|This article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2013)|
|Birth name||Bobby Howard Byrd|
|Also known as||"Byrd"|
August 15, 1934|
|Died||September 12, 2007
|Genres||Soul, rhythm and blues, funk|
|Occupations||Singer, songwriter, Record producer, musician|
|Labels||King, Polydor, People, Kwanza, Atlantic|
|Associated acts||James Brown, The Famous Flames, Maceo Parker, Carleen Anderson, Vicki Anderson, Anna King, Bobby Bennett|
Bobby Howard Byrd (August 15, 1934 – September 12, 2007), better known as Bobby Byrd, was an American R&B/soul singer, songwriter, bandleader, talent scout, record producer, and musician, who played an integral and important part in the development of soul and funk music in association with James Brown. Byrd began his career in 1952 as member of the gospel group the Gospel Starlighters, who later changed their name to the Avons in 1953 and the Five Royals in 1954, before settling with the name the Flames in 1955 prior to Brown joining the group with their agent later changing it to The Famous Flames. Byrd was the actual founder of The Flames, and is the man credited with the discovery of James Brown. As one of the longest-serving members of the group, he was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame posthumously in 2012. Byrd was also a 1998 recipient of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award. Throughout, Byrd helped to inspire the musical aspirations of James Brown, who launched his career with Byrd.
Early life and career
Byrd was born in Toccoa, Georgia to a religiously devout family, where they were respected members of the church congregation and active in their neighborhood there. Byrd started being active in his local church choir with the group, the Zioneers, later making a name for himself as member of the Gospel Starlighters, which included his sister Sarah. At a time when church elders disapproved of secular singing, the band members would leave state and perform in South Carolina as the R&B group the Avons, eventually they left gospel behind and went on as the Avons. The original group consisted of Byrd, who played piano, organ and sung lead vocals; and Nafloyd Scott, Fred Pulliam and Doyle Oglesby.
Meeting James Brown and the formation of The Famous Flames
In 1952 Bobby Byrd was playing baseball against the inmates of the Alto Reformatory prison team and met James Brown who was serving time there on robbery charges. Byrd befriended him and arranged for Byrd's family to oversee Brown's parole. It began a personal and professional association that lasted until 1973 and although Byrd had twenty years plus as a solo performer it is his association with Brown for which he is chiefly remembered. Contrary to belief, the group had already changed its name to the Flames when Brown, who had brief careers as a boxer and a player in a semi-professional baseball team after his parole, asked Byrd for a spot in the group, with Brown first settling as a drummer. Eventually Brown was driven to perform as lead singer as he felt lead vocalists got more attention from women. Byrd recognized early that Brown was unique and that it would be impossible to control him: "I didn't need him in competition, I needed him with me, that's why I worked so hard to get him over to my group.". In 1956, Clint Brantley signed on as the group's manager. With Johnny Terry and Nash Knox on board, the group became "The Famous Flames" under Brantley's suggestion and won them a deal with Ralph Bass' Federal label, which was a subsidiary of Syd Nathan's King label, in February 1956. Their first record, "Please, Please, Please", which Byrd said he wrote with Johnny Terry, featured a lead vocal by James Brown and was issued with the billing, "James Brown and the Famous Flames", which did not go well with the rest of the group. After three sessions, the original Flames broke up. At the final session Byrd and Brown wrote the rhythm and blues dancer "Can't Be the Same," which was one of many collaborations with Brown for which Byrd failed to gain credit.
The Flames without Brown changed their name to Byrd's Drops of Joy but found the going tough so that when Brown approached them to reform the Flames they agreed. The power within the group was now with James Brown. At this point The Famous Flames became a straight vocal group, since Brown had began to employ the old J.C. Davis outfit as his road band. Original Flames members Bobby Byrd and Johnny Terry returned, and new Flames members Bobby Bennett and Baby Lloyd Stallworth were added. Along with Brown, these four men comprised the longest-lasting lineup of The Famous Flames. Original Flames guitarist Nafloyd Scott also returned and was added to the band.The rest of the original Flames faded into obscurity.
