Excerpt from Atlanta Pop—James Brown and Rodney Mills

  Another memorable personality Rodney worked with at Lefevre, in 1969, was the GFOS himself—James Brown. Brown was at the height of his fame, and booked Lefevre Sound to do one song, “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open the Door, I’ll Get It Myself)”. This was four or five years after Brown’s mid-sixties career-defining hits “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).” Rodney, still ascending the learning curve, had never worked with such a major star, and was nervous. The protocol surrounding the Godfather didn’t help any. First, an advance team came in and laid down the ground rules. “You address him as ‘Mr. Brown’—don’t be calling him ‘James’”—“Don’t speak to him unless he speaks to you”—“Mr. Brown does only one take.”

Rodney was okay with all that—except—one take?

Then, his musicians arrived. Rodney got them all set up, miked, levels set, and they waited for The Arrival. It happened shortly after, in a limousine.  Mr. Brown came in—it turned out, with only a general idea about the song, no structure—and the first thing he did was get together with his guitar player to try to find the groove. Once they had it, he added the bass player and drummer, issuing precise instructions to them. And then finally he put in the horns, again, telling them exactly what he wanted. And there, pretty much, was the song. They played it a couple of times, Brown giving hand signals.  “They were tight,” Rodney remembers. “He’d point, they’d do it.”

They were ready to record, with eight tracks. Rodney, on the edge of his seat, got everything ready, and it was time to do The Take. He rolled the tape, the whole band, including horns, playing, and Brown doing his vocal, and to his amazement they absolutely nailed it. Nobody missed a beat. Brown came into the booth to hear the playback—Rodney ran the tape—and the band sounded great. Except for one problem. There wasn’t a hint of brass anywhere on it.

“Where my horns?” Brown asked.

Rodney, his insides in a knot, checked the hook-ups on the tape machine, and saw to his horror that he had forgotten to plug the cable from the horn mikes back into the recorder. He had been hearing the horns through the monitor. A rookie mistake. Cold sweat ran down his face.

He had no choice but to confess. He told Brown what had happened.

Brown looked at him. He’s going to walk out, Rodney thought.

“Let’s do it again,” he said.

He was, after all, the hardest working man in show business.

And the really amazing thing is—they nailed it again. Rodney’s breathing resumed. James Brown walked out of the studio into a throng of ardent female fans.

June 10, 2019

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