Rick James

Rick James

Infobox musical artist
Name = Rick James

Img_capt =
Background = solo_singer
Birth_name = James Ambrose Johnson, Jr
Alias =
Born = birth date|1948|02|1|
Buffalo, New York, USA
Origin =
Died = death date and age|2004|08|6|1948|02|1
Burbank, California, USA
Genre = R&B, Soul, Funk, Punk
Occupation = Singer, songwriter, dancer, bandleader, record producer
Instrument = Vocal, bass, keyboards, drums and other percussion instruments
Years_active = 1964 – 2004
Label =
Associated_acts =
Rick James (born James Ambrose Johnson, Jr) (February 1 1948 – August 6 2004) was an American musician. He was one of the most popular artists on the Motown label during the late 1970s and early 1980s.Fact|date=September 2008 James labeled his style of music "punk-funk", a combination of both punk rock and funk; as time went on, James was given the unofficial title "The King of Punk-Funk".Fact|date=September 2008. In addition to his music, he gained notoriety for his wild lifestyle: later in life, James' drug abuse led to widely publicized legal problems.

Early life

Born Buffalo, New York—James was the third of eight children. His father was an autoworker who abandoned the family, his mother was a former dancer. His uncle was Melvin Franklin, bass vocalist of "The Temptations". He has one grandson, Mark D, who currently works for a Marketing Software company in London.

In 1964, James left the U.S. Naval Reserve after having begun to miss weekend training because it interfered with his music career. [ [http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/Music/08/06/rick.james/index.html CNN.com - 'Super Freak' singer Rick James dies - Aug 6, 2004 ] ] Fleeing north to Toronto, Ontario in the summer of 1964, James, now using the stage name Big Jimmy, continued his musical career. His first band, formed with future Steppenwolf member Nick St. Nicholas was initially called the Sailor Boys but soon changed their name to the Mynah Birds. Bassist Bruce Palmer took over for St. Nicholas in early 1965, and the group soon released their first single, "Mynah Bird Hop" / "Mynah Bird Song" for Columbia Records of Canada.

James and Palmer soon formed a new Mynah Birds lineup with guitarists Tom Morgan and Xavier Taylor, and drummer Rick Mason. In early 1966, the Mynah Birds auditioned for the Motown label in Detroit. Morgan was unhappy with the label's attitude towards the musicians and left, with Neil Young taking his place. With Young on board, the Mynah Birds returned to Motown to record an album, but their manager pocketed the advance money the label had given the band. The band fired their manager, who in turn told the label that James was AWOL. Motown told him to give himself up to the FBI, and the Mynah Birds' album was shelved.


James spent a year in the Brooklyn Brig, after which he briefly returned to Toronto. During the summer of 1967, Rick James formed a new version of The Mynah Birds (sometimes spelled "Myna Byrds") with Neil Merryweather. The band returned to Motown and Detroit and recorded a new version of James and Neil Young's "It's My Time", but the band broke up soon afterwards. During early 1968, James returned to Motown and became a songwriter and producer, writing under an assumed name and working with Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers and The Spinners.

In late 1968, James and Greg Reeves moved to Los Angeles, California and formed a band called "Salt and Pepper" with drummer Steve Rumph from T.I.M.E. The group soon fell apart and later that year, James formed a new version with Canadians Ed Roth (keyboards), Dave Burt (guitar), and Coffi Hall (drums). Former Buffalo Springfield roadie Chris Sarns played bass for a while, before Ron Johnson from Kaleidoscope stepped in the following year. The group recorded a demo for Atlantic Records, and played at The Fillmore West with Jethro Tull.

In 1971, James and Roth both appeared on Buffalo Springfield bassist Bruce Palmer's solo album, "The Cycle is Complete". Then they returned to Toronto, where they recorded two singles in Toronto - "Big Showdown" and "Don't You Worry" - as part of Heaven and Earth, a band that also featured guitarist Stan Endersby, bass player Denny Gerrard, and drummer Pat Little. Heaven and Earth, minus Little, then merged with another local group, Milestone, to form Great White Cane with horn players Bob Doughty and Ian Kojima, drummer Norman Wellbanks, guitarist Nick Balkou, and keyboard player John Cleveland Hughes. The group recorded an album for Lion Records in Los Angeles in March 1972, but by that summer, they had disbanded.

In 1973 A&M Records released the first Rick James single, "My Mama", which is likely to have been recorded in LA. Back in Toronto, James formed the first version of the Stone City Band with Peter Hodgson (bass), Danny Marks (guitar), and Malcolm Tomlinson (drums/vocals), and recorded an album's worth of unrelease material. In 1976, James and South African guitarist Aidan Mason co-wrote, "Get Up and Dance," which was released as a single but failed to chart.

