Fred Wesley & the JBs - Doing It To Death
Fred Wesley & the JBs
(Fred, bottom row, 2nd from left)
The groove. In all it’s splendiferous wonderfulness, phantamasmagorical, and exceptionally tromboneriffic. Aided and abetted by the Godfather, not Brando, but Brown. Once upon a time, back in the day, James Brown led a tribe of funkateers that were mighty tight and alright, who were capable of crafting a groove so righteous, so on the money, so.....so....funky, that – like the big bang – it still reverberates today, sending it’s waves out in ever expanding loops into the galaxy. I’m not kidding. When James Brown steps up to the mike and shouts ‘Hit it!’, and the JBs – from a dead stop – start purring like a Ferrari engine, and then James says “Oh! How you feeling brother?” – and even though you know he’s talking to Fred Wesley, you reflexively say “Alright!” – and then James asks “You Feel good?”, and you say “Yeah!” – and then he says “You play so much ’bone brother!” – and you realize that he really is talking to Fred Wesley, and you pick up the 45 label, and there it is – white on red – Fred Wesley & The JBs ‘Doing It To Death’, and you’re all like “Oh yeah!”. That’s what it’s like. And the groove keeps rolling, and your head is nodding, and your feet are tapping, and your butt is moving and James and the boys start chanting ‘We’re gonna have a funky good time!” over and over again, and the guitar drops in at the end of the phrase like a hinge and you can feel the whole room start moving, and you realize you’re smiling like a fool. Then James calls on the band to take us all higher, and they do. And then, in the strangest development ever on a Top 40 record, James calls on Fred to favor us all with a trombone solo. A TROMBONE SOLO!?!? How cool is that? The Top 40 landscape of 1973 is absolutely thick with guitars and synthesizers and long haired screamers and such and Mr. James Brown, Soul Brother Number One, Mr. Try Me, Mr. Please Please Please, Mr. Dynamite and the hardest working man in show business takes a look back into the horn section, sees his man Fred Wesley oiling up his slide and decides that he has a fever, and the ONLY PRESCRIPTION is a trombone solo. You gotta love it. The chart success of ‘Doing It To Death’ – which although credited to Fred Wesley & The JBs is clearly a James Brown record – is a testament to the stature of James Brown. In the spring of 1973 it was a Top 40 (Top 20 in some markets) Pop hit, and a Number One R&B hit. NUMBER ONE! What’s so amazing (at least to me) is that ‘Doing It To Death’ is basically a vamp. A bloated riff. It’s as if James Brown had a big pie and decided just to serve up a steaming slice of funk, and that pie was SO tasty, SO funky that the record buying public just had to have some (and then seconds and thirds until they were sick). Taking a look at the charts from that period, it’s entirely possible that folks were so sick of crap like ‘Sweet Gypsy Rose’, ‘Delta Dawn’ and ‘The Morning After’ that they were craving something real, and as soon as they heard some of that patented JB-style groove they just had to have some. This is not to denigrate this record in any way, because as the band chants, it is indeed “A funky good time”. In fact, it’s a testament to the power of the James Brown sound that he could basically take a riff, staple on a chant (and a trombone solo), and press it up and it was still better than about 90% of everything else on the charts at the time. In 1973, studios the world over were filled with rock bands wasting thousands of dollars, composing epic pieces of crap that filled entire album sides, positively thick with pretentious, overwrought bombast. James Brown on the other hand, throws a party in the studio with his pals the JBs – who’s groove power is as they say unfuckwithable – peels off a little taste for his fans (in the form of ‘Doing It To Death’) which is more fresh and powerful than any dozen heavy Zeppelinized outfits and in the end it ain’t nothin’ but a thang. That’s what this is all boils down to. Ultimately, you can stack up all the warlocks, elves, Marshall stacks, embroidered dungarees, bongs, tour buses and nubile groupies, and if it ain’t a funky good time, it ain’t shit. ‘Doing it to Death’ is THE shit.