That memorable day I spent with James Brown

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James Brown on Oct. 24, 1980. AJC file photo: W.A. BRIDGES, JR.

AJC journalist Bill King wrote this column in 2006 after James Brown’s death. Today, 10 years later, we decided to run it again.

I once spent a memorable day in Augusta with the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, for an AJC profile, and, of course, one of the things we talked about was his involvement with the Georgia Bulldogs and his 1976 recording of the song “Dooley’s Junkyard Dogs.”

But my brother Jonathan has an even better James Brown/UGA story. The Godfather of Soul danced on Jonathan’s back.

The occasion was halftime of the Georgia homecoming game against Kentucky in 1977, which is more memorable for the non-football festivities since we lost the game 33-0. Prince Charles was there. (“Damn good prince!” chanted the student section.) So was Donna Douglas of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” And at halftime James Brown performed with the Redcoat Band.

My brother was under the stage, handling the sound, and when Brown did his first split during “I Feel Good, ” the soundboard jumped in the air, briefly knocking the sound out, so Jonathan and other members of the Redcoats properties crew pressed their backs up against the bottom of the stage above them to cushion the blows and keep him from bouncing the equipment. Fortunately, the sound was working by the time JB did “Dooley’s Junkyard Dogs.”

The untold story of that halftime show, which was called “James Brown Live, ” is that it almost turned into a “tribute” to James Brown starring … my brother.

See, Jonathan had been standing in for Brown during rehearsals that week, doing his Godfather of Soul imitation. And he did so again the morning of the game. When Brown hadn’t still showed up an hour past his appointed arrival time, the Redcoats brain trust started making contingency plans to turn the show into a tribute to Brown minus the singer, and they were actually measuring my brother for a jumpsuit so he could do his “James Brown” for the Sanford Stadium crowd.

“I had just been fooling around, making up words and inserting the ‘ow!’ like James Brown, ” Jonathan reminisced Monday night after news of Brown’s death at 73. “I was scared because I didn’t really know the words to the song. I don’t know if that plan would have actually come off, but I was so glad when his limousine pulled up.”

Brown did the show with the Redcoats again later that season at the Gator Bowl during halftime of the Georgia-Florida game, and Jonathan remembers Brown calling him “Brother King” as he asked for his microphone.

A clip of that performance was included in AVP Video’s “25 Years of Georgia Football: The Vince Dooley Era, ” and someone has lifted it and put it on YouTube.

Man, they don’t make halftime shows like that any more!


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