James Brown had big plans for his homecoming show in Augusta, Georgia in 1969. The whole show was being recorded for release at a time when Brown was at peak, with a big traveling review and the hottest band in the world. There was no bigger star in black America, and Brown's influence was such that he was helping bridge the divide between cultures in the States.
Things didn't work out as planned, largely due to Brown's notorious heavy-handed treatment of his band. Shortly after this show, the band got together and demanded Brown increase their pay, or they'd walk. He called their bluff, and sacked them, immediately forming a new group, the JB's, with Bootsy Collins and other hot youngsters. The proposed life album was now out of date, as he was moving on to new grooves with the new band.
Of course, being a tough businessman, he wasn't about to take a complete loss on the show he'd taped, so an abridged version of the show did eventually come out under the title of Sex Machine, about half the show, along with some re-recordings and faked applause. Now, the entire original performance, with no embellishments, has been unearthed and issued the way it happened that night.
Brown knew showbiz, and knew how to hold back and keep the audience in the palm of his hand, teasing them. The first part of his show was not the fireworks they were there for. The band would do instrumentals, the backup singers would get a turn, and his own performances were almost subdued. And he talked. We here him give these rambling, barely coherent speeches about the city, what amazing things he was doing for the people, and for a good minute or so, I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about. Then, with the very best band in the world on stage with him, he introduces his new song that he hopes will be a movie theme, called "World," and proceeds to sing it to ... a backing track! He explains to the audience he brought the tape to sing to because it was too big a production, with an orchestra and all, and he couldn't afford to bring all those people. Then he has the band play a couple of instrumentals, including of all things, the then-hot hit from Blood, Sweat & Tears, "Spinning Wheel." If it was me, I might have been asking for my money back.
But it was all a set-up. A break is announced, and the fans knew what would be coming next: Star Time. The second half of the show was as explosive as anything you've heard from Brown, matching the energy of such famous shows as the Apollo Theatre in 1962 or the TAMI Show from 1964. Oldies like "Try Me" and "Please Please Please" are mixed in with his new, funky material such as "Licking Stick-Licking Stick" and "Mother Popcorn." And that band? Well, he was traveling with three drummers at the time, each one a monster, and he'd have them switch up depending on what style he wanted for each song. His six-piece horn section included both Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley. They were as tight as tight can be, drilled to precision. No wonder they quit. At one point, Brown chides the group in the middle of a song, telling them not to play so "jazzy".
I think it's fantastic that this performance has been saved and restored. It's the real story, not the hatchet job that came out originally. And for all the oddness of the first half of the show, once Star Time starts, it's jaw-dropping.