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The One: The Life and Music of James Brown Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 15, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, March 15, 2012
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Editorial Reviews


"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 )

"[A] showstopper...This book's sparkle speaks for itself."
(The New York Times )

A “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 )

One of the "Best New Books Around the South"
(Atlanta Journal Constitution )

“Smith never loses the beat.”

(Los Angeles Magazine )

“The rhythm revolutionary who changed pop forever finally gets he bio he deserves...A biography as illuminating as it is definitive.” (4.5 Stars)
(Rolling Stone )

"The late James Brown famously said, 'The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing.' Not your bag? Read The One (Gotham), RJ Smith’s supreme, sublime biography of the Godfather of Soul—son of the segregated South, social activist,  go-for-broke businessman, self-professed thug—and you’ll get up offa that thing."
(ELLE Magazine )

“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 )

“Required Reading”
(New York Post )

“R.J. Smith, a Los Angeles-based music journalist and author of the new book The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, may have come closer than anyone to understanding how James Brown became James Brown.”
(The Christian Science Monitor )

"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: LA in the 1940s and the Lost African- American Renaissance, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and recipient of a California Book Award. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; 1 edition (March 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592406572
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,148,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
This is not just another JB story of the weary routine i.e. Left alone in the woods until the age of 5, troubled boy finds his way to town. Lives in Brothel...dances and hustles lots of change...sent to reform school for stealing ...released for good behavior...sings loud and dances like crazy...works hard...etc.etc.

This is a difficult read for anyone who might ever have thought that Mr. Brown "walked on water" in spite of the ups and downs which started somewhere around 1975. In this book, Mr. Brown is portrayed as a rough, coniving, even paranoid individual who puts every so-called friend, employee and acquaintance to the test, with his conflicting opinions and routine. He is ruthless, immensely talented, unpredictable and fascinating. It hurts to hear stories of Mr. Brown wielding a gun and fireing shots in a nightclub.

I think the kindest chapter is #24, called "The Dancer." If you are a fan of JB, and you know someone who never was, let them read this one simple chapter. It presents, with great imagination, a stunning profile of a great man.
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