James Brown was “The Godfather of Soul” and the “Hardest Working Man In Show Business.” He’s also the man who saved Boston.
A second night of riots were anticipated throughout a nation in a State of Emergency on April 5, 1968, the day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. But in Boston there was dancing instead, when James Brown performed in the Boston Garden. The concert was broadcast throughout the city, and people who did not attend the show stayed home and watched it on television.
The historic concert was presented on Aug. 30 at the sold out Valhalla Boathouse Theatre in South Lake Tahoe.. Dedrick Weathersby emulates James Brown and played with a seven-piece band.
“I am not an impersonator,” Weathersby said. “I’m Dedrick. I can’t be James Brown, but I want to embody the essence, where if you closed your eyes you felt like you where there, you felt like he was onstage. He’s not a character. He’s a real person who walked this earth that impacted real people that are living to tell the story.”
Weathersby also wrote and stars in a musical, “Remembering James,” which opened with a six-month residency at the Box Car Theater in San Francisco.
Like The Godfather of Soul, Weathersby is a strict bandleader who levels $5 fines.
“It’s structure,” he said. “We run a tight ship. We will never be perfect, but if you strive for perfection you will always be great. That’s what I live by, and I got that from James Brown himself. That’s why he was the baddest man in the land.”
A decade ago, Weathersby starred in a Michael Jackson tribute, but he said he could only assume that role so far.
“I’m not going to have plastic surgery,” he said.
He later toured nationally in “Dreamgirls,” as a James Brown-like character. To prepare, he studied the R&B pioneers. A review described his performance as “a smooth James Brown with a splash of Jackie Wilson and a sprinkling of Little Richard.”
“I thought, maybe I am on to something,” said Weathersby, who covered James Brown for the first time in a karaoke bar, Mel-O-Dee in El Cerrito, California. He sang “I Feel Good.”
“I felt I did horrible but the audience — I don’t know if it was alcohol or that they were just being generous –they loved it.”
Weathersby continued to hone his James Brown in karaoke bars, recording and studying his performances.
“What I was missing was soul,” he said. “I started researching him and listening to the songs.
He went on another tour and in his copious free time on the road, studied musicals about The Temptations and Tina Turner.
He eventually wrote a screenplay. He even consulted with Brown’s son, seeking his approval on the depiction. The 90-minute musical has 14 songs. He said “Remembering James” had to have an authentic delivery because many of the people who attend the shows are Brown’s devout fans, friends and co-workers.
“I am being true to the people who saw him and being consistent because James Brown was consistent,” he said. “There’s a reason why he’s the hardest working man in show business. Anytime I get lackadaisical or I feel content, I go back and get that chip on my shoulder.”
Early in his career, Brown and other performers would play to black and white audiences that were separated with a rope. The musical’s songs are connecting points to historical events, including “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act and the 1968 Boston concert when James was in his prime.
“Boston was about to get burned down. The mayor wanted to cancel the concert. James Brown said, “If anybody can get through to the people, I believe I can. Give me the opportunity.
“He got on the mic and said ‘I told them that I can get respect from my people and I need you all to not only respect the people that paid their money but also the people who are looking at this on TV.’ Instead of burning down, looting, rioting they were there listing to music and feeling good about themselves, knowing that Dr. King is gone but his legacy will live on.”
— Tim Parsons