With this lineup the group would have a series of hits between 1959 and 1964 and participated on many of the albums that helped to bring R&B to a crossover audience, including the landmark million-selling 1963 live album, Live at the Apollo. Byrd and the Famous Flames also appeared together on a couple of appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, made a brief appearance in the film, Ski Party and upstaged headliners The Rolling Stones on the landmark 1964 rock concert/motion picture, The T.A.M.I. Show. Byrd (and fellow Famous Flame Lloyd Stallworth) was credited as a songwriter on the Flames hit, "Lost Someone", though Brown was the only member who sung on the recording. Its success led Brown to record more songs on his own but the majority of his early hits were as a member of the Famous Flames including songs such as "Try Me", "I'll Go Crazy", "Bewildered", Think " , Baby, You're Right", "I Don't Mind", "Shout and Shimmy", and "Oh Baby, Don't You Weep". As was the case with some recordings, the Famous Flames were often not credited on album covers though ironically enough on recordings in which Brown appeared by himself, the group was credited, leaving fans to erroneously believe the Famous Flames was actually Brown's backing band, instead of the singing group that they actually were. The group continued performing together until 1968 when they left over monetary issues. The last Flames-associated recording to be released was the pre-funk soul hit, "Licking Stick - Licking Stick", which Byrd contributed vocals to, without the other members, who had departed before Byrd did that summer.
Solo career and continual work with Brown
After two years away, Byrd reunited with Brown in 1970, hiring Bootsy Collins and his brother Catfish and their band to fill in for Brown's former band after they left him before a gig with Byrd hiring them on the spot without rehearsal. After that performance, Byrd and Brown brought the band to a studio session where they recorded the seminal funk hit, "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" to which Brown and Byrd shared lead vocals and co-wrote, though the recording was issued as a James Brown solo recording.
When the Famous Flames were still together, Byrd and Brown co-formed the production company, Fair Deal, to distribute the Famous Flames recordings – and Brown's own solo recordings – to mainstream markets after years solely on the rhythm and blues circuit. This led to both Byrd and Brown signing solo deals with Smash Records. In 1964, Byrd recorded his first solo hit, "Baby, Baby, Baby" with Anna King. A year later he had a bigger R&B hit with "We Are in Love", which reached #14. Later in the late 1960s, as Byrd and Brown together began working under the yet-named genre of funk, Byrd had a hit with "I Need Help (I Can't Do It Alone)", a refrain later repeated in some of Brown's later hits.
In 1971, when Brown signed with Polydor Records, he and Byrd formed the label, People issuing several records by other artists, including Byrd himself, who recorded the funk hit, "I Know You Got Soul". Byrd appeared onstage with Brown from 1970 until leaving his band again in 1973 due to a combination of issues including uncredited compositions on some Brown hits, Brown's issues with singer Vicki Anderson, with whom Byrd eventually married and remained so until his death, and wanting to start a family with Anderson. Though he remained in good contact with Brown following this final split, this ended Byrd's 21-year professional association with Brown, who had now gone by the nickname, "Godfather of Soul" after composing the soundtrack to the film, Black Caesar. Without Byrd's help, however, Brown began struggling with production of the music on People and soon went into financial troubles and without Byrd's help, his own recording success started dwindling as Brown's other band mates left for better opportunities.
In 1993, Byrd recorded a solo album, On the Move on the German record Label, Soulciety Records. After a few more live performances into 1996, Byrd decided to retire though he occasionally re-emerged sometimes by the assistance of Brown: following his parole from drug and weapons charges in 1991, Brown hired Byrd to join him on stage for his pay-per-view 1992 concert. Byrd would occasionally perform for Brown in some venues. At his funeral in December 2006, Byrd sung "Sex Machine" with Brown's other band mates paying homage to his late estranged friend and former performing partner.
In 2003, a few years prior to his death, Bobby, his wife Vicki, and Famous Flames Bobby Bennett and Lloyd Stallworth, sued lead singer James Brown and Universal Music for non-payment of royalties stating that monies that rightfully belong to them for Byrd's hit "I Know You Got Soul", which was sampled by numerous rappers, including Eric B. & Rakim, were sent by Universal to James Brown instead, who allegedly subsequently kept them. The suit was dismissed to the statute of limitations having run out. However, rapper Jay-Z, who sampled Byrd's song "I'm Not to Blame" for his recording, "You Don't Know", off his 2001 multi million-selling The Blueprint, paid Byrd 65% of the royalties for the song, allowing Byrd and his family to secure a mortgage for their home, which was worth about $250,000.
