James Brown & The Famous Flames

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About James Brown & The Famous Flames

James Brown & The Famous Flames were one of the most exciting R&B vocal groups to emerge in the 1950s, thanks to Brown’s fiery, impassioned lead vocals and the band’s smooth harmony parts. • Brown played drums in an early incarnation of the band, then known as The Avons, and shared vocals with Bobby Byrd and Sylvester Keels. The band had become The Famous Flames, and Brown had taken over as lead singer, by the time they recorded a demo of “Please, Please, Please” late in 1955. • The song landed the group a deal with Cincinnati-based Federal Records. A rerecorded version of “Please, Please, Please” reached No. 6 on the R&B chart in 1956. • The Famous Flames landed their first No. 1 R&B hit in 1958 with “Try Me,” which also made it to No. 48 on the pop chart. • Around the same time, the lineup had coalesced into Brown, Byrd, Johnny Terry, Bobby Bennett, and Lloyd Stallworth. The group had become a purely vocal act billed as James Brown & The Famous Flames. Their backing musicians were usually known as The James Brown Band or Orchestra. • The group appeared on American Bandstand in 1962, where they performed “Shout and Shimmy.” The song, heavily indebted to the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” reached No. 16 on the R&B chart. • In 1963, James Brown & The Famous Flames released the iconic album Live at the Apollo. Recorded the previous year at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, the LP spent 66 weeks on the Billboard albums chart, peaking at No. 2. • The group had another star turn in 1964, when James Brown & The Famous Flames upstaged The Rolling Stones with an electrifying performance in the concert movie The T.A.M.I. Show. Stones guitarist Keith Richards later said following Brown & Co. was the biggest mistake of the band’s career. • Starting in 1965, Brown began recording without backing vocals from The Famous Flames. The last song they recorded together, “Maybe the Last Time,” was the b-side to the 1964 single “Out of Sight.” • Though they continued to perform with him onstage, The Famous Flames are absent on some of Brown’s biggest hits, including his best-known song, “I Got You (I Feel Good),” which reached No. 1 on the R&B chart and No. 3 on the pop chart in 1965. • The Famous Flames appeared with Brown in the 1965 film comedy Ski Party in 1965 and twice on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966. • By 1968, tension over compensation and Brown’s solo pursuits prompted The Famous Flames to split. Brown carried on releasing albums into the early 2000s. The icon died in December 2006 at age 73. • In 2012, The Famous Flames were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. (Brown had been inducted in the inaugural class in 1986.)


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