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Johnny Echols



James Brown Digs Soul Food
June 5, 2010

It was about two PM one Sunday afternoon in the spring of 63, a couple of months after my sixteenth birthday. Arthur and I were on our way home from playing after hours at Cappy’s in the Valley. We had just come from dropping Henry Vestine off in the Pacific Palisades, when I noticed a large van parked outside my house…In big bold letters were the words, James Brown Enterprise’s.

We both looked at each other and wondered out loud, “what’s going on?” Arthur came inside with me. We were both eager to find out why this huge van belonging to one of the most Iconic figures in music, was parked outside my house. We walked inside, where I was a bit disappointed at not finding the Godfather of Soul himself sitting on the sofa. Instead, there talking to my father (as though they were long lost friends) was a man who introduced himself as James Brown’s manager. I shook his outstretched hand, and introduced him to my friend Arthur Lee. After a few moments of small talk, he got right down to business…The reason he was here!

James Brown was at Pat and Johnson’s having his hair styled, when someone played a song called Soulfood on the juke box. James said he really loved the guitar playing, and wondered if someone there knew who he was? Pat, being my number one cheerleader, told him who I was, and where he could find me. Mr. Brown dispatched his manager to come and talk with me, and here he was!

After flattering me and telling me how much he enjoyed my work. He asked if I would be interested in playing guitar in the James Brown Band. Was I? You’d better believe I was! I was so excited…I did a credible imitation of one of James’s dance moves. I couldn’t believe it, me, on stage with “the Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” Playing all over the world, hell yes I was interested!

And then reality intervened, and I was quickly brought back down to earth. My dad asked him “how soon would you want him to start?” Right away was his reply, Pop said the boy’s still in high school, he won’t graduate until the middle of June!

I could see the shock on his face. How old are you? I’m sixteen I said defiantly!… I’m sure he was thinking “how am I going to get out of this!” I could almost see the wheels in his head turning. Then he said “though we would love for Johnny to be a member of the James Brown family, he’s just too young!”

On hearing the remark about family, Arthur chimed in “I didn’t know you wanted him to marry James’s daughter, I thought you wanted him to play guitar.” We all laughed. And he said I should contact them in a couple of years when I turned eighteen! I said that I would (but the moment was gone)! After he left, Arthur said “I’m impressed,” I said to Arthur “I’m depressed!” That was not the last time I would cross paths with The Godfather of Soul!

Just another day in the life!

Johnny Echols