February 16, 2007
AUGUSTA, Ga.---Augusta lost a legend with the passing of James Brown, but he lives on in countless performances, classic recordings, and in an interview we did years ago.
I sat down with James and his wife at the time, Adrienne Brown, in May of 1995.
We met in an office full of music and memories, a place that was later destroyed by fire.
That makes the interview all the more priceless.
James Brown the businessman sat behind his desk at work, full of energy and excitement.
"That's it!" he cried, face pinched in appreciation for the guitar stylings of young Keith Jenkins, a man who went on to tour with James Brown's band for 12 years.
That day, it was my first face to face meeting with the Godfather of Soul.
There was no statue then, no arena with his name on it...but there was James Brown Boulevard.
"I understand you have plans in mind for James Brown Boulevard," I said.
"Yeah," Brown said. "We want to widen the street, put a museum there.
"We want to use that street as a role model for the rest of the world," he went on. "The good things to come from that street and the goodwill will create a lot in that area."
"You're a man who could live anywhere," I said. "Why did you come home to Augusta?"
"Actually, my dad had a lot to do with that," Brown said. "He's passed now, buried last year. He was the one who wanted me to come down here and be in this area.
"And I'm the only entertainer who has an office in his home part of the state where he was born and raised."
"That means a lot to you," I said.
"That means a lot to me," Brown agreed. "I can do a lot for the community."
"What do you like better: life on the road, or life at Beech Island?"
"I love...it takes both. When I'm home two or three weeks, I want the road. When I'm on the road three to four weeks, I want to be here."
"But I'll tell you," Brown continued, "I'm looking forward to a lot of things in Augusta. I ask each and every one to get the entertainment back. Warm feelings along the Masters, the James Brown Bash every year, and the Riverwalk...we have a lot of good times here."
"You love your hometown," I said.
"Oh, I love it," Brown said. "We're giving Atlanta a fit!"
His wife, Adrienne, was there that day too. She came in to check the setup and make sure we put her husband in the best light.
We talked about their private lives, at home at the same Beech Island estate at the center of today's legal battle.
"I guess when we do leave this earth, to go wherever God gives us, we'll leave it for the state, for the people to see all the memorabilia," Adrienne said. "But right now, it's ours."
Nine months later, Adrienne was dead.
What we also got that day was free run of James Brown Enterprises, a place with red neon on the wall and American music history at every single turn. There were glass cases full of keepsakes and awards from over the years, and a picture of Brown shaking hands with the Pope, proof that James Brown was also an international goodwill ambassador.
Five years later, in May of 2000, much of it was lost in a fire that destroyed the building.
One final memory was preserved on the old tapes of my interview, a little ad-libbing that never hit the air.
"Hi everybody, I'm Richard Rogers," I said, standing next to the Godfather of Soul.
"And I'm James Brown," Brown said.
"Don't miss my one on one with the Godfather tonight at 6 o'clock on Channel 12."
"I told him everything!" Brown said. "You won't be sorry."
Lots of memories from a batch of tapes that sat on the shelves for nearly a dozen years: James Brown in his own words, dreaming of a museum of some sort on the street that bears his name, talking about a music festival or bash in Augusta...and his late wife, offering that one day they wanted the Beech Island estate to be open for all of us to see.
It's good to be reminded of those times when he was looking so healthy, full of life, with big plans in mind.
The interview took place just a couple of days after one of his birthday bashes. He had just turned 62 years old.