In 1977, he returned to Motown as a songwriter/producer. He soon began recording for Motown's Gordy label, first with the Hot Lips and then with a new version of the Stone City Band. This version featured Billy Nunn on keyboards and background vocals, Bobby Nunn on keyboards and background vocals, Freddie Rappilo on guitar, Andy Rapillo on bass, Mike Caputy on drums, Randy and Mike Brecker on horns, Levi and Jackie Ruffin on background vocals, Richard Shaw on bass and background vocals, Lorenzo Shaw on drums, Flick, Berry, and Steve Williams on horns, Vanessa, Joey, Dee Dot, Roger Brown, Calvin Moore, and Bennie McCullough on background vocals. James's breakthrough single was "You and I", an eight-minute magnum opus from his 1978 debut album "Come Get It". The album also featured his ode to marijuana, "Mary Jane", co-written by keyboardist Billy Nunn.

1979 saw the release of two albums: in January, "Bustin' Out of L Seven" with Alyn Symns on guitar, Oscar Alston on bass, Lanise Hughes on drums, Nate Hughes on percussion, Danny LeMelle on saxophone, Levi Ruffin and Ramadon on synthesizer, and Erskin Williams on keyboards; that fall, "Fire It Up", with Tom McDermott on guitar, was also released. The latter included hits such as the title track and "Spacey Love", a ballad dedicated to R&B legend Patti LaBelle. After 1980s lackluster "Garden of Love" album, James was accused by many as having "sold out", and he returned to his old Buffalo stomping grounds. In 1981 he recorded a concept album entitled "Street Songs", which included James's signature song "Super Freak". The song featured guest vocals by The Temptations, and was sampled for MC Hammer's 1990 Grammy Award-winning song "U Can't Touch This", as well as Jay-Z's "Kingdom Come", released in 2006. Other hits from "Street Songs" included "Give It to Me Baby", "Fire and Desire" with protégé Teena Marie, and "Ghetto Life".

The stream of hits continued into the mid-1980s with "Teardrops", "Cold Blooded", "17", "You Turn Me On", "Can't Stop", and "Glow". His last R&B hit was "Loosey's Rap" in 1989, featuring a rap by Roxanne Shante. During this period, he also helped launch the Mary Jane Girls and produced Eddie Murphy's one hit, "Party All the Time".

While he is best known for his up tempo songs in pop circles, the R&B world remembers him as one of the premier soul balladeers in the late seventies and early eighties. He recorded an early eighties hit with Motown legend Smokey Robinson entitled "Ebony Eyes" that captures his voice almost as well as "Fire And Desire".

During this time, he guest-starred on an episode of "The A-Team" entitled "The Heart of Rock N' Roll", in which he played himself and performed at a prison concert singing "Super Freak". Isaac Hayes also guest starred in this episode.


James was a known drug user, mainly addicted to cocaine, which he often smoked; he later admitted to spending about $7,000 a week on drugs for five years straight. In 1993, James was convicted of assaulting two women.In 1991, a coked-up James assaulted music executive Mary Sauger, at the St. James Club and Hotel in West Hollywood. Sauger claims she met James and Hijazi for a business meeting, but claims the two kidnapped and beat her over a 20-hour period.

In 1993, while out on bail for that earlier incident, he and future wife Tanya Hijazi were accused of holding 24-year old Frances Alley hostage for up to six days (accounts vary on how long she was actually held), tying her up, forcing her to perform sexual acts, and burning her legs and abdomen with the hot end of a crack cocaine pipe during a week long cocaine binge. He was found guilty of both offenses, but was cleared of a torture charge in the crack-pipe incident that could have put him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Serving two years in Folsom Prison, as well as losing $2 million in a civil suit to one of the women, did not stop him from writing new songs, even if he did it behind bars. He was released in 1995, and during interviews for a segment of the VH1 series "Behind The Music", he spoke openly about his life and his battle with drugs for the first time. Rick's life changed for the better when he met and befriended John Kistler. Kistler helped Rick get off drugs and the two were close friends until Rick's death.

James attempted a comeback with a new album and tour in 1997, but suffered a mild stroke during a concert in Denver, Colorado, effectively ending his musical career. His last song recording was re-collaboration with his protégé Teena Marie with the song "I Got You" in her Year 2004 album "La Doña", which was Teena's first studio release after more than 10 years' hiatus in her music career.

At the time of his death, he was working on an autobiography, "The Confessions of Rick James: Memoirs of a Superfreak," as well as a new album. The book was finally published toward the end of 2007 by Colossus Books. It is quite comprehensive and features a picture of his tombstone. Also he was supporting Teena Marie's tour in relation to her album "La Doña".

