We Called Him Mr. Brown

James Brown, 1933-2006: A godson remembers the Godfather

There was another story about a family at the airport in Augusta that was preparing to welcome their mother home. So one of the kids spots James Brown there and goes and strikes up a conversation. Next thing you know, the mother walks off the plane and there's James Brown standing with her family holding up a banner that says, "Welcome Home Mom." And he goes and welcomes her back, tells her Augusta's been great but the whole town's really missed her. And he does like 10 minutes with her. These kinds of stories pop up time after time after time.

And that happened in every town we went to. He had these relationships with people, and some of them were local politicians, some of them were TV personalities or disc jockeys, some of them were just John Q. Fan. These people would keep coming back after shows in their towns to pay respects, and he would remember them all. He'd give an audience to damn near anybody willing to call him Mr. Brown. There were nights after gigs when those of us who worked for him dreaded seeing those people. You wanted to get away after the gig. No way. He'd either hold court in the dressing room or he'd put on his coat and go out in the hall. Either way you were going to be there at least an hour. And if he brought them into the dressing room, you could be there until 3:00 in the morning.

Based on what I've seen in recent years and heard from others, I think there was a point in the last decade where he finally became satisfied that the respect was there. It would have been hard not to. When you reach the point where you're playing the finest venues, selling $100 or $200 tickets, and playing places you've never been before—just this November, he went from Sydney back to the States, to Europe and back to the States in a period of three weeks or so—he had to see the respect thrust in his face on a daily basis. When he got the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003, he was sitting up there with the president of the United States and with people like Itzhak Perlman.

I think there was a point where he really realized how blessed he was and was grateful for it. And that was very gratifying for those of us who had loved him through the years.

Writer and longtime music business veteran Alan Leeds served as James Brown's tour manager in the 1970s.

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