James Brown and His Backing Group The JB’s

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Introduction to The JB’s

The JB’s (also billed under the names The J.B.s, The James Brown Soul Train, Maceo and the Macks, The First Family, A.A.B.B., Fred Wesley and The J.B.’s, The JB Horns and the Last Word), were a supporting band of musicians formed and led by legendary funk/soul singer James Brown during the early 70’s.  Sometimes the JB’s also recorded on their own.  The group released their first single “The Grunt” during the 70s music era.  They hit it big with “Pass The Peas,” “Gimme Some More,” and “Doing It to Death,” the last which shot to #1 on the R&B charts.  They reunited in 1999 with the album Bring The Funk on Down.

The early years of The JB’s

The funk/soul band The JB’s gained brief commercial success with their biggest hit  “Doing It To Death” in 1972. It was formed and lead by the American singer, songwriter and dancer James Brown (born James Joseph Brown, on May 3, 1933 – died on December 25, 2006) who was also dubbed as the Godfather of Funk. During in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Brown spearheaded The James Brown Band and The James Brown Orchestra. The JB’s were initially formed with members the Collins brothers William (bass) and Phelps (guitar), former Pacemakers member Bobby Byrd (organ), and John Starks (drums). However, the lineup was changed when Brown shifted his interest towards funk. It consisted of conga player Johnny Griggs and horn players Clayton Gunnells, Darryl Jamison and Robert McCollough. Later in 1970 , trombonist Fred Wesley and Brown’s former sidemen Maceo Parker and St. Clair Pinckney were added to the group.

The JB’s were an American funk and soul band, best known for being James Brown’s backing band. In addition to supporting Brown on stage and in the studio, the JBs also released albums and singles under their own name. Nearly all of these recordings were produced by Brown and released on his label, People Records. They had several charts hits in the early 1970s, including “Pass the Peas,” “Gimme Some More,” and the #1 R&B hit “Doing It to Death.”

Their music has been heavily sampled by hip-hop DJs and record producers, reflecting the enduring popularity and influence of their funky, soulful sound. Despite declining popularity as funk gave way to disco in the 1970s, the JBs continued to make innovative and entertaining music, even as their chart success dwindled. Their unique take on funk and soul has earned them a dedicated following and a place in music history.

The JB’s hit recordings

Most of The JB’s releases were recorded on Brown’s own label People Records. Brown would sometimes play an organ and synthesizer with his own backing band. Their sound can be best described as funk and jazz.

The JB’s released their first “Gimme Some More” which peaked at #11 and #67  on the R&B and pop chart respectively in 1971. The following year their next single “Pass the Peas” (from the album Food for Thought) became a minor hit, peaking at #29 on the R&B singles chart and #95 on the Hot 100. The The JB’s biggest hit single came in 1973 with “Doing It to Death.” Also known as “Gonna Have a Funky Good Time,” it became a chart-topper on the on the soul singles chart and #22 on the Billboard Hot 100. Because of its success, the song sold over one million copies and was given a gold disc award by the R.I.A.A. It has now become an oldies music gem.

In the mid-70’s, the group’s career was starting to dip with their consistent minor hit releases. After releasing the album HustlewWith Speed, Wesley left the group and Parker followed shortly. They also had a minor hit under the name A.A.B.B. (or Above Average Black Band) with “Pick up the Pieces One by One” that which bubbled under the Hot 100 at #105 in 1975. In 1976, Polydor dropped People Records after issuing The JB’s final single “Everybody Wanna Get Funky One More Time.”

Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis as the JB Horns

In the 1980s and 1990s, Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, both of whom had previously worked with James Brown, took the stage as The JB Horns. On occasion, they would bring along other members of the Brown side band, including Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis. Albums originally released by the JB Horns on the Gramavision label have since been reissued by Rhino Records. I Like It Like That was the only album that was produced by Richard Mazda.

The JB Horns have been linked to the group The Horny Horns, who were mainstays of both P-Funk and Bootsy’s Rubber Band. Maceo, Rick Gardner, and Richard “Kush” Griffith all played trumpets in the band, which was led by Fred Wesley. There was no P-Funk or Bootsy’s Rubber Band show without the Horny Horns and their signature horn sound.

Later years

The band members would reunite periodically in the following years. Wesley, Parker and sometime member Alfred Ellis embarked on a European tour with Bobby Bird during the late 1980s and recorded a reunion LP. This lineup has added newer members in the ensuing years, continuing to perform and record; one of their recent albums Bring on the Funk Down, was dedicated to the memory of their former member Pinckney who died in 1999. The album also included which also included Bootsy Collins,  Byrd, Jabo Starks and many others.

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