JAMES BROWN / “Escape-ism” (Complete Take)
I’m going to try something a little different in this post. Instead of doing a normal write-up, I’m going to attempt to transcribe the lyrics (if we can accurately refer to what James and Co. are doing here as ‘lyrics’) to the uncut version of James Brown’s “Escape-ism.” Why? As I was surfing the net looking for information on this release, I kept coming across people writing about James’ “nonsensical rambling” and “random gibberish” and “undecipherable accent” and so on. One reviewer even said (to paraphrase), “You can’t understand much of what James says on this record, but then, it doesn’t really matter anyway.” I beg to differ. Throughout not just “Escape-ism,” but much of James’ Seventies-era period, James was dropping some serious philosophical knowledge right along with those serious funk bombs of his. Plus, the back-and-forth between James and the band was often deeply comical. Listening to them, you get a feel (albeit a somewhat sanitized feel) for what a bunch of Southern-born, music-playing cats sound like when they’re just hanging out. True, J.B. and his band members can be difficult to understand. The thing to keep in mind is, there’s nothing unique about the way James talks. There are lots of black men in the South who sound just like him – it’s just that they happen to be auto mechanics or bus drivers or construction workers, as opposed to one of the most often-recorded and truly funky men who ever set two feet on the planet Earth. So for all of our overseas readers (who might have trouble understanding James’ broken English) and for all of our non-Southern readers (who might have a mental block against really listening to what a backwoods Georgia cat has to say) and for everyone else (who might be able to understand James but aren’t as music-obsessed as we here at BoL are), here goes nothing…. J.B.: That’s what’s happening, man. It’s just like, we’ll rap. [Meaning, talk.] Engineer: We’re rolling. J.B.: Fellas! Band: Yeah? J.B.: Looka here. Man, I sure ‘nough feel good. I know the jocks [radio disc jockeys] feel good too. ‘Cause we sure coming through with our thing. See, these other cats [are] afraid to get down like this. And, you know, you know, we’re going to say… [stuttering] …we’re going to do our thing, man! You understand. I mean, you heard of Night Train. The Funky Walk. Man, they got a thing called ‘The Funky Train.’ [James is naming dances, presumably.] Unknown band member: Called what? J.B.: The Funky Train! … I gotta kick this thing off. Can I kick it off? Band: Yeah! Yeah, do it. J.B.: One, two, three, four! … Huh! … Hey! Huh! … Ain’t it good to you. Is it good to you? Is it good to you? Look here! … You know when you forget that grits is…when you forget that grits is groceries and that eggs is poultry, you lose your thing. Now, you can lose your thing out there wandering around. … I was, I was talking to a cat the other night. He said what everybody’s looking for is, what everybody’s looking for today, they’re looking for ‘escape-ism.’ [James almost seems to be talking about himself. The quote about forgetting that “grits is groceries and eggs is poultry” basically means forgetting where you come from or getting so involved in whatever you’re involved in that you forget the obvious truths in life. Also, throughout this ‘rap,’ you’ll hear references to drugs and alcohol. The basic theme of the record is about how you have to stay real and true and not try to get into ‘escape-ism.’ Several times, James says ‘I ain’t got no dust.’ On the one hand, it’s just part of a little rap routine that he’s doing with the band. On the other hand, especially given his later problems with angel dust and the police, you have to wonder if James wasn’t clowning around a little close to home, so to speak. He even ends the record by repeating the ‘I ain’t got no dust’ line then saying he’s going to go because “there’s a whole lot of cars with lights running around,” meaning, the police are coming. He’s joking, of course. But….] J.B.: Huh! … Huh! … Ain’t it good to you? You know what? I love to get down, Jack. And when I get down, you understand, I don’t have to go into no funny bag, saying [in a proper tone of voice], “I con’t do this.” You know what I mean. I say what I want. “I can’t.” You