Rick James Part One
I betcha you didn’t think I was going to do Rick James Part One, or at least that’s what my best friend’s cat would say after she beat me in strip poker. Which reminds me, I got to get my clothes back from my best friend cat who’s name is Betcha. That’s a story I’ll tell later, when I think of the story.
Rick James (born James Ambrose Johnson Jr. February 1, 1948— August 6, 2004) was an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Born and raisedin Buffalo, New York, James began his musical career in his teen years. He was in a number of various bands and groups before entering the U.S. Navy to avoid being drafted in the early 1960s. In 1965, James deserted to Toronto, Canada, where he formed the rock band the Mynah Birds, who eventually signed a recording deal with Motown Records in 1966. James‘s career with the group halted after military authorities discovered his whereabouts and eventually convicted James on a one-year prison term related to the draft charges. After being released, James moved to California where he started a variety of rock and funk groups in the late 1960sand early 1970s.
James on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in 1984
James Ambrose Johnson Jr.
Also known as Ricky Matthews Born February 1, 1948 Buffalo, New York, U.S.
August 6, 2004 (aged 56).
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
R&B soul funk funk rock rock doo-wop dance-punk.
Singer songwriter dancer arranger record producer.
Vocals bass guitar keyboards drums other percussion instruments.
1965— 1990, 1996— 1998, 2004.
Gordy Records Reprise Records A&M Records Mercury Records.
The Mynah Birds, Stone City Band, Heaven and Earth, Snoop Dogg, Mary Jane Girls,Process and the Doo Rags, Val Young, Eddie Murphy, Teena Marie.
After forming the Stone City Band in his hometown of Buffalo in 1977, James finally found success as a recording artist after signing with Motown‘s Gordy Records, releasing the album, Come Get It!, in April 1978. It‘s from this album where the hits “You & I“ and “Mary Jane“, were released, helping the album go platinum and selling over two million records. This was followed with three more successful album releases. James released his most successful album, Street Songs, in 1981, which included career-defining hits such as “Give It to Me Baby“ and “Super Freak“, the latter song becoming his biggest crossover single, mixing elements of funk, disco, rock and new wave. James was also known for his soulful ballads such as “Fire & Desire“ and “Ebony Eyes“. In addition, James also had a successful career as a songwriter and producer for other artists including Teena Marie, the Mary Jane Girls, the Temptations, Eddie Murphy and Smokey Robinson.
James‘s mainstream success had peaked by the release of his album Glow in 1985 and his appearance on the popular TV show, The A-Team. James‘s subsequent releases failed to sell as well as their predecessors. Rapper MC Hammer sampled James‘s “Super Freak“ for his 1990 hit, “U Can’t Touch This“, and James became the 1991 recipient of a Best R&B Song Grammy for composing the song. James‘s career was hampered by his drug addiction by the early 1990s. In 1993, James was convicted for two separate instances of kidnapping and torturing two different women while under the influence of crack cocaine, resulting in a three-year sentence at Folsom State Prison. James was released on parole in 1996 and released the album, Urban Rapsody, in 1997. James‘s health problems halted his career again after a mildstroke during a concert in 1998 and he announced a semi-retirement.
In 2004, James‘s career returned to the mainstream after he appeared in an episode of Chappelle‘s Show, in a Charlie Murphy True Hollywood Stories-style segment that satirized James‘s wild lifestyle, resulting in renewed interest in James‘s music and that year he returned to perform on the road. James died later that year fromheart failure at age 56.
Early Life And Career
Johnson was born on February 1, 1948, in Buffalo, New York, to Mabel (née Sims) and James Ambrose Johnson Sr. He was one of eight children. James‘s father, an autoworker, left the family when James was 10. His mother was a dancer for Katherine Dunham, and later worked as a numbers-runner to earn a living. James‘s mother would take him on her collecting route, and it was in bars where she worked that James saw performers such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Etta James perform. James claimed later, in the autobiography Glow, that he lost his virginity at “age 9 or 10“ to a 14-year-old local girl, claiming his “kinky nature came in early“. James eventually attended Orchard Park High School and Bennett High School prior to dropping out. James was introduced to drugs at an early age and was busted for burglary as a young teen. Due to his stints in jail for theft, James entered the United States Navy at 14 or 15, lying about his age, to avoid the draft. During that time, he also became a drummer for local jazz groups in New York City. Due to him missing his twice-monthly Reserve sessions at the USS Enterprise, he found himself ordered to Vietnam.
