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May 28, 2024 7 mins

James Brown, the godfather of soul, had some anger issues. In fact, he went to prison after threatening agents at an insurance seminar with a gun because he thought they used his private bathroom. 

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
So there are names that are really iconic throughout history,
and that includes people in the entertainment industry, right. But
there are more than a few celebrities who have a
wild criminal background as well, and James Brown, the Godfather
of Soul, is one of them. I'm Patty Steele, the
crazy Reason he once stormed an insurance company with a
shotgun and a pistol. That's next on the backstory. The

backstory is back. You know James Brown, aka the Godfather
of Soul, the hardest working man in show business. His
records are legendary living in America, and of course I
got you. I feel good now. We've heard plenty of
stories about celebrities who got started making a buck in
the criminal world, selling drugs, robbing houses, dealing cars. But

then there's this sort of subset of stars who were
already rich and famous when they committed a crime that
was James. Got to give you a little bit of
background on this guy. James Brown was born in nineteen
thirty three to a sixteen year old mom and twenty
one year old dad. For a time growing up, he
lived in his aunt's brothel in Augusta, Georgia. Pretty soon

his mom got sick of her abusive husband and left
him and James behind, moving to New York. As a
little boy, James started singing and dancing, sometimes on the
street to get some spare change. As a young teenager,
he even boxed for a while for prize money, and
then at sixteen, he was convicted of robbery and sent

to a juvenile detention center. That's actually where he began
to hone his music skills. When he got out, he
eventually joined a gospel group which had a few decent
hits in the mid nineteen fifties, but James, of course
wanted more, and the band, now called James Brown and
his Famous Flames, had a number one hit in nineteen
fifty nine. It was called Trime, and that took them

to the Apollo Theater that spring. The X and the
seventies saw his career hit its peak with tons of
hit records, but also backstage issues with his backup band,
mostly involving money, and also a problem with the irs
regarding millions in unpaid back taxes money again, they never

like that, trust me. By the nineteen eighties, his career
had stalled a bit, though it did revive some with
his last top ten single hit Living in America. The
song was in the Rocky four film and also on
the soundtrack, and it won him a Grammy Award. But
now things take a bizarre turn. It's September of nineteen

eighty eight. James owns an office complex in Augusta, Georgia,
where his business offices are located. He arrives at work
one day and he claimed someone had used his private
bathroom without his permission. No idea how he knew that.
And you would think it was no big deal, right,
Trust me to a drug addle James Brown, it's a

huge deal. He's ready to snap. He'd been using all
kinds of drugs, including PCP, also known as angel dust,
which can cause mood changes and hallucinations. And this quote
unquote nothing incident ignited a spark that led to an
explosive chain of events. Now James is furious. He's in
a total rage, and he arms himself with a shotgun

and a pistol. He then storms into an insurance seminar
going on in one of the offices in his complex.
Can you imagine what that felt like? You work in insurance? Okay,
that's exciting, and suddenly you're confronted by a drug crazed
godfather of soul screaming at you to admit who used
his toilet. There was total panic in the room. Next

thing you know, somebody calls the police. James decides when
they arrive, he's not going to wait around for them.
He runs back outside, jumps in his pickup truck, and
speeds off. The police, of course in hot pursuit, but
he doesn't pull over, instead leading them on chase through
both Georgia and North Carolina. The cops finally catch up,

but he still tries to get away, driving at high speeds,
weaving through traffic, even trying to ram police cars using
his truck. Nothing is stopping him, so the cops decide
it's time to shoot out his tires. Okay, now he's
gonna pull over right, No way. James Brown, despite having
no tires, continues driving on his rims. That'll get you

in trouble. Sparks are flying as metal is grinding against
the pavement. This went on for several miles, with authorities
and onlookers shocked by the entire incident, no kidding. Eventually
his truck was out of commission and James was finally nabbed. Still,
he was defiant and also really high out of his mind.

Of course, all this simply added to his legend, so anyway,
the aftermath of the chase was just as dramatic. He
was charged with a ton of offenses like a and
battery with intent to kill, carrying a concealed weapon, DUI
for all the drugs in his system. The charges were
serious and the payback worse than he really expected. As

a guy used to commanding the stage and being adored
by fans, he thought he could get away with anything. Well.
In court, the prosecution said he was a dangerous man
who recklessly endangered lives and thought he was above the law.
They talked about him storming into that insurance seminar with
multiple guns, terrifying people. They also told the story of

the high speed chase. The defense simply argued that James
was under a lot of stress and that while reckless,
it was all due to a momentary lapse in judgment
brought on by the stress and drug addiction. They talked
about all his charity work involving getting kids to stay
in school, civil rights, the music industry, politics. Prosecutors said

none of that should get him off the hook. So
in the end, the jury found James Brown guilty of
assault and battery with intent to kill and carrying a
concealed weapon. He was sentenced to six years in prison,
which of course shocked his fans and supporters, but mostly
James himself. Jail was kind of rough for him, but

he continued to make headlines over his legal battles as
he tried to get early release and also as he
tried to maintain his career. After serving two and a
half years of that six year sentence, James was parole.
He really wanted to remake himself and he worked at
his career as well as lots of charitable endeavors, but
he still had his demons. There were personal and legal issues,

including charges of domestic violence and even claims of rape.
It's pretty clear that even our icons are real people
with real problems. But despite everything, James Brown managed to
continue doing what he loved, making music. James said, give
people more than what they came for. Make them tired,

because that's what they came for. Amazing. Hope you're enjoying
the backstory with Patty Steele. Follow or subscribe for free
to get new episodes delivered automatically and feel free to
DM me if you have a story you'd like me
to cover. On Facebook, It's Patty Steele and on Instagram

Real Patty Steele. I'm Patty Steele. The Backstories a production
of iHeartMedia, Premiere Networks, the Elvis Duran Group, and Steel
Trap Productions. Our producer is Doug Fraser. Our writer Jake Kushner.
We have new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Feel free
to reach out to me with comments and even story

suggestions on Instagram at Real Patty Steele and on Facebook
at Patty Steele. Thanks for listening to the Backstory with
Patty Steele, the pieces of history you didn't know you
needed to know.
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