After splitting from Brown in 1973, Byrd and Vicki Anderson, who left Brown's band at the same time as Byrd, married. Byrd raised Anderson's daughter Carleen sons Bartlett Anderson, James Byrd and Anthony Byrd, and shared a daughter, Keisha Byrd. The couple remained married throughout Byrd's lifetime. Though he had moved to Cincinnati after the Famous Flames signed with Federal/King, Byrd retained residences in Georgia and after leaving Brown, settled at Loganville for the remainder of his life.
Numerous songs in rap music over the years used Byrd-associated songs such as "I Know You Got Soul", "Think About It" (his screaming voice in the song – he's the one saying "Yeah!" followed by James Brown's "Woo!" (Yeah! Woo!) and his words in the song "you bet it ain't" were sampled), "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine", "Soul Power", "Make It Funky" and "I'm Not to Blame" amongst others. Byrd's music has had a lasting influence on numerous soul, R&B, rap, and hip-hop artists.
For years following his departure from Brown, several history revisionists[who?] have sometimes neglected to mention Byrd's impact in Brown's career even suggesting that Brown had started out as a solo artist when the record, "Please, Please, Please" was released in 1956 but in truth, it was actually a recording by the Famous Flames. It was, in fact, Bobby Byrd and The Famous Flames that launched Brown's career, not the other way around. In fact, the majority of Brown's early recordings between 1956 and 1962 were not solo recordings, but as a member of the Famous Flames, which made his 1986 solo induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame controversial, as his first official solo recording was the cover of the instrumental R&B standard, "Night Train". Though the late 1961 recording, "Lost Someone", was sung by Brown alone, the song was credited as a Famous Flames recording and featured Byrd and fellow member Lloyd Stallworth as co-writers, and Byrd also played organ on the recording.
In addition, claims made by uninformed individuals such as pop music writers and critics that the Famous Flames were a "band" or were backup musicians are also incorrect. The Famous Flames were a singing group. The "band" was the James Brown Orchestra; a totally separate entity from The Famous Flames.
The early songs, most of which Byrd participated with the exception of "Try Me", featured Byrd and contributed a great deal to establishing his career before he finally became a full-fledged solo artist with the release of "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" in 1965. Though Brown asserted himself as the full-fledged leader, he was still just a member of the Flames until that group left him in 1968. In addition, it was Byrd, who later saved Brown's career numerous times, starting with him returning to the Famous Flames at Brown's request after the group's initial breakup in 1957, helping him to coach the re-formed group, and also re-joining them at that point, and later hiring Bootsy and Phelps Collins to back Brown up in 1970 and co-produced the hit recording, "Sex Machine", later helping with other artists[who?] on People Records. In the Famous Flames' Rock & Roll Hall of Fame page, Byrd is regarded as "one of the more important auxiliary figures in the career of a major artist in music history."
In October 2004 Bobby Byrd's songs "I Know You Got Soul" and "Hot Pants" were featured on the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas soundtrack, playing on fictional radio station Master Sounds 98.3. In September 2005 his song "Try It Again" appeared on the soundtrack of Indigo Prophecy.
Induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and initial controversy
In 1986, the first committee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced that Brown, the Famous Flames' lead singer, would be inducted among nine other legendary musicians. However, the committee failed to include the other original Famous Flames, including Byrd, Johnny Terry, Bobby Bennett and Lloyd Stallworth, leading to a controversy that lasted more than 25 years and puzzled longtime fans of the group. In late 2011, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame formed a special committee to discuss several pioneering groups who they felt deserved to be inducted that were not inducted with their front men. This committee's decision led to them automatically inducting the Famous Flames, including group founder Byrd, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without a need for nomination or voting, under the premise that they should have been inducted with Brown back in 1986, since, according to Rock Hall CEO Terry Stewart, Brown's first solo recording missed the 25-year criteria that was taken to induct performing musicians. Byrd, Stallworth (c. 2001) and Terry had long been deceased by this point and Bobby Bennett, the group's only surviving member, accepted the honor on behalf of the group. Sadly,less than one year after The Famous Flames' induction, Bobby Bennett, the last of the Famous Flames, died on January 18, 2013.
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- Bobby Byrd, James Brown, and The Famous Flames from Last FM
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- Bobby Byrd page on Future Rock Legends
- The Famous Flames' page on Future Rock Legends
- The Famous Flames Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction site- inducted 2012
- The Official Facebook page on The Famous Flames