ATL Collective salutes the Godfather of Soul
James Brown's 'Funky Christmas' gets the royal treatment
James Brown was one cool cat: the kind of man who could beat Don Cornelius at his own game (consult YouTube to check out Brown's insane "Future Shock" variety/dance show from the late '70s); the kind of man who could perform four-hour live shows into his late 60s; and the kind of man who could make genuinely sweet and danceable Christmas music.
The Godfather of Soul recorded three Christmas-themed albums from 1966 to 1970, with many of the best tunes from those offerings featured on a 1995 compilation titled Funky Christmas. That compilation is set to be the centerpiece of the ATL Collective's latest holiday production. The concept behind the ATL Collective is to present classic and beloved albums played live from beginning to end. Past performances have included Michael Jackson's Thriller, Paul McCartney's Ram, and Paul Simon's Graceland. This year the collective has hired local funk, retro-soul, and jazz bassist Kevin Scott to curate a performance of Brown's holiday opus, Funky Christmas, live. Micah Dalton from ATL Collective admits, "We wanted to do this one because it seemed like a different angle for the variety of holiday shows available," he says. "We'd never covered a funk album before — let alone James Brown."
It's difficult to conceive a more appropriate choice to helm the show than Scott, who co-spearheaded the Atlanta Funk Society with Rob Lane, and regularly hosts his own Tuesday night jazz jams at Elliott Street Deli & Pub. Scott makes no secret about his love for Brown's music. "If you really want to learn bass, you've got to spend hours playing 'Get on the Good Foot,'" Scott says before one of his many practices for the week.
Scott estimates he practices six nights a week, but this week it's all about the Godfather. His favorite James Brown album? Love Power Peace: Live at the Olympia, Paris, 1971, featuring future Parliament member William "Bootsy" Collins on bass.
While the sweet ballads, driving rhythm section, holiday cheer, and classic JB sound of Funky Christmas should be enough to fill the evening with its own spirited exuberance, Scott wants the night to have more of a variety show feel, with the Atlanta Funk Society and guests performing James Brown Christmas songs offset by some out-of-town guests doing their own tunes. Flying in from New Jersey is legendary funk drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, who played with Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Albert Ayler. Flying in from Nashville is Charles Walker, who sang with the J.C. Davis Band, Brown's one-time backing band. The names continue on: session keyboardist Nigel Hall, local chanteuse Ruby Velle, jazz guitarist Grant Green Jr. (who plays with Purdie in the Masters of Groove), and many others.
Funky Christmas honors the legacy of James Brown in a live setting. If you hear the sound of a train rolling during the show, it might just be a locomotive on the tracks behind Terminal West. Then again, it might be the chugga-chugga jams coming from the stage.