Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bobby Byrd - Keep On Doin' What You're Doin' (Brownstone 4205)

Keep On Doin' What You're Doin'

So here we are saying goodbye to yet another giant of this music, Bobby Byrd, an absolutely pivotal figure in the history of Soul.

I don't know if you'd be right to say that without Bobby Byrd, there would never have been a James Brown, but you'd be close. It was Bobby who took James under his wing, and welcomed him as a member of his own family after he helped get him paroled from a Georgia juvenile prison in 1952. It was Bobby who welcomed him into his Gospel quartet, The Avons, a group which would soon 'cross-over' and rename themselves The Famous Flames.

While Brown soon asserted himself as the leader, Bobby didn't seem to mind. "I've never seen a man work so hard in my whole life," he said, " was hard to keep up. He was all the time driving, driving, driving." That fire inside soon translated into a record deal with Syd Nathan in 1956. Whether it was early vocal group sides like Please, Please, Please and Try Me, or groundbreaking classics like Out Of Sight and Cold Sweat, It's important to remember that all of Godfather's King and Federal sides were credited to 'James Brown And The Famous Flames', right up until late 1968.

Their incredible run of over 45 R&B chart hits (placing over 20 in the top ten, including five #1's) during that 12 year period just boggles the mind. The Flames' soulful moan, along with their precision dance steps, helped define the James Brown experience, and have become an indelible part of our culture. After original Flames Bobby Bennett and 'Baby Lloyd' Stallworth walked (in a squabble over money soon after #2 R&B smash Licking Stick-Licking Stick), Bobby Byrd stepped into his role as 'Soul Brother Number One and a Half' (as Fred Wesley would come to call him).

It's hard to imagine what songs like Soul Power, Make It Funky, Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, and I'm A Greedy Man might have sounded like without Bobby's equally important (yet uncredited) vocals. As I've mentioned before, the banter between Bobby and James (saying things like, "Don't get so funky!" "I can't help it, Byrd") just does me in. Soul personified, y'all. His keyboard skills and songwriting abilities would prove equally essential in those days as the James Brown Band evolved into The J.B.'s.

Byrd's solo records are just as important, as he took James Brown productions like I Need Help (I Can't Do It Alone) and the mighty, mighty I Know You Got Soul onto the charts in the early seventies. He and his wife Vicki Anderson would become an integral part of JB's People label, and produce some of the funkiest music this planet has ever heard. This high energy mover we have here today, issued for some reason on Brownstone (another Polydor subsidiary) would crack the R&B top 40 in early 1972. Get out da way! This is just as tight as it gets, man. Shortly after the release of this monster, Byrd would leave all of it behind, finally tired of 'not getting paid'.

Although he charted twice more on his own, by 1975, he was basically off the map.

He and Vicki continued to perform overseas, and a whole new generation of fans was waiting as Polydor began it's ambitious CD reissue campaign in the mid eighties. Despite their differences with him over the years, both Bobby and Vicki were there last December in Augusta as James Brown lie in state. I'll never forget watching him perform I Know You Got Soul that one last time with the solid gold casket of his fellow Flame there at his feet...

Fred Wesley won't you blow one time.


Blogger The Reaper said...

Red, this is the best memorial piece I have seen for Byrd. Nice work, man. Hope you don't mind me liberally quoting your work here.

6:19 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

I don't mind at all... it's good to know that somebody's actually reading it!

Thanks for the kind words, reaper. Bobby was one of the all time greats...

3:59 AM  
Blogger Daryl said...

A well written and researched fitting tribute.Thank you.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Hot Soul & Cool Jazz Lightly Browned, On The Funk Side said...

This really a nice blog with interesting postings.

5:41 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Red. Nice one man.
'Keep On Doin' What You're Doin'

1:43 PM  
Blogger wynent said...

Made my morning! Hard to believe that "Live at the Apollo" came out 50 years ago. Nothing in the world sounded as good as the Flames' smooth vocalizings--can't imagine this record--or James' career, for that matter--without them. And certainly not without Bobby, who rescued James from a criminal life and gave him purpose and sustenance.

Angus Wynne, Dallas

4:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For YEARS, The Famous Flames (Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett, and "baby Lloyd Stallworth) were considered FORGOTTEN by the music industry. No one talked about them, Uninformed Dee-Jays nationwide NEVER credited them on the air for songs that they sang on (only JAMES BROWN was credited, still other uninformed persons claimed that The Flames was the name of James Brown's BAND (totally UNTRUE), and people had completely forgotten their sensational show-stealing performance in the 1964 American International Pictures concert film "The T.A.M.I. Show...where James and The Flames upstaged The Rolling Stones, their 2 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, and in the 1965 motion picture "Ski Party".

Fortunately, with the long-awaited 2009 DVD release of The TAMI Show . things began to change. People FINALLY started to remember that , yeas, James Brown actually DID begin his career with a SINGING GROUP, and that THEY,NOT HIS BAND, were called The FAMOUS FLAMES.
In 2012 , this long-overdue recognition finally came...when THE FAMOUS FLAMES were inducted into the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME...some 27 years AFTER James Brown's controversial "solo" induction. Sadly,BOBBY BYRD, LLOYD STALLWORTH, and JOHNNY TERRY have all passed on....but at least BOBBY BENNETT is still alive ...and as the last surviving Famous Flame, accepted induction for the group in Cleveland . Congrats to you , Bobby, your wife Sandi, and to the families of the departed members !!!

8:25 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Alright mate. I just thought I'd type you a few lines to say how much I enjoyed your article about The Flames. It was excellent. I didn't know about some of the information. I live near Birmingham (not that one) the one in the UK. When we were growing up in the early 1970's most working class kids were into Soul,funk etc regardless of skin colour. We had a scene called Northern Soul which was all American music but I've since found out that a lot of Americans have not heard of the songs or artists. If you haven't heard of Northern just type "Northern soul UK" in your browser search box or "Northern soul" on Youtube and your get more soul/funk than you can shake a stick. We used to buy the records on import because most of the songs had not been released in the UK. I found your blog by accident when I was looking for info on James Brown and Bobby Byrd. Now I have found your website, I'm going to put it on favourites so I don't forget it. Thanks for the article. All thet, Tim.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

Thanks, Tim... yes, I'm well aware of the 'Northern' phenomenon... welcome aboard!

6:44 AM  

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