amaz­ing per­for­mance. very mov­ing. i did see a beau­ti­ful young woman in a black coat towards the end watch­ing-did­n’t know it was michelle oba­ma. james brown‑a bril­liant­ly tal­ent­ed enter­tain­er-king of soul-ahead of his time. i’m also a big mar­vin gaye fan. love them both. so glad i was able to watch this won­der­ful clip.

  • Mariapia says:

    Great James Brown! Amaz­ing!

  • Pete Shanks says:

    I actu­al­ly dis­agree. I think what we see here is the true emer­gence of the Stones (who had­n’t even record­ed Sat­is­fac­tion yet) as charis­mat­ic stars. Despite Kei­th’s opin­ion, what I see is Brown at his the­atri­cal best (which is fab­u­lous), but the Stones refus­ing to back down — Kei­th in par­tic­u­lar stamp­ing and rock­ing, and drag­ging the band along with him, and the final effect is a kind of brash who-cares street­wise no-bull rock­’n’roll. His­tor­i­cal­ly, of course, Jag­ger then pro­ceed­ed to work bits of Brown’s act into his own, and the Stones became their own kind of the­ater. But this is the moment when they made it. Much as I love him, I think they made James Brown look just a wee bit out of date.

  • John Mize says:

    I’d always heard that James Brown blew away the Rolling Stones, but that isn’t what I see here. I don’t think Jag­ger and com­pa­ny were intim­i­dat­ed at all. Maybe they were just too young to notice or care.

  • Lorne Brown says:

    For those of you who are falling for the Michelle Oba­ma “sight­ing” gag, please remem­ber that this is 1964 and Mrs. Oba­ma would be a tod­dler, at best, at this time.

    Also, with respect to the Stones hold­ing their own or mak­ing James Brown look anachro­nis­tic, you Rolling Stone fans are try­ing too hard. Just accept the fact that James was a much more dynam­ic per­former. Even the Stones them­selves were ful­ly aware of this. They have even told us so, sev­er­al dif­fer­ent times. That is not a knock on the Stones. Mick was clear­ly influ­enced by what he’d just seen James do as he appears to be emmu­lat­ing his moves in the first song. That does­n’t last very long, how­ev­er. The Stones had noth­ing to be ashamed of, how­ev­er. They sim­ply did­n’t have the same the­atri­cal chops as James in 1964.

  • Pat M. says:

    It’s urban leg­end that James blew away the Stones. The way that show worked is there was an hour or two break between acts…which includ­ed an entire­ly new audi­ence. The Stones and James per­formed before two dif­fer­ent crowds.

  • Topkat says:

    Next to James Brown, Bob­by Byrd, Bob­by Ben­nett, and Lloyd Stall­worth, the Rolling Stones were clear­ly out classed,out-performed, and lit­er­al­ly blown off of the stage !!! James Brown & The Famous Flames COMPLETELY DESTROYED THEM. There is no oth­er way to say it !!! In 18 min­utes, they put on a show that The Stones could­n’t match in their ENTIRE CAREER !!

  • Patrick says:

    The young black woman in the dark coat was what I would call mes­mer­ized, as if she were see­ing an alien emerge from a space­ship. Great, very short moment in time. Won­der­ful.

  • William Gordon says:

    OK. Let’s be CLEAR. The young African-Amer­i­can woman stand­ing up dur­ing the per­for­mance of James Brown and his orig­i­nal singing group, The Famous Flames, on The T.A.M.I. Show WAS NOT and COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE, Michelle Oba­ma. Why ? A sim­ple trip to Wikipedia would have pre­vent­ed a dumb, mis­in­formed com­ment from being post­ed. The T.A.M.I. Show was filmed in the Autumn of 1964. Michelle Oba­ma was born in JANUARY of 1964. At best, she would have been a baby in dia­pers at the time this movie was filmed…less than ONE YEAR OLD. This girl was in her late teens / ear­ly twen­ties. We don’t know who she WAS…BUT we sure­ly know who she WASN’T…and that was Mrs. Oba­ma. (So much for THAT dumb com­ment.)
    Sec­ond: I have seen the T.A.M.I.SHOW, lit­er­al­ly DOZENS of TIMES.on VHS, DVD, and in the movies dur­ing it’s orig­i­nal the­atri­cal release. I saw the young lady. Believe me, she was MORE than impressed by that per­for­mance. she was MESMERIZED.You can tell she had NEVER seen a per­for­mance THAT EXCITING IN HER ENTIRE YOUNG LIFE !! If ANYTHING, she was BORED by The STONES’ “PERFORMANCE” . Remem­ber, at that time , JAMES BROWN & THE FAMOUS FLAMES were the most DYNAMIC PERFORMING GROUP in AMERICA !! No oth­er group, Black or White, could touch them…including the high­ly tout­ed Temptations…So, what chance could The STONES pos­si­bly have ??

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