Rick James (born James Ambrose Johnson, Jr.; February 1, 1948 – August 6, 2004) was an American singer, songwriter, musician and record producer, best known for being the major popularizer of funk music in the late 1970s and early 1980s thanks to million-selling hits such as "You and I" (1978), "Give It to Me Baby" (1981) and "Super Freak" (1981), the latter song crossing him over to pop audiences and selling over three million copies, later contributing to the success of rapper MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" (1990), for whom James sued in order to be credited. James won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song with Hammer for the song, his only Grammy win.
James started his singing career fronting doo-wop and rhythm and blues bands in his hometown of Buffalo, New York in the early 1960s, with his vocal style influenced by the likes of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and David Ruffin. After entering the United States Navy to avoid conscription after he dropped out of high school, James went AWOL and relocated to Canada where he resumed his music career. While there, James formed the rock-soul fusion band Mynah Birds, whose lineup once included a young Neil Young. James' tenure with the Mynah Birds was interrupted after he was discovered recording with the group in Motown in the 1960s and surrendered to authorities serving out a one-year sentence in a prison in Buffalo. James returned to Canada where he resumed the Mynah Birds though the band eventually split and James relocated to California where he started a series of rock bands. He also had a period where he served as a staff writer with Motown under an assumed name before he left the label.
In 1978, he signed with the Gordy Records subsidiary of Motown as a recording artist where in 1978, he recorded his first album, Come Get It!, which sold over a million copies at the time of its release. He would go on to score several popular hits on the pop and R&B charts, including four number-one hits on the latter chart. James became noted not only as a hit maker on his own recordings but also produced successful recordings for the likes of Teena Marie, The Mary Jane Girls, The Temptations, Eddie Murphy and Smokey Robinson. His best-selling recording, 1981's Street Songs, sold over three million copies helping to renew sagging fortunes in Motown.
Addictions to cocaine and crack however hampered his career by the late eighties and in the nineties, his legal troubles, which would include assaulting two women while under the influence of crack, led him to serve a three-year prison sentence at California's Folsom State Prison. James was released on parole in 1996 and resumed his musical career releasing the album, Urban Rapsody, in 1997. A mild stroke suffered during a concert in early 1998 interrupted his career for a brief time. James received new notoriety in 2004 when he appeared on an episode of Dave Chappelle's Chappelle Show in the Charlie Murphy "True Hollywood Stories" segment of the show, in which James' past wild lifestyle was satirized. James died later that year from heart failure at the age of 56
|Birth name||James Ambrose Johnson, Jr.|
|Also known as||Big Jimmy; Ricky James Matthews (early career); Jimmy "The Whale"|
|Born||February 1, 1948|
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
|Died||August 6, 2004 (aged 56)|
Burbank, California, U.S.
|Genres||R&B, soul, funk, pop, soft rock|
|Occupations||Singer, songwriter, football player, bandleader, record producer|
|Instruments||Vocals, bass, guitar, keyboards,drums and other percussion instruments|
|Associated acts||The Mynah Birds|
Stone City Band
Heaven and Earth
Mary Jane Girls
Process and the Doo Rags
Gibson Les Paul