Rick James died last Friday, Aug. 6. He was 56.
Born James Johnson on Feb. 1, 1948, in Buffalo, he started out as the bassist for the Mynah Birds, playing with Neil Young. There's a tape of that, but it was never released. He made his bones as a solo artist on Motown in 1981 with "Street Songs," an album that featured the hits "Give It To Me Baby" and his classic "Super Freak."
He wrote and produced hits for Smokey Robinson, the Temptations and others, selling millions of albums. They called him the bad boy of Motown, which was saying a lot. He blended the styles of James Brown, Sly Stone and George Clinton into a mix that could only be called, well, super freaky.
But James was always more than the music. Larger than life, so he was. He had a torrid romance with Linda Blair from "The Exorcist," leaving her broken and in rehab. That provided fodder for the tabloids for more than a year. He sued MC Hammer -- whose "U Can't Touch This" was a direct ripoff of "Super Freak" -- and won co-writing credit and royalties. He partnered with Eddie Murphy and produced the smash hit "Party All the Time" in 1987.
Then, in 1991, he got arrested for cocaine possession and torturing a woman out in California and did a few years in prison. He had some problems. What can you really say?
He had enough Grammys and American Music Awards to choke a horse, and a new album in the can, scheduled to come out next year. Now they'll probably release it sooner.
Friends say he died of cancer, which he'd had for a while but never publicized. He left behind three children, Ty, Rick Jr. and Tazman, and two granddaughters, Jasmine and Charisma. The family is encouraging donations to the American Cancer Society.
The imperfect life of Rick James -- a kid from the mean streets of Buffalo who reached the heights of success before a crash-and-burn act that left his millions of fans shaking their heads -- is instructive.
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is a thing we witness all too often here.
What is it about Western New York?
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Aug. 10 2004|