James Brown, the Godfather of Soul and 'hardest-working man in show business,' died on Christmas Day 2006. (Al Bello / Getty Images)
The new Mick Jagger-produced James Brown biopic “Get on Up” is full of dramatic moments from the life of the Godfather of Soul.
The funk genius, played by Chadwick Boseman, is seen shooting off a gun after someone uses his private bathroom. His mother, Susie, runs off, abandoning him to poverty and a violent father. That same mother creeps backstage, when he’s headlining at the Apollo Theatre, and accepts a cash payout. Women move in and out of his bedroom, and life, and it’s implied he’s being violent with at least one wife (Deedee, played by singer Jill Scott).
While some dramatic license was taken with facts, the Hollywood version of Brown’s life isn’t as dramatic as the real story, his son, Daryl Brown, says.
“You can’t tell it and then water it down,” Brown tells The Detroit News in a phone interview last week.
Daryl, 53, is promoting a memoir, “My Father the Godfather” (Waldorfpublishing.com), about his father, and it’s full of drugs, sex, violence — and music. He will be in Metro Detroit on Aug. 12, signing copies at Blue Frog Books in Howell. His mother is Bea Ford, who sang in the James Brown Revue.
The book, co-written with Michael P. Chabries, is a combination of narrative and oral history. James Brown associates, such as his longtime attorney Buddy Dallas, his last wife (or girlfriend, depending on your view) Tomi Rae, and members of his band are heard from in their own words.
Among the revelations:
■James Brown was using crack cocaine up to the end. Daryl, who had his own struggles with drugs, would lecture his father: “This will kill you.”
■After Brown’s death on Christmas Day 2006, Michael Jackson spent two hours alone in the funeral home with his idol and did Brown’s hair. “He came in there and he combed my father’s hair. He said he wore his hair this way, to the left. Oh man, he wanted to know what kind of embalming fluid they used and everything,” Daryl says.
■James’ mother, Susie Brown, was invited to the Apollo Theater by second wife Deedee; she didn’t just show up and try to cadge money, Daryl says. James took care of his mother financially before her 2004 death, and she is buried next to his father.
■The Rev. Al Sharpton, who knew James Brown for years, was at the family’s side and spoke at the public funeral in New York, but Daryl says as soon as he heard he wasn’t in the singer’s will, “he lost all interest.”
■Ironically, James “didn’t even like Mick Jagger,” Daryl says. “He used to call him ‘the devil’s son.’ And that goes way back to the ‘T.A.M.I. Show.’ ”
At the “T.A.M.I. Show,” a concert filmed in Los Angeles in 1964, James Brown famously had to let the then-relatively-unknown Rolling Stones close the show — the star position. The incident became a scene in “Get on Up,” and it appears the movie account jibes closely with what Daryl heard from his father.
“He told me that he said, ‘Hey, let me go on last, and you go on first.’ But Jagger argued and said ‘No, we’re the Rolling Stones.’ So he said ‘OK. I tell you what, you do that.’ ” And then Brown proceeded to tear it up, giving such a high-energy show with his Famous Flames that the Stones limped on weakly afterward, forever learning the lesson: Don’t even try to follow the Godfather of Soul.
After performing for years as the “hardest-working man in show business,” dancing for hours and doing the splits, James Brown took an array of legal and illegal drugs to alleviate his painful arthritis. That unhealthy lifestyle led to more problems. He had congestive heart failure, his son says, and was still doing crack cocaine up to the end. But James put on such a convincing show of strength onstage most were shocked when he died after just a few days in an Atlanta hospital on Christmas Day 2006.
Daryl Brown was the only one of the Brown offspring (five acknowledged sons and four daughters) to play in his father’s band — first drums, then guitar. One of the book’s most-shocking claims is that Daryl believes his father was murdered, as well as a son-in-law who asked too many questions.
Or is he really dead? James Brown believed death was just a deep sleep, his son reveals. He insisted that he was not to be embalmed after death, and he wanted a video camera set up in his casket so that when he woke up, somebody could come get him. He also wanted a cellphone with a battery that would never die packed in with him; that way, he could call when he regained consciousness.
