Full Force Remembers James Brown

On Christmas Day, not only did the world lose of the best entertainers ever, but several people within the music industry lost a great mentor and friend. James Brown’s larger than life persona and confident swagger was imprinted permanently on the members of Full Force. The production and songwriting team was hired to work with Mr. Brown on his 1988 album I’m Real, which yielded the legend’s last charting singles, “I’m Real” and “Static.”

For more than a month, brothers Paul Anthony and Bow Legged Lou worked beside Mr. Brown to help him put together his modern, hard-hitting statement about rap music. He felt he wasn’t getting what he deserved from rappers who were overtly sampling his music, his voice and his attitude.

We had a candid conversation with Paul and Bow Legged Lou about the lessons they learned from the Godfather of Soul. We also discussed his life through the tumultuous relationship with his third wife and his bond with Reverend Al Sharpton. James Brown was the baddest man on the planet, and while in the studio with Full Force, he never let them forget it.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Do you remember the first time you met James Brown?

Paul Anthony: I’ll never forget it. He walked off the elevator in true legend attire: three-piece, blue, pinstripe suit, multi-color ascot, big red sunglasses and the full-length fur coat. He is who he is. He was a bit apprehensive, even though he knew who we were. We talked, we looked him in his eyes because he was a man of honor, and said, “Mr. Brown, everyone from Michael [Jackson] to Prince to Mick Jagger has lifted something from you, and every rapper. All we ask is that you believe in us the way we believe in you, and we will do what we can to return you back to your rightful spot in history.” And he believed that right from there because we were straight up with him. It was a wonderful experience.

AHHA: Was James Brown different in the studio than on stage performing?

Paul Anthony: That’s just it, he was one in the same, from the way he dressed to his mannerisms. What surprised us was that he had a wonderful sense of humor. He would joke around, he would take photos and just drop into a split out of nowhere. There were days he didn’t feel like recording too, and he’d say, “You know, I just don’t want to record today.” He was the same - same energy.

Bow Legged Lou: We heard a lot of horror stories that he would be hard to work with, so I made a phone call to the last producer to work with him, who was Dan Hartman, who produced “Living In America.” So I asked him, “How do we approach him in the studio?” He said, “First of all, you don’t call him James Brown in the studio. Call him Mr. Brown.” If you call him James Brown, he would look at you like, where are your manners? And Mr. Brown used to tell that to everybody. We’ve always called him Mr. Brown to this day. During our recording session, Reverend Al Sharpton would come by and whenever he was there, Mr. Brown would shut everything down and we just had to wait. When Reverend Sharpton left, we would continue our session. And even Reverend Sharpton called him Mr. Brown.

One day, we were posing for pictures. There were hundreds of photographers around. This was in 1988-‘89, in the height of when everyone was sampling off of him; sampling his music, sampling his voice, without Mr. Brown getting paid. He didn’t like the rappers stealing his voice. One, he wasn’t getting paid for it, two he wasn’t getting recognition for it. Even though you know James Brown was on a song, he always felt that it should read, whatever rapper, featuring James Brown.

So what happened was that, we were taking pictures with the photographers, and out of nowhere, it wasn’t even planned, he just fell into a split. Then he rose up with no hands or nothing. When the photographers were taking pictures, they didn’t get that. For a while, everybody was just kind of talking. And out of nowhere, he just went into a split! The photographers started to spread around and were asking him to do it again. And Mr. Brown said, “Nope, you should have got it when I first did it.” And he walked away.

He did gain respect from the rappers after a while once his lawyers started getting him paid. He wanted that recognition.

AHHA: Wasn’t “I’m Real” the song you made for him, about him not getting respect from the Hip-Hop community?

Bow Legged Lou: Yeah, the first single that we did for him was called “I’m Real,” which was also the name of the album. It opened up with him saying: “All you copycats out there, get off of my tip. Cause I’m James Brown with the Force, I ain’t takin’ no lip.” That was him saying, give me what I’m owed, give me what I’m due. “You betta take my name off your records until I’m paid in full.” You know, it was a great record. The second single, which was everybody’s favorite, was “Static,” which we wrote and produced for Mr. Brown as well. And that song was last Top Five R&B record of Mr. Brown’s career.

AHHA: When was the last time you saw or talked to James Brown?

Bow Legged Lou: The BMI R&B Awards, where they honored Mr. Brown with a Hall of Fame award. As soon as he saw us, he started singing “I’m Real.” Mr. Brown used to tell us all kinds of stories. He used to balance a quarter on the side of a Coke bottle. He used to tell us stuff like, “I’m the reason why hotels are popular” - all kinds of crazy things. And all we did was soak up all the love and respect. When we did see him at the BMI awards, it was so much love.

AHHA: What was your reaction when you heard James Brown died?

Bow Legged Lou: When we heard that he passed away, I mean, you are looking at a man who was 73-years-old that was still working. He was booked for B.B. King’s club for New Year’s Eve. It is something else… The world has truly lost a one of a kind in the physical sense. There will never be another.

AHHA: You were also recording with him during a tough time in his life. He was off and on with his third wife, Adrienne Rodriegues. Did he ever talk to you about that situation?

Bow Legged Lou: He never spoke to us on his personal life, but we knew something was going on. We knew some of Mr. Brown’s moments, because he was human. During this time when this was going on, I think the only person he confided in was Reverend Sharpton, when he came to the studio. One time, Mr. Brown was wearing red shades, and Rev. Sharpton said, “So Mr. Brown, how you doin’ today?” And he said, “Reverend, I’m wearing red shades, but I’m seeing blue.” Anytime he spoke to us he was laughing and joking. He always called us his musical sons. It was a beautiful month and a half.

AHHA: Did he give you any other career advice?

Bow Legged Lou: He used to say, “If you don’t want to do something, just don’t do it. Simple as that.” Also, “You can never march to the tune of somebody else’s drummer. You gotta do it to your own beat.” That was Mr. Brown. He told us, “I was the original rapper. I just don’t get my credit. But I’m the original.” You know when he did the song, “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud,” he didn’t sing in that song. He rapped! And with that song, he told us, “I just wanted to say something about our people, because if I don’t say it, nobody else will.”

He was so confident in himself. We did a BET special a couple days ago, and there’s a scene where he’s performing “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud,” and the crowd is full of white people. And he was doing his thing like it ain’t no thing. He was a man’s man. He didn’t care. He just kicked it like he saw it. He will truly be missed.

When he came to the studio, when he finished he had a ritual. And it had to be like a five-minute ritual. Every night he finished, one of his assistants would take their comb and just start combing his ‘do, his hair. Every single night he finished.

There’s nothing like having a tight band that you can control. From the flick of his finger, to the turn of his head, they would stop and start on time, or they would be fined. And they all knew that anybody who messed up would get fined in the band. Mr. Brown would tell us, “Yeah, I fined them, because I don’t play. You gotta be stern with all this.” When they got on stage, they didn’t make mistakes, because they didn’t want to be fined.

Paul Anthony: To stay true to ourselves, try to be on time. And to give it your best shot each and every time - because that’s how he lived it. Not many people can walk around for more than 70 years and do what they want to do, on your own terms. And that’s how he went out.