understand. That’s the way I feel. … You know, I believe I’ll get down right about here. Bobby Byrd: Go ‘head on! J.B.: Byrd, if I get down—. You know, Bird [stuttering], Bird got a outta sight tune coming up. We gotta record Byrd right here, you know. So we trying to get our thing out [of] the way before Byrd get into it. [Apparently, Bobby Byrd was supposed to be recording a new song but James was still holding down the studio.] Byrd, can we get down before we…? Is it alright? Byrd: Yeah. J.B.: Byrd, do you think it’s gonna be a hit, Byrd? Because—. Byrd: Oh, yes! It’s gonna be a hit. J.B.: Is it? You think it’s gonna be a hit? Byrd: It’s a smash. J.B.: I, I know it’s a smash. I know it’s a smash ‘cause you’re in the bag, man. You’re just saying where it’s at, you know. It’s gotta be a hit. … You ready, Byrd? Byrd: Yeah, let’s do it. J.B.: Get down! [Drum break and the band switches to a new groove.] Huh! Ain’t it good to you? Ain’t it good to you? Ain’t it good to you? Unknown: Yeah, I know what’s good too about that. J.B.: [Laughs.] Huh! Looka here. What you said, Fred? Fred Wesley: Man, you know we better take it on the lam! [Meaning, run away or escape.] J.B.: You better watch your man! … I don’t think they heard. What you said, Fred? Fred: I said, we better take it on the lam out here. J.B.: Huh. You better watch your man! … Byrd! Come over here, brother. Let me tell you something. You think we’re talking to loud? Byrd: Hush that fuss! J.B.: Huh! I ain’t got no dust. … I don’t have to take it on the lam. … Take—. Unknown: You better watch that man! J.B.: Huh? Unknown: You better watch that man! J.B.: Watch him? Yeah, alright. You’re right. Yeah. Yeah, coming from some funny places. What you say, bro? Unknown: What’s happening, Brown?! J.B.: Huh! Trying to get down. … Well, you know. Looka here. We can’t help it. Unknown: That’s right. Right on! J.B.: Ain’t no alcohol. Man, I don’t dig it. What you say, uh, Jasaan? Jasaan Sanford: Say, don’t be so mean! J.B.: You know I’m clean, now. Unknown: And on the scene. J.B.: ‘Scuse me, cat, while I rap! Looka here. Now, what you saying, um…? I’m walking all over this place, man, ‘cause we’re having a good time. Unknown: Well, go on and do it! J.B.: Cheese sure is funky. Cheese, you’re trying to please, huh? Cheese Martin: Yeah. [James Brown solos.] Unknown: Go on talk to ‘em, brother! … Go on, rap! … Testify! … Do it! … Hey, man. J.B.: Hanh? Unknown: Pinck just gave you the wink. J.B.: [Laughs.] Pinck gave me the wink? Unknown: Yeah! J.B.: Hey, Pinck! Pinck: Hanh? J.B.: Is you got [do you have] your horn in your mouth? Pinck: Yeah. J.B.: I got what I want you to do. You know that thing you do on “Super Bad?” Pinck: Yep. J.B.: It sure would fit right now. Pinck: Think so? J.B.: Take it and make it funky. I’m gonna call you down ‘cause I ain’t gonna let you blow our thing, you understand. Pinck: [Laughing.} Right on. J.B.: ‘Cause the man is…. Like, like, right about now. Come on! … [St. Clair Pinckney solos.] J.B.: Wait a minute, Pinck! Pinck! Pinck! Wait a minute, Pinck! Hanh? Unknown: Look at Pinck going. J.B.: Hey, Pinck. Wait a minute, Pinck. Pinck. Wait a minute, Pinck. Pinck. Pinck: Alright, brother. J.B.: I think Pinck’s doing his do, though. He’s doing his do! He’s doing his do! He’s doing his do! Unknown: That sure is smelly! … He’s doing his do! J.B.: He’s doing his do. He’s doing his do. Band: Doing his do! J.B.: He’s doing his do. Band: Just doing his do! J.B.: He’s doing his do. Band: Just doing his do! J.B.: He’s doing his do. Band: Just doing it too. J.B.: He’s doing his do. Band: Just doing it too. J.B.: You know, another thing about us all. What I really dig about, you know. Everybody here, you know, like we’re from down home. [Meaning, the South.] We’re together. I don’t know about Jasaan though. I think Jasaan’s from down here, but he don’t want to tell it. Know what I’m saying? He says, “I’m from ‘Ohius.’” That ain’t, ain’t no such place name as ‘Ohius.’ I know where ‘Ohio’ is. “Hey, where you from?” “I’m from ‘Ohius.’” You understand. Naa. [Unintelligible.] “I’m from ‘Ohius.’” … Where’re you from, Jab? Jabo Starks: Mobile. J.B.: You’re from Mobile? Jabo: Yeah. J.B.: Ol’ Mobile Jab. … Yeah, that’s right. ‘Cause I used to see Jab when we went through…Bobby…when you used to play with Bobby. Yep. Yeah. I know we always go to the Mobile Hyatt and he says he always gets a different room but I know Jab’d go home! Yeah, he’s from Mobile. [Jabo Starks was Bobby Bland’s drummer before he joined James Brown’s band.] J.B.: Where’re you from, Albert? Albert: Georgia. J.B.: What part, man? Georgia’s got a big—. What? Albert: Macon, Georgia. J.B.: Macon. Don’t say it so low, bro. You make me think you don’t want the people to hear you or something. … Fred, where’re you from? Fred Wesley: L.A.! Band: Uh oh! Uh oh! [Laughter.] Unknown: Ask him where he started from! Fred: Lower Alabama! J.B.: What you say? Fred: Lower Alabama. J.B.: Lower Alabama? Alright. … Yeah, alright. Alright, alright. Remind me about ‘Lost’ Angeles. … Where’re you from, uh.... You know I keep forgetting this cat’s name? What your name is, man? Jimmy Parker: Jimmy. J.B.: Aw yeah. I knew it all the time. Where’re you from, Jimmy? Jimmy: I’m from N.C. Unknown: The what? Jimmy: I’m from N.C. J.B.: From where? Jimmy: N.C. N.C. J.B.: N.C.? Jimmy: North Carolina. Rocky Mountains. J.B.: You better be careful, man. ‘Cause they don’t know what you’re talking about when you say ‘N.C.’ You can go to jail about that. North Carolina, you mean? Watch that ‘N.C.’ ‘Cause they got a…they got a thing called ‘the N.C. abuse,’ you understand. … Um, Pinck. You might as well tell ‘em where you’re from one more time. Pinck: Yeah, I’m from Georgia too. Yeah. J.B.: What part [are] you from? Pinck: Your hometown, bro. J.B.: No, you ain’t from my hometown, man! I stay on the other side of town. I’m on the other side of the tracks, man. Pinck: Other side of the tracks? J.B.: Yeah! I’m from, um, uh, The Terrace. Where you from? Pinck: From The Terrace? J.B.: Yeah. Pinck: [Laughing.] Well, you know you got it. J.B.: See you was eating a little higher on the hog than me. [‘Eating higher on the hog’ means living better. Poor people ate pig’s feet and chitlins…cuts of meat that come from ‘low on the hog.’] Pinck: You got it. ‘Cause I’m from [unintelligible]. J.B.: We got a lot of cats, them well-to-do cats like Pinck, that come from the other side of town. Right, Henry? Oh, Henry, stand up there in the booth. … Where you from, uh, um, Fred? I mean, Thomas. [James is calling Fred Thomas by his last name so as not to confuse him with Fred Wesley.] Fred Thomas: Washington, Georgia. J.B.: Washington, Georgia? That’s on the other side of, um, um, Thomson. Pinck: That’s right. That’s right. J.B.: Between Thomson and Sparks. Right at Albertsons. Oh, I know where you’re from. Down the road a piece from Toccoa! [Loud laughter from the band.] [What’s going on here is J.B. is showing off his knowledge of backwoods Georgia. He’s also making fun of both Thomas and himself for being country boys. In other words, if you’re from a small town between two towns that no one outside of Georgia has ever heard of, you’re a real backwoods country boy. And if you know where any of these places are, then you’re a real backwoods country boy too.] J.B.: But, now, we ain’t gonna let [leave] the other people out. I mean, we love [naming Southern states] Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, you understand, North Carolina, South Carolina, uh, um, Virginia. Where you say you from, ‘Ohius’? Yeah, we like [naming cities in the state of Ohio] Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland, all them places. What about you, Cheese? Cheese Martin: La Grange, North Carolina. J.B.: What?! Cheese: La Grange, North Carolina. J.B: La Grange?! … What? What’d you say? Cheese: La Grange. J.B: Now, we got a La Grange, Georgia. La Grange, huh? Don’t ‘lay’ so deep in your ‘grange,’ brother. Yeah. … Grange? That’s what the…yeah, that’s what the…that’s what the horses do. They—. No, no, no. That’s right. I was thinking about grazing in the grass. But, uh. Y’all don’t—. No, no, no. Only horses graze in the grass. Right? [Laughter.] [James is making a marijuana reference.] Unknown: They want you to get down just a little. J.B: Get down! [James Brown solos again.] J.B.: … Is it good to you? … Ha! … Unknown: What kind of train you said you know all that from? J.B.: The Nasty Train! … You know, I used to be sanctified and holy. Yeah. Any kind of way you look at me you could always see my leg. [James is saying he always had holes in his