“I told him, ‘If you find a battery like that, I want to buy stock in the company,’ ” Brown writes.
None of James Brown’s last wishes were honored. He was embalmed, and instead of being buried in his native Augusta, Georgia, next to his father and third wife, Adrienne, he is buried in a crypt on his daughter Deanna’s property in South Carolina. There is no video camera or cellphone.
His will’s specifications — that his money go to educating poor children in Georgia and South Carolina, not to his own offspring — were ignored. Daryl Brown writes that an early settlement would have given each of the offspring a modest yearly stipend, instead of nothing, but was rejected by several of his siblings.
And there was never an autopsy done on his father’s body, Daryl says. “When my mother died, I had one. I know what she died from. You have that done. What are we afraid of?”
Although Daryl expresses skepticism about most of the claims made by Brown’s last wife, Tomi Rae, he lets her make them in the book.
“That’s why it’s from her own mouth,” he explains. “I always felt that if it was done that way, nobody can come back and say I’m a liar. She talks about him being such a loving father and husband, and it’s all peaches and cream — well, she was on drugs, too. I knew from knowing her, that she was going to tell on herself.”
Tomi Rae and James Brown married in 2001, but it was revealed later that she was still married to her first husband. Another controversy is over Tomi Rae’s claim that her son, James Brown II, was fathered by the singer. She insists that he was, but most of his inner circle, including Daryl Brown, are skeptical.
“In 1985 he had a double vasectomy — should I say any more?” Daryl says. “I know the doctor that did it. From that time on, he was shooting blanks.”
Brown’s lawyer advised him to do it, his son says, to forestall any future claims by the many women in and out of his life.
James never lacked for female company. Some of them were women from his tour, including Daryl’s mother, Bea Ford, who can be heard on his 1960 song “You’ve Got the Power.”
James Brown’s revue always featured talented female singers over the years that included Tammi Montgomery (later known as Tammi Terrell, of Motown fame), Marva Whitney and Vicki Anderson, who was married to his longtime friend, Bobby Byrd of the Famous Flames.
His mother wouldn’t marry James, Daryl says. “She said there were too many women. But he said she was the best one. She never stole a dime from him. And they were the best of friends till the day he died.
“He had to have a woman every night. He didn’t like to be alone. That goes all the way back to his childhood.” And yet, despite that “Sex Machine” image, Brown was almost comically innocent about sex, his son claims. Brown was shocked when he discovered the Playboy Channel and had to have a common sexual device explained to him.
Much of Brown’s life, and influences, were compressed or eliminated from “Get on Up.” He first opened at the Apollo Theatre for Little Willie John, idolized him and recorded a tribute album to him after his death, but there is only a passing reference to the singer in the film.
“My father loved Little Willie John. That was his hero,” Daryl Brown says. “They were like two peas in a pod. He loved him.”
“Get on Up” makes some other key exclusions. It shows Brown’s first wife, Velma, and his oldest son Teddy, but focuses mostly on his second wife, Deedee, and their daughters Deanna and Yamma, skipping over his last two wives and other children. Deedee and her daughters cooperated with the production and have proclaimed themselves satisfied with “Get on Up.”
Since his death, they and James Brown’s other acknowledged children have been feuding over the estate, or whether they even have a claim on it.
“Those are the daughters who sued him,” Daryl says. He’s referring to a 2002 lawsuit for $1 million, when Deanna Brown Thomas and Dr. Yamma Brown Lumar sued their father, claiming that they had been cheated out of royalties for songs they had co-written with him, including “Get Up Offa That Thing,” written in 1976, when the girls were 3 and 6 years old, respectively.
“You just don’t do that. You don’t sue your dad, or your mother, you just don’t do that,” Daryl Brown says.
“They wouldn’t do that to Elvis.”
Daryl Brown will appear at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at Blue Frog Books, 3615 E. Grand River, Howell, to sign copies of his memoir about his father, James Brown, “My Father the Godfather” (waldorfpublishing.com). Call (517) 552-6080.