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The One: The Life and Music of James Brown Paperback – November 6, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham (November 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592407420
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592407422
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,114,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“I recommend reading [The One] for it will give you an unparalleled view into the man, the consummate entertainer, his music, and us as a nation.” —Reverand Al Sharpton, The New York Times Book Review

“A showstopper. This book’s sparkle speaks for itself, as does Mr. Smith’s ability to take on his screaming, moaning, kinetically blessed, unbeatably shrewd subject.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“As illuminating as it is definitive.” —Rolling Stone, 4.5 stars

“[A] supreme, sublime biography.” —ELLE

“RJ Smith may have come closer than anyone to understanding how James Brown became James Brown.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“The imperatives of biography are to record, to correct, and to carve out historical significance, and Smith’s lively account succeeds on all three fronts.” —Smithsonian

"The One: The Life and Music of James Brown crackles with the same kind of exuberant energy that explodes out of grooves of one of the Godfather of Soul's classic sides." -The Boston Globe

“Top Spring Music Choice” and a “…compelling and detailed portrait of one of our greatest musicians… Smith’s compelling and detailed portrait of one of our greatest musicians reveals affectionately and honestly the reasons we jump up every time ‘I Feel Good’ comes on the radio.” -Publisher's Weekly

"This bio should be a cornerstone of soul-music-literature collections." -Booklist

“Smith never loses the beat.” -Los Angeles Magazine

“Required Reading.” -New York Post

"RJ Smith's authoritative, keenly intelligent bio of one of the most protean of American musical giants." -Philadelphia Inquirer

"Unflinching portrait of the conflicted and contradictory superstar...untangl[es] the psychological elements that came together to make James Brown, tracing his almost prescient ability to read audiences back to his days dancing for spare change from sailors and growing up in Georgia with a violent, unpredictable father.” -Associated Press

“Great telling of a really interesting man...captures the rhythm of the man” -On Point, WBUR

About the Author

RJ Smith has been a senior editor at Los Angeles magazine, a contributor to Blender, a columnist for The Village Voice, a staff writer for Spin, and has written for GQ, The New York Times Magazine, and Men’s Vogue. His first book, The Great Black Way, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and recipient of a California Book Award. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Customer Reviews

James Brown is worth learning about.
Nancy Gilliam
This book is good enough to read more than one time just to hear the facts of a fabulous musical man's life again.
maria miriam
The book is a great read, and I would recommend it to any James Brown fans.
Herman P. Howell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on March 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Because I have been an on-again-off-again fan of James Brown's music since the mid-sixties, to me it feels like the man has always been there. I remember him best as the ultimate showman, an impression that is easily confirmed by watching some of the many James Brown videos that are readily found on YouTube today. Brown, because of the controversy surrounding his death and his multiple funerals, was a performer even in death, and I think he would have enjoyed and been pleased by that. I thought I knew James Brown - or, at least, everything I needed to know about him, but R.J. Smith's new James Brown biography, The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, showed me just how wrong I was.

The One (which actually refers to the way that he emphasized the upbeat rather than the downbeat in his music) focuses on Brown's career path, as it should, but manages to get inside the man's head in a way that helps explain where much of his chronic reckless behavior originated. James Brown, like all of us, was the product of his environment, his deeper culture, and his upbringing. Unfortunately for those around him, he often embraced the worst elements of all three, making life for his several wives, his children, and his employees miserable, at best - and unsustainable, at worst.

Smith documents Brown's troubled life in great detail. The failed marriages, the thousands of women who kept him company on the road, the children (most of whom he hardly knew), the drug abuse of his later years, the susceptibility to physical violence he could not always control, his mental abuse of band members - it is all there.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Tiffany A. Harkleroad TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Born in the segregated South, into poverty, nothing came easy to James Brown. Everything he got, he got through hard work and industry. The son of a turpentine man, Brown started out as a shoe shine boy, ended up in a juvenile correction facility, was a skilled athlete, and full of soul. Brown drew musical influence from the performers on the chitlin circuit, only to go on to dominate the music industry for years. He influenced numerous musical genres and continues to serve as inspiration to performers today.

Let me start by saying that I personally have never been a fan of funk or soul music. I think that had I grown up in the era of their inception, I actually would love the music. So, in all honesty, I knew very little about James Brown going into this book. Many of the songs mentioned were unfamiliar to me. So, this book was really an introduction to the Godfather of Soul. And what a comprehensive introduction it was.

I felt like the book did a great job of establishing Brown's humble upbringings. I was pulled in at the very start, learning about his childhood. Being unfamiliar with the musical history of the South, I was fascinated to read about the wealth of talent to come from Georgia. I loved hearing how James Brown met Little Richard.

Similarly, I was really enthralled to read about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on Brown. It was fascinating to learn the impact of the ever chancing sociopolitical situation, and how Brown both affected it and was affected by it. However, the middle section of the book was very heavy handed with details about the music, changes in band line up, and the ever elusive "One". To a music aficionado, or a huge Brown fan, I am sure this section of the book is interesting, but to me, I was a little lost.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Herman P. Howell on April 14, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am a 64 year old white male w ho grew up on black music. In general I like all music and have seen a wide range of concerts which range from Elvis, Janice Joplin to early Ike and Tina Turner to Otis Redding. Of all of them no-one could hold a candle to James in the 60's and 70's. His stage shows were mind blowing. Reading this book took me back to my youth and collecting James Brown posters off telephone poles whenever James came to town. The book is a great read, and I would recommend it to any James Brown fans. H Howell
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By G.I Gurdjieff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in one day with just one break to put dinner in the oven. It is not a short book by any means. The author did a very thorough job researching music legend James Brown and then put it all down for a reader to enjoy.
The picture that emerges of Brown is a complex one that has its roots in the south. Brown, a product of a segregated society, experienced poverty in his early life. With imagination, talent, and drive he managed to become a star who could unnerve the Rolling Stones with his sheer energy and charisma. He attracted a lot of attention based on his ability to capture and entertain an audience.
He also managed to make headlines with audacious behavior and with public altercations that most often involved the law. He had a strong sense of social justice and was an activist, though that part of his personality was often obscured by his headline making behavior. Along with the public picture emerged the private side. Brown married a few times, had plenty of affairs,and had many children both in and out of wedlock. He was a savvy businessman who favored shady lawyers and money managers who often robbed him blind, even post mortem. This book was interesting, but often quite funny as well in a perverse way. The writer spices up the narrative with anecdotes such as why Brown liked dealing with so-called professional people who were crooks; Brown could relate to them.
Surprisingly, Brown could be a very strict parent as attested to by one daughter who said her father and mother both emulated their own upbringings which were strict. He had a fixation with Elvis which wasn't adoration as much as a somewhat competitive sort of thing. He was publicly wild and crazy in public, but could be thoughtful and even sort of corny in private.
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