pants.] … Yeah, you know, sanctified—. No, really. Now, no, you’re not really so sanctified I always said to that cat. The cat said, “No, I’m not really sanctified.” I said, “Well, you’re holy,” you understand. ‘Cause, you know, the pants. You understand? Had some extra places in them. But we always covered them up with newspaper and things. Yeah. … Fred! What you said? Fred: Yeah. J.B.: What’d you say just now though? Fred: What you mean, partner? J.B.: Take it on the lam? Fred: Get outta here! J.B.: Well, look here. Got a black horn. That’s a funny thing. How…? Well, black is, uh. Let me see what black is over there. Let me see what black is. [Fred Wesley solos.] Unknown: Yeah, do it, Fred! Do it, do it, do it! [Fred continues soloing.] J.B.: Wait a minute, Fred! Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute! Give Fred a big round of applause! … You know I noticed when I was playing my solo, Jab didn’t play that hard behind me. Let me see now. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. You know we got all seven of y’all on this tune, don’t you? That’s a strong score. Y’all better be careful now. We don’t want no more of that mess out [of] y’all. … Fred—. Uh, Pinckney, you play your solo. [St. Clair Pinckney solos.] J.B.: Wait a minute. Now, Fred. What you said? … You know, when we first started playing this thing, what did you say just now? Fred: We better take it on the lam! J.B.: You better watch your man! … What about it, Byrd? Byrd: I think we better hush this fuss. J.B.: What you say, brother? Byrd: We better hush this fuss! J.B.: [Incredulously.] I ain’t got no dust. I ain’t got no dust. I mean, I ain’t got no dust, man. … Say man, like, I see a whole lot of cars coming down with a lot of lights running around. Now, I don’t know what y’all gonna do. You can end it or do what you want to. But man, like, I’m gone! I’ll see y’all…. The players: James Brown – Vocals, Organ Fred Wesley – Trombone St. Clair Pinckney – Tenor Saxophone Jimmy Parker – Alto Saxophone Jerone ‘Jasaan’ Sanford - Trumpet Hearlon ‘Cheese’ Martin – Electric Guitar Fred Thomas – Electric Bass John ‘Jabo’ Starks – Drums Two strange but true facts about “Escape-ism.” #1, they may sound tighter than gnat ass, but this was partially a new band. When James asks everyone where they’re from and forgets Jimmy Parker’s name, it’s not shtick. Only a few weeks earlier, the Collins brothers (Bootsy - bass and Phelps - guitar) had walked out on James to join the P-Funk collective. Parker, Sanford and Thomas were all new. #2, despite being nothing more than talking over a groove, “Escape-ism” (in a greatly edited form) actually hit the Billboard charts. In May of 1971, “Escape-ism (Part 1)” peaked at #35 on Billboard’s Pop chart and at #6 on the R&B chart. Unbelievable. Both the shortened hit version and the 19-minute full take of “Escape-ism” are available on the CD reissue of the 1971 James Brown album Hot Pants. —Mtume ya Salaam Hit Me Two Times Mtume, I know you don’t do drugs but sometimes I wonder about you. Who in the world besides you would even think about transcribing “Escape-ism”? Especially just for the hell of it. I mean how am I supposed to respond to this? Well, here goes nothing. There is so much gold in them Brown mountains, you could go up there with a teaspoon and come back with a nugget worth a fortune. I was thinking of pointing to stuff from the Payback album but then I said no, do something at least ten minutes long and I went to Hell. Literally. The 1974 album Hell is another one of JB’s masterpieces. I chose the modified shuffle of the almighty get down “Papa Don’t Take No Mess.” This cut features James Brown on piano ably abetted by John "Jabo" Starks on drums. Musically, the drum licks on “Papa Don’t” rival the funky drummer. This may not sound like an easy song to play but this is extreme groove-a-lating. Listen to the upbeats of the bass drum on the bottom with the stick on the sock cymbal keeping time while the snare licks are syncopated like popcorn popping. You need at least a PhD in phunk to mess with this. Politically, JB is singing the praise of black fatherhood. Oh, how we need men to step up and be papas not taking no mess. Think of this as a funky song for our fathers! —Kalamu ya Salaam
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