Steve Alaimo On James Brown: “He Always Called Me Steve”
Steve Alaimo and Henry Stone were trusted pals of James Brown. Stone met him when he first started recording, and Steve knew James as a sort of musical father figure. They all had many interactions over the years, both friendly and professional. In fact, James was even a fan of Alaimo’s music.
Here’s what Steve had to say about the time that Brown left an arena to check him out at a club. “I went to work in Washington and stayed at the same hotel as James Brown did. He was playing a show at the arena of course, Ben Bartt was his manager then, and I was at this little club. And James came in to see me at this club and the people there just couldn’t believe it. Yknow it was downtown DC. I’m sittin’ there singin’ and it’s like a little neighborhood club, y’know like a small club. James Brown was at the Collisseum that same night and then came over to my place, everybody went apeshit, that he was in there to see me, watchin’ me.”
But when Brown was starting out in the 1950s he spent years as the hardest working man in show business coming up on the Chitlin Circuit.
Steve says, “He’d work the Million Dollar Palms, he’d work the Harlem Square, he’d work the old Miami Marlins baseball stadium, and he used to pack the joint. I opened a show for him there once with his band backing me. And I was so good that James got pissed. One of his cronies, Charles Bobbit came up and said, “Mr. Brown would like to see you.”
Steve continues, “James had these special moves, like if one of the guys in the band fucked up a note or made a mistake, he’d do a turn like and point his hand and that meant you were fined a certain amount of money. SO I was messing around and doing that move cause I knew what he did. I knew everything about him.”
“So I walk in there to see him and James Brown said, “Steve I hear you were out there makin fun of me.”
I sez, “No Mr Brown, I was just having fun. I was singin’.”
And he’d say, in his raspy voice, “Oh, ha, that’s pretty good.” And he’d laugh. He was puttin’ me on. He got excited. He was appreciating that I was teasing him. But I was scared shitless. He was always Mr. Brown, but he called me Steve.”
- From a 2011 interview with Steve Alaimo where I ask him about James Brown.
©Jake Katel. All Rights Reserved