James Brown — James Brown at the Apollo Vol. 1

I’ll have to admit to a shocking lack of James Brown in my life until the late ‘80s. I mean, I knew he existed, and I must have known some of the songs, even though oldies radio — at least the kind that played in the print shops where I worked, helping to wear your soul down to the nub with the same overplayed trip from the ’60s day after day, night after night — oldies radio didn’t ever seem to feature James Brown. (Or, to be accurate, hardly any black artists. Compared to the diverse spectrum that had been top 40 radio where I grew up in the ’70s, Syracuse oldies radio in the ’80s was super-white. But hey, you can’t hear “The Bristol Stomp” too many times, right?) But I did know vaguely what he did, and got the reference when Pigbag named a song “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag.” Maybe it was his standout role in “The Blues Brothers,” maybe it was something else in the zeigeist (I promise you, it wasn’t a “Rocky” movie) that made me think one day that what I needed to diversify my collection was a James Brown CD. And, knowing nothing, I started with a collection, “The CD of JB.”

James Brown at the Apollo front cover
James Brown at the Apollo – pretty sweet front cover!

We put that CD on, and it hardly ever came off. It didn’t hurt that it was one of the earliest CDs I bought, so my digital choices were few, but man . . . that disc went into heavy rotation. It’s a great collection, and has great sound (not always the case with those early CDs). And wow, yes … James Brown.

It can’t have been too much later than that that I got this album, featuring James Brown live at the Apollo Theatre back in 1962. The record itself is a Canadian reissue from 1986 — and it’s entirely possible I bought this on our one trip to Toronto, or one of several trips to Ottawa. But in this case I just don’t remember. This is an earlier, slightly more restrained JB … in no way a bad thing. The band is tight, but I can’t help but wish live recording techniques had advanced to where they would be just a few years later, because the effect would be amazing.

Coming fairly late in my first LP era, when both technology and circumstances had me leaning on CDs, I must admit this album didn’t get a lot of listens. It is good. Unlike a lot of artists, you can’t say that James Brown’s energy didn’t translate in the studio — it definitely did. And the next album will cover that.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Vol. II, by the way.

James Brown at the Apollo back cover
James Brown at the Apollo back cover
Dig that custom label
Dig that custom label

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *