Jeffrey Morgan’s Media Blackout

Although many an obit opined how James Brown got his second wind after he appeared in The Blues Brothers, few — if any — mentioned just how marginalized his mainstream career had actually become by that point.

Building on the heady heights of the ’60s, Soul Brother No. 1 released a steady stream of steamy ’70s sides that barely contained such scalding standards as "Sex Machine" and "Get Up Offa That Thing." But as the decade wound down, a mustachioed Mr. Dynamite was in a slump and waxing tracks like "Original Disco Man" (his only self-appointed appellation which, mercifully, didn’t stick) and the leering "For Goodness Sakes, Look at Those Cakes" (the world’s first booty call anthem during which he asks Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles if they see those cakes).

Nevertheless, when 1980 dawned and local rock photographer Tom Robe and I heard that the Hardest Working Man in Show Business was coming to Toronto to perform two shows at an old ramshackle movie house, we immediately knew that we had to go. And let the amateurs attend the early show; we were going to the midnight performance.

Although the date of the show was June 27, 1980 — exactly one week after The Blues Brothers opened — the balcony was closed due to low ticket sales. As Tom and I stood on the ground floor waiting for Star Time to begin, we dimly became aware of the fact that we were literally the only two white people in the middle of a crowd that looked like the cover of On the Corner come to life. More than once someone would turn around, slowly give us the once over, and then nod in approval.

So by the time Butane James was speed rasping: "The long-haired hippies and afro blacks, they all get together across the tracks and they party!" during a paint peeling version of "Get on the Good Foot," you’d better believe we were all down with that.

Three years later, the Minister of the New Super Heavy Funk returned to play a weeklong, nine-show, sold-out dinner engagement in the upscale Imperial Room of the Royal York Hotel. This time the racial ratio was reversed.

Next week: MB103! Jeffrey Morgan is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]