‘Sex Machine’ at 50: Bootsy Collins Recalls Origins of James Brown Hit

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James Brown didn’t experience on the bus; he flew on a non-public airplane. So when Soul Brother Number One and his right-hand man, organist Bobby Byrd, all of the sudden appeared on his new backing band’s bus after a Nashville gig within the spring of 1970, everybody sobered up fast.

“It was like one thing from The Twilight Zone, as a result of I imply, who does this sort of stuff?” bassist Bootsy Collins says, laughing. Just a couple of months earlier, Brown’s whole band had mutinied, so he introduced in Collins and his brother, guitarist Phelps “Catfish” Collins, from the Cincinnati group the Pacemakers, to spherical out a band he dubbed the J.B.’s. “I imply, we simply performed a gig and it’s after the present. Everybody’s sweating profusely, we’re on there, performing a idiot as a result of we all know he’s flying to the following gig, however he surprises us and jumps on the bus, so all people has to straighten up.

“He tells us he bought a brand new track and he needs us to test it out on the bus, as he’s driving to the following metropolis,” Collins continues. “James and Bobby Byrd are sitting up within the seat proper in entrance of me and Catfish. He pulls out this paper bag and he mentioned, ‘Bobby, I bought this track. I would like you to jot down it down.’ He mentioned, [adopting a James Brown voice], ‘Yeah, I really feel like a intercourse machine. Get up.’ Bobby began writing his strains down for him. I had my bass and Cat had a guitar. We had been messing round proper within the again of him with some music. [James] was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. I like that. I’m glad I believed of it.’” Bootsy lets out an enormous chortle.

Although they’d sketched out the fundamentals of what would develop into “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” — which Brown later advised Rolling Stone he’d written on the again of a 14-by-20–inch poster for the Nashville Municipal Auditorium present the place he’d obtained some awards — it was a diamond within the tough. But Brown wished to document it — quick. So he phoned up his go-to engineer at Cincinnati’s King Studios, Ron Lenhoff, and begged him to get to Music City’s Starday-King studio ASAP. Lenhoff couldn’t catch a flight, so he high-tailed it on a five-hour drive from Cincinnati to Nashville, in line with RJ Smith’s book, The One, they usually reduce it on the fly.

“The subsequent factor I do know is, he mentioned, ‘Can I rely it off?’” Collins says, disbelief nonetheless in his voice. “We didn’t observe that half of it, so quite a bit of the stuff we had been doing wasn’t practiced. Loads of instances we didn’t even get an opportunity to observe on a track, like ‘Super Bad’ and ‘Soul Power’; it was like we bought the fundamentals of it, after which we hit the studio. With ‘Sex Machine,’ we had ‘bus time.’ We bought an opportunity to sort of fiddle with it, then we bought within the studio, and he mentioned, ‘Can I rely it off?’ We began wanting loopy. You can hear us within the again, ‘Yeah. Count it off.’ We didn’t even know that was going to be mentioned. So he mentioned, ‘Hit me,’ after which we hit it — we hit these notes. Then from there, it was historical past, man.”

For the recording, which made up a two-part single with either side working below three minutes, Collins performed a wiggly bass line that emphasised the primary beat of every measure — “The One,” as Brown known as it — whereas Catfish did some Jimmy Nolen–type rooster scratching. Brown yelped about feeling like a intercourse machine. According to The One, Byrd had heard the phrase “intercourse” used on TV overtly, and he and Brown simply felt the phrase paired effectively with “machine” (although Sly and the Family Stone had a near-14-minute jam called “Sex Machine” on the earlier 12 months’s Stand! LP). Brown shouts, “Get up!” and Byrd coolly responds, “Get on up.” In between, Brown performs a bluesy piano riff (“Taste … piano,” he shouts). Midway by way of, Brown says, “Bobby, ought to I take ’em to the bridge?” “Go forward!”

“I heard somebody use that expression [‘Take me to the bridge’] possibly 45 years in the past, referring to the center half of the track,” Brown told Spin in 1988, “and I modified it to imply a launch.”

The J.B.’s undergo change after change, following Brown’s lead — type of like a stay model of the way in which hip-hop producers transition by way of samples — and it’s all of the extra spectacular contemplating they didn’t actually know what they had been doing. Brown hollers, “Shake yo’ cash maker,” and finally asks, “Can I hit it and give up it?” and the band performs these 4 introductory notes once more. You can virtually hear the group exhale with reduction when it’s achieved.

Collins remembers working by way of it two or thrice, however that Brown felt the very best take was the primary take, the one the place the J.B.’s simply divined what to play from the funky heavens. The single got here out on King Records within the center of July 1970, and the songwriting credit went to Brown, Byrd, and, as a thanks for his hustle, Lenhoff. “The studio here’s a fuel,” Brown, referring to Starday-King, advised Rolling Stone in September 1970. “I don’t wish to reduce any extra in Cincinnati until I simply bought to.” The tune wound up making it to Number 15 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and Number Two on the R&B chart at the time. It ranks Number 334 on Rolling Stone’s checklist of the five hundred Greatest Songs of All Time.

On July twenty third, 1970 — just some weeks after Billboard first began reporting that radio stations had been enjoying the only — Brown and the J.B.’s went again into the studio and reduce a nearly 11-minute version of the song. It’s looser and funkier, and extra assured, since by that time the J.B.’s knew the track effectively sufficient to vamp whereas Brown rapped about all his favourite cities whereas squealing and shouting “Good Gawd!” Lenhoff added some faux crowd noise they usually put the observe on a stay recording from earlier than the Collinses’ time within the group, and known as the LP Sex Machine. When it got here out that fall, it did in addition to the only, making it as much as Number 29.

The track’s success kickstarted a cool, new period for Brown, and it grew to become a live-show staple for him. By the time the group was enjoying it stay in 1971, it was peppier and jammier. Catfish leaned into his wah-wah for a solo on a model recorded in Paris in 1971, foreshadowing the psychedelia he and Bootsy would discover with George Clinton in Funkadelic, beginning later that 12 months.

After the Collinses break up (and Bootsy grew to become a star in his personal proper, rating excessive on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Bassists checklist), Brown futzed round with the track stay till his dying, dashing it up at the Apollo, glitzing up its disco sensibilities on 1975’s regrettable Sex Machine Today, and turning it right into a gospel rave-up when he carried out it at the Apollo in 1995. He even redid it for a Japanese miso soup commercial within the Nineties — it’s such a weird sight, it’s straightforward to overlook how he pressured the track collectively at the spur of the second after shocking the band on the bus.

“It was a Twilight Zone–sort factor,” says Collins, whose upcoming solo album, The Power of the One, pays tribute to Brown and the teachings he discovered from working with him. “The music all the time got here by way of from the universe, and we had been simply, I assume, what you’d name devices — we had been devices and we performed our devices — however we had been devices used to say what he wished to say and really feel what he wished to really feel. And that’s what we did. It was actually the Twilight Zone second.”

 

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