In 1965, he fled to Toronto, where he made friends with then-local musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. To avoid being caught by military authorities, James went under the assumed name, “Ricky James Matthews“. That same year, James formed the Mynah Birds, a band that produced a fusion of soul, folk and rock music. In 1965, the band briefly recorded for the Canadian division of Columbia Records, releasing the single, “Mynah Bird Hop“/“ Mynah Bird Song“. At one point, Nick St. Nicholas of later Steppenwolf fame was a member; eventually bassist Bruce Palmer replaced him by the time “Mynah Bird Hop“ was recorded. James and Palmer recruited guitarists Tom Morgan and Xavier Taylor and drummer Rick Mason to form anew Mynah Birds lineup, and soon traveled to Detroit to record with Motown. Before the group began recording their first songs for the label, Morgan left, unhappy about the label‘s attitude towards the musicians. Neil Young eventually took his place. It was while in Detroit that James met his musical heroes, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. After meeting Wonder and telling him his name, Wonder felt the name“Ricky James Matthews“ was “too long“, and instead told James to shorten it to“Ricky James“.
In 1966, a financial dispute in Toronto between James and the Mynah Birds‘ handler, Morley Shelman led to Motown‘s learning of James‘s fugitive status with the Navy. Hoping to preempt any scrutiny by the Feds, Motown execs told Rick they would not be releasing any more of his material and “convinced“ him to come back and work with them after straightening out his legal issues. James surrendered himself to the FBI, and, in May 1966, was sentenced by the Navy to five months‘ hard labor for “Unauthorized Absence“. He was not yet 19 years old. James actually escaped from the Brooklyn Naval Brig after only six weeks‘ confinement, but after six months on the lam surrendered himself a second time and, with help from his mother, found legal assistance from his cousin, Congressman Louis Stokes and an attorney, former Marine Captain John Bracken, who pled James second court-martial down from a potential five years‘ hard labor to five months. After his release from Portsmouth Naval Prison in August,1967, James returned to Toronto and endured another detention, initially derailing resumption of his career with Mynah Bird bandmate Neil Merry weather, with whom he would later collaborate, first at Motown and then in Los Angeles.
In 1968, again working under the pseudonym, Ricky Matthews, James produced and wrote songs at Motown for acts such as The Miracles, Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, and The Spinners. According to James, he briefly got involved in pimp activity during this time, but stopped because he felt he was not qualified for it due to the harsh activity and the abuse of women there. It was during this third stint at Motown that James met musician Greg Reeves, who, hoping to find a better situation than the US$ 38 a week (US$ 612 in 2018 dollars he was earning as a session bassist for Berry Gordy, joined James, looking to “hitch a lift from Neil Young‘s rising star“, and relocating to Los Angeles during the summer of 1969.
Once in California, James initially worked as a duo with Greg Reeves, but soon after James introduced Reeves to Neil Young, it was Reeves, not James, who was hired as bassist for the newly formed rock supergroup, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Around this time James formed several versions of the rock band Salt ‘N’ Pepper and got involved with hair stylist Jay Sebring, who agreed to invest in James‘s music. James and Salt ‘N’ Pepper member Ed Rothlater were included in Bruce Palmer‘s solo album The Cycle is Complete. The duo also recorded as part of the group Heaven and Earth in Toronto. Heaven and Earth eventually changed their name to Great White Cane and recorded an album of the same name for Los Angeles label, Lion Records, in 1972 & it was released that year. James formed another band, Hot Lips, afterwards. In 1973, James signed with A&M Records, where his first single under the name Rick James, “My Mama“, was released, becoming a club hit in Europe. In 1976, James returned to Buffalo, New York, and formed the Stone City Band and recorded the song “Get Up and Dance!“, which was his second single to be released. In 1977, James and the Stone City Band signed a contract with Motown‘s Gordy Records imprint, where they began recording their first album in New York City.