|Birth name||Bobby Howard Byrd|
|Also known as||"Byrd"|
August 15, 1934|
|Died||September 12, 2007
|Genres||Soul, rhythm and blues, funk|
|Occupation(s)||Singer, songwriter, Record producer, musician|
|Labels||King, Polydor, People, Kwanza, Atlantic|
|Associated acts||James Brown, The Famous Flames, Maceo Parker, Carleen Anderson, Vicki Anderson, Bobby Bennett|
Bobby Howard Byrd (August 15, 1934 – September 12, 2007) 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's joining the group; their agent later changed it to The Famous Flames. Byrd was the actual founder of The Flames and is credited with the discovery of James Brown. As group founder, and one of the longest-serving members of the group, Byrd was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame posthumously in 2012. Byrd was also a 1998 recipient of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award. 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 their home 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 sang lead vocals; and Nafloyd Scott, Fred Pulliam and Doyle Oglesby.
Meeting James Brown and the formation of The Famous Flames
In 1952 Bobby Byrd formed and sang with a gospel group called the Gospel Starlighters. During a friendly baseball match at a juvenile prison, he met a young James Brown who was serving time there on robbery charges. Byrd befriended him and arranged for Byrd's family to oversee Brown's parole. This began a personal and professional association that lasted until 1973.
Although Byrd would eventually have over twenty years 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 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" and won 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. However, they found little success; when Brown approached them to reform the Flames they agreed. At this point, The Famous Flames ceased being a vocal/instrumental group, and became a straight vocal group, since Brown had begun 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 performed together on a few episodes of 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) were credited as songwriters on the Flames hit, "Lost Someone," though Brown was the only member who sang 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 were 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", to which Byrd contributed vocals 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. He hired, on the spot and without rehearsal, Bootsy Collins, Bootsy's brother Catfish, and their band to fill in for Brown's former band after they left him before a gig. 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", which Brown and Byrd co-wrote and shared lead vocals on, 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's 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-to-be-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 Records, and issued 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, whom Byrd eventually married and remained with until his death, and wanting to start a family with Anderson. Though he remained in contact with Brown following this final split, this departure ended Byrd's 21-year professional association with Brown, who now went 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 began experiencing financial troubles; Brown's 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, Byrd decided to retire in 1996, though he occasionally re-emerged sometimes with the assistance of Brown: following Brown's parole from drug and weapons charges in 1991, he hired Byrd to join him on stage for his pay-per-view 1992 concert. Byrd would occasionally perform with Brown in some venues. They would also collaborate on the song "Killing Is Out, School Is In" from Brown's final studio album, 2002's "The Next Step." 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 before 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 numerous Famous Flames hits, and 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 kept them. The suit was dismissed due 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, "U Don't Know," on 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 had three biological children by his first wife Gail, in Toccoa, Georgia; two sons, Walda Byrd and Orrin Byrd, and one daughter, Ruthie Byrd. 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 hip hop music have sampled Byrd-associated songs such as "I Know You Got Soul," "Think (About It)," "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," "Soul Power," "Make It Funky" and "I'm Not to Blame." Byrd's music has had a lasting influence on numerous soul, R&B, 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. In truth, however, it was actually a recording by the Famous Flames. It was, in fact, Bobby Byrd and The Famous Flames who launched Brown's career, not the other way around. Indeed, 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 Flames 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 vocal group. Brown's backing band was a separate group known as the James Brown Orchestra.
The early songs, most of which Byrd participated with the exception of "Try Me," featured Byrd and contributed a great deal to establishing Brown's 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, re-joining them at that point, and later hiring Bootsy and Phelps Collins to back Brown up in 1970 and who 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 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame officials announced that James Brown would be included in a list of the first nine musicians to be inducted by the organization. Due to his contributions to the industry and his influence on the Funk Music genre it was only fitting that Brown would be part of this initial group. However, James Brown did not meet the Hall of Fame's criteria for induction at that time which required an artist to have released their first single as a solo artist at least 25 years prior to induction. Brown's first solo release in 1965 was only 21 years before, although Brown had been active in the industry and released songs as part of The Famous Flames prior to 1965. For Brown to be inducted by the organization in 1986, inclusion of the other members of The Famous Flames was required. It's unknown as to why this oversight occurred but it's been surmised that the organization felt Brown's solo work warranted his induction at the Hall of Fame's initial ceremonies.
Brown's inclusion as a solo artist without the other Flames members was met with criticism but was not amended until recently. In late 2011, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame formed a special committee to discuss several pioneering groups they felt deserved to be inducted, but were initially excluded in error, due to the impact of their lead singers,who were incorrectly inducted as solo artists. This committee's decision led to the induction of The Famous Flames and its members. This was an amending gesture which did not require 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 criterion for performing musicians. Byrd, Stallworth (c. 2001), and Terry had long been deceased by this point, and Bobby Bennett, the only surviving member, accepted the honor on behalf of the group in Cleveland, on April 14, 2012. Less than one year after the induction, Bennett himself died on January 18, 2013.
Bobby Byrd has been recognized as one of the most important, yet unsung, founders of Funk music.
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- Bobby Byrd, James Brown, and The Famous Flames from Last FM
- Bobby Byrd Discography
- The Times Obituary for Bobby Byrd
- Bobby Byrd discography at MusicBrainz
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- Bobby Byrd page on Future Rock Legends
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- The Famous Flames Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction site- inducted 2012
- The Official Facebook page of The Famous Flames