27 Oct "Rick James: Older, mellower, but still king of 'punk funk'"
October 27, 1998
When Rick James exploded on the music scene in 1978 with a song entitled “You and I,” there had never been anyone like him before. His sound was different, and his style as brash as his demeanor, look and lyrics. It was hard to believe that he was a Motown artist. Clearly, his emergence represented a new era for the company which had previously been noted for its so-called “assembly line” approach to making records.
“You and I” was only the beginning. James (whose real name is James Johnson) became one of the hottest attractions in the music business at that time, along with Parliament-Funkadelic and Prince. He set radio, the charts and dance floors on fire with songs like “Give It to Me Baby,” “Super Freak,” “Dance Wit’ Me,” “Mary Jane,” “Cold Blooded,” “Hard to Get” and “High on Your Love Suite,” backed by the Stone City Band. He also had duet hits with protege Teena Marie, most notably “Fire and Desire.”
In 1982, James wrote and produced a song for the Temptations which reached No. 6 on the national R&B charts, “Standing on the Top.” It was actually a Temptations reunion, with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks returning for the project. James made a cameo appearance on the song.
James also produced an outstanding female group, the Mary Jane Girls, who had a string of hits of their own in the early to mid ’80s, including “Candy Man,” “All Night Long” and “In My House.” (One of the members, Candice Ghant, was from Detroit.)
Regarding Rick James’ appearance, one journalist said he “looked like a Masai warrior from outer space with his chest bare and his hair in long, beaded braids.”
James frequently clashed with the Motown establishment because he insisted on operating with no input from the decision-makers there.
Not everyone is aware of the fact that this was not James’ first affiliation with Motown.
As a member of a band called the Mynah Birds, he had been signed by Motown in the mid ’60s, but nothing memorable came of it. Another connection was James being the nephew of Melvin Franklin of the Temptations.
Personal problems resulted in James being incarcerated in 1994, but like Chico DeBarge, he knew this was not the end of his life or career. So he staged a comeback, gratified to know that there was an audience waiting for him, not only fans from back in the day, but many younger people as well who were familiar with him by way of older brothers and sisters, parents and through rap artists sampling from James’ records.
Rick James, 46, is scheduled for a performance at the Fox Theatre on Friday, Oct. 23, with Midnight Star as opening act. Tickets are available at the Fox box office and Ticketmaster outlets. To charge tickets by phone, call (248) 433-1515. The show is being presented by WMXD (“The Mix”).