Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Job Interview: "Please, Please, Please"

In February of 1956, the Famous Flames crossed the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time, and drove into Cincinnati, where King Records had its headquarters in an old ice factory. When they were shown into the studio, King's founder and president, Syd Nathan, was seated in the sound booth—a fat little man with a big cigar, a shouter and a bully, who reminded James Brown of Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar." Nathan's first impression of his new talent was equally unflattering: the Flames were barely a minute into "Please, Please, Please" when he exploded from his chair, hollering, "What in hell are they doing? Stop the tape," and "Nobody wants to hear that noise," and "It's a stupid song," and so on, until he stalked out. In his autobiography, the singer recalled protesting to King's music director, "Mr. Nathan doesn't understand it. Everybody's music can't be alike."

Read all of Philip Gourevitch’s New Yorker article on James Brown here.

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