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Music

How James Brown inspired The Rolling Stones to new heights

@TylerGolsen

It’s a tale that is forever tied into two legendary careers: in late October 1964, some of the hottest musicians from America and England gathered together at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to play a few songs for a film entitled The T.A.M.I Show. There’s a battle between who is going to end the show – the electrifying and established R&B star James Brown, or the upstart British rockers The Rolling Stones.

Brown had been performing for nearly a full decade by that point, but he was still largely unknown to white audiences. Those who did know begged to go on before him, since his mix of high energy dance moves, frenetic concert repertoire, and sheer charisma made him impossible to follow. But the show’s director, Steve Binder, saw the upcoming wave of the British invasion that was crashing onto America’s shores and opted to place the young and slightly naive Stones at the end of the show.

The Stones and Brown weren’t the only legends set to take the stage that night. Marvin Gaye, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Supremes, and Smokey Robinson were all in the building, and all played electrifying sets of their own. But Brown was a man on a mission. With his biggest stage yet and a chip on his shoulder, he went out like a man possessed, bringing energy, excitement, fun, and raw power to a mostly teenaged audience. By the time the Stones meekly bandied on stage, there was no fight to put up. Brown took over and refused to leave any scraps for the Stones.

Not that the Stones played poorly. They almost certainly got the biggest crowd reaction of the night, and their own performances of ‘Time Is On My Side’ and ‘It’s All Over Now’ had plenty of liveliness all their own. But nothing could compare to Brown shimmying and swaying as ‘Prisoner of Love’ and ‘Please, Please, Please’ rang out.

To this day, Mick Jagger claims that the band didn’t have any say in when they played during The T.A.M.I. Show, and if they had, they would have asked to play before Brown. Jagger had actually seen Brown perform at the Apollo earlier that year, before the Stones had made a major impact with American audiences. Accompanied by Ronnie Bennett (later Spector), Jagger and Keith Richards saw Brown’s performance and got inspired.

“He was a piece of work,” Richards remembers in his autobiography Life. “So on the button. We thought we were a tight band! The discipline of the band impressed me more than anything else. On stage, James would snap his fingers if he thought someone had missed a beat or hit a wrong note, and you could see the player’s face fall. He would signal the fine he had imposed with his fingers.”

“It was a fantastic show. Mick’s looking at his foot moves. Mick took more notice than I did that day – lead singer dancing, he calls the shots.” According to Richards, Jagger picked up on more than just stage attitude that fateful night at the Apollo.

“Backstage that night, James wanted to show off to these English folk. He’s got the Famous Flames, and he’s sending one out for hamburgers, he’s ordering another to polish his shoes and he’s humiliating his own band. To me, it was the Famous Flames, and James Brown happened to be the lead singer. But the way he lorded over his minions, his minders and the actual band, to Mick was fascinating.”