Solomon Burke: The Burke v. Brown Feud
"TELL ME," I said, "all about you and James Brown. There was a two-second hush, and then Solomon Burke, king of rock & soul, launched into a torrent of attack upon fellow-R&B singer James Brown. Here's the printable, edited version.
"Man, you wanna know about James Brown? You must be crazy. Listen, this James Brown, he wouldn't come within 500 miles of me. On or off stage. I know all about him.
"He says he's sold over a million records in Britain on the Ember label. He says that he don't record for America anymore, only for Britain. Well I found out that James Brown doesn't sell any records over here on any label. And in the States no-one wants his records, that's why they don't release them.
"He was the only man in America to bet on Sonny Liston. And do you know why Liston lost? Because he trained to James Brown's 'Night Train'. I could have told Sonny that he'd lose, listening to James Brown.
"A few years ago James Brown used to be the sweetest, humblest and most dedicated of men. Now that's all changed. He don't even talk to his group the Famous Flames anymore. He just keeps them around as lucky mascots.
"And once I was on his show. At that time I had a big record hit called 'Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)'. I had six numbers to do. James Brown cut them out completely and left me with one shortened song.
"Ask any other American singer what they think of James Brown. They'll all say what I'm saying. And if you wanted to meet James Brown! You're the press but that wouldn't matter to Mr. James Brown. Oh yes it has to be MR. James Brown. Well, you'd have to make an appointment which he probably wouldn't keep, and if he did, he'd keep you waiting. But if you kept him waiting – even for a second…then he wouldn't see you."
I managed to get a word in edgeways. "Everyone over here talks about the three B's. Burke, Brown and Bland…"
Solomon nodded in disapproval. "Not Burke, Brown and Bland," he stated. Just Burke and Bland. Or Bland and Burke." And talking about James Brown, he said, "there's the question of his records. I don't think he's made one good record. Except that is 'These Foolish Things'. But then he messed that up by screaming at the end."
And so Solomon Burke continued.
Now, there's a peculiar thing about this feud, which at the moment seems to be one-sided. That Solomon rates James Brown as a performer. Which shows he's not entirely bigoted.
And what is the truth about James Brown, the man who has become something of a legend with R&B fans?
Your guess is as good as mine. But one thing is sure. No-one will truly know until he visits these shores. Which could be in one year or ten years…
© Norman Jopling, 1965
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