"I'm Rick James" is a biography about the life and career of Rick James is scheduled to be released in 2008. James' daughter, Ty James, is a co-executive producer of the film. Originally scheduled to be finished and released in 2006, the filmmakers spent over an additional year tweaking and adding scenes to the film. After almost three years of production it was only completed in late December,2007. The film is the only documentary officially authorized by the estate and family of James. Music producer David Tickle is the Executive Producer, Perry Santos (once an assistant to James Cameron on Titanic) is the producer/director, HiddenDoor Documedia is the production company. Eddie Griffin, Charlie Murphy, George Clinton, Janice Dickinson, other celebrities, family and close associates also appear in the film. Noticeably absent are Eddie Murphy and Teena Marie, who declined to appear in the documentary.

In 1999, Rick James was a Plaintiff on "Judge Joe Brown".


On the morning of August 6, 2004, Rick James was found dead in his Burbank, California home at the Oakwoods on Barham Boulevard by his caretaker. James had died from pulmonary failure and cardiac failure with his various health conditions of diabetes, stroke, a pacemaker, and according to the Internet Movie Database, a heart attack being listed as contributing factors. Minimal traces of cocaine were found in his bloodstream.

A coroner's report released September 16, 2004 officially ruled his death as accidental, reporting nine drugs found in James's bloodstream: Xanax, Valium,Wellbutrin, Celexa, Vicodin, Marijuana, Cocaine, MDMA, and Heroin.

The report went on to state that "none of the drugs or drug combinations were found to be at levels that were life threatening in and of themselves."

According to Teena Marie, Rick's death ended her La Doña tour and halted work altogether. She said, "It's been very, very hard. I stopped working when he passed away." [http://www.contactmusic.com/new/xmlfeed.nsf/mndwebpages/teena%20marie%20returns%20with%20new%20year.s%20eve%20show]

On August 11, 2004, a public viewing was held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, along with a public funeral service there the following day. Following the Los Angeles services, his remains were transported back to New York for burial where they were interred at the unrelated Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. He was divorced and was survived by three children (Tazman, Ty, and Rick James, Jr.) and two granddaughters (Jasmine and Charisma).

The Buffalo News reported on August 6 2006, two years to the date of his death, the placement of a gravestone at "Forest Lawn." The two ton headstone is four feet nine inches high by four feet wide. Inscribed on it is an image from his 1981 hit album "Street Songs," which included "Give It to Me Baby" and "Super Freak."


Protégé Teena Marie had written and performed two songs "Make It Hot For You" and "Romantica" in her Year 2006 release "Sapphire" writing about him and for paying tribute to him.

In pop culture

In the "The Simpsons" "Treehouse of Horror X" Halloween special in 1999, Rick James is shown singing "Super Freak" during a parody of Dick Clark's New Year's Eve special. As he finishes the song, he is promptly arrested by the police, saying, "Aw man! What I do now?"

In The Simpsons episode "The Great Money Caper", Chief Clancy Wiggum says "I'll show you the Rick James cell. It's superfreaky!".

In The Simpsons episode "Sweets and Sour Marge", lawyer Gil Gunderson says "I've made too many enemies selling suckless vacuum cleaners and Rick James bibles."

James's drug-fueled behavior — as remembered by Charlie Murphy — featured prominently in a popular skit from the sketch comedy program "Chappelle's Show". This skit gave rise to the catch phrases "I'm Rick James, bitch!", "Cocaine, is a hell of a drug" and "They shoulda never gave you niggas money!"

In The Last Dragon, 1985 Kung Fu student Johnny Yu insults Sho' Nuff, calling him a "String Bean, Rick James lookin' fool!"

In rapper Busta Rhymes album "The Big Bang," the song "In the Ghetto" featured Rick James' first verse of the original "Ghetto Life".

In an episode of The Surreal Life, James made an appearance surprising rapper Vanilla Ice who cited James as a musical influence.

The appearance of the character Old Gregg, in British comedy show The Mighty Boosh, is based on James.

In popular music, the album Comfort Eagle, by American rock band Cake, features a song entitled "Meanwhile Rick James..."; the album Come on Feel the Lemonheads, by The Lemonheads, features a song called "Rick James Style".

Rick James once made an appearance on Judge Joe Brown as a plaintiff suing Jerome Turner(J.T.) for a guitar and amp.

On the track "Chi-City" on Common's album "Be," Rick James is referenced in the line "What you rappin for? To get fame? To get rich? I slap a nigga like you, and tell 'em "Rick James, bitch."" Common also references James on the remix of Jadakiss's song "Why", saying "Why ain't Rick James remembered for classic hits? / Why do we remember Rick for smackin' a bitch?"

In the 213 Album "The Hard Way", Rick James is imitated on the "MLK" track in the end of the song

In the Jude album "No One is Really Beautiful," the song "Rick James" includes the line "Rick James was the original Superfreak."

In the Hurricane Chris Song "The Hand Clap" where Chris states "Now Rick James wit it" once each chorus.

In the opening track to Swedish pop singer Robyn's 2005 self-titled album with the line "She sucker-punched Einstein, outsmarted Ali and even out-super-freaked Rick James."

The song "Can´t Touch This" by MC Hammer is based on a looped sample from James´s song "Super Freak".



*1978: "Come Get It!" (Gordy) - US #13, R&B #3
*1979: "Bustin' Out of L Seven" (Gordy)- US #16, R&B #2
*1979: "Fire It Up" (Gordy) - US #34, R&B #5
*1980: "(Rick James presents the) Stone City Band: In 'N' Out" - (Gordy)
*1980: "Garden of Love" (Gordy) - US #83, R&B #17
*1981: "Street Songs" (Gordy) - US #3, R&B #1
*1982: "Throwin' Down" (Gordy) - US #13, R&B #2
*1983: "Cold Blooded" (Gordy) - US #16, R&B #1
*1984: "Reflections" (Gordy) - US #43, R&B #10
*1985: "Glow" (Gordy) - US #50, R&B #7
*1986: "The Flag" (Gordy) - US #95, R&B #16
*1988: "Wonderful" (Reprise) - US #148, R&B #12
*1994: "Bustin' Out: The Very Best of Rick James" (Motown)
*1997: "The Ultimate Collection" (Motown)
*1997: "Urban Rapsody" (Mercury) - US #170, R&B #31
*2002: "Anthology" (Universal)
*2005: "Gold" (Motown)
*2006: "The Definitive Collection" (Motown)
*2007: "Deeper Still" (MRI) - R&B #19


*1978: "You and I" - U.S. Pop #13, U.S. R&B #1
*1978: "Mary Jane" - U.S. Pop #41, U.S. R&B #3
*1979: "High on Your Love Suite" - U.S. #72, U.S. R&B #12
*1979: "Bustin' Out" - U.S. Pop #71, U.S. R&B #8
*1979: "Fool on the Street" - U.S. R&B #35
*1979: "Love Gun" - U.S. R&B #13
*1980: "Come Into My Life (Part 1) - U.S. R&B #26
*1980: "Big Time" - U.S. R&B #17
*1981: "Give It to Me Baby" - U.S. Pop #40, U.S. R&B #1
*1981: "Super Freak" - U.S. Pop #16, U.S. R&B #3
*1981: "Ghetto Life" - U.S. R&B #38
*1982: "Dance Wit' Me" - U.S. Pop #64, U.S. R&B #3
*1982: "Standing on the Top" (Part 1) (with The Temptations) - U.S. Pop #66, U.S. R&B #6
*1982: "Hard to Get" - U.S. R&B #15
*1983: "Cold Blooded" - U.S. Pop #40, U.S. R&B #1
*1983: "U Bring the Freak Out" - U.S. R&B #16
*1983: "Ebony Eyes" (featuring Smokey Robinson) - U.S Pop 43, U.S. R&B #22
*1984: "17" - U.S. Pop #36, U.S. R&B #6
*1984: "You Turn Me On" - U.S. R&B #31
*1985: "Can't Stop" - U.S. Pop #50, U.S. R&B #10
*1985: "Glow" - U.S. R&B #5
*1985: "Spend the Night With Me" - U.S. R&B #41
*1986: "Sweet and Sexy Thing" - U.S. R&B #6
*1988: "Loosey's Rap" (featuring Roxanne Shanté) - U.S. R&B #1
*1988: "Wonderful" - U.S. R&B #50
*1989: "This Magic Moment/Dance With Me" - U.S. R&B #74
*2006: "In the Ghetto" (with Busta Rhymes) - U.S. R&B #50


ee also

* List of number-one dance hits (United States)
* List of artists who reached number one on the US Dance chart
* Mary Jane Girls
* Teena Marie
* Honorific titles in popular music

External links

* [http://www.rickjames.com Rick James official site]
* [http://www.classicrockpage.com/everheardof/RickJames.htm Rick James's early years]
* [http://www.thrasherswheat.org/friends/rick-james.htm Rick James, The Mynah Birds and Neil Young]
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=9276693 Rick James on Find-A-Grave]
* [http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2004/08/15/news/state/19_28_058_14_04.txt "Thousands say goodbye to 'Super Freak' singer Rick James"] article from the August 14, 2004 San Diego "North County Times"
* [http://www.pointsincase.com/columns/justin/8-7-04.htm Rick James Tribute on Points in Case]
* [http://www.allhiphop.com/Alternatives/?ID=62 Rick James Interview about Religion and Politics]
* [http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20060806/1059336.asp Rick James's last lyrics] "Buffalo News" Aug. 6, 2006

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