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Tom D'Antoni Headshot

James Brown In the Witness Chair c.1980

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In the early 1980s, James Brown's empire was in tatters. He had sold his James Brown Motor Inn in Baltimore and had to sell WEBB, which before he bought it had been the first all-Black radio station in Baltimore, Maryland. He was selling off properties all over the country.

I was a story producer for Westinghouse's Evening/PM Magazine at the time and I heard that he was going to be in town for a court appearance. Apparently he owed millions. I wanted to see if he would do an interview for the show, so I showed up at the courtroom.

This was around the same time that the federal government had just bailed out Chrysler to the tune of $1.2 billion.

When I walked in, there he was, James Brown himself, on the witness stand. Lawyers interrogated him. The judge asked him questions. It was obvious he was in deep shit.

After a half-hour of questioning, James Brown turned to the judge and in that unmistakable rasp of a voice, and in one moment of pure insight said, "Judge, if I was Chrysler, you wouldn't be doing this to me."

Of course, he was right, but the proceedings went ahead anyway.

BTW....I got the interview.

One day his various behaviors will be forgotten and only the music will remain. Then we'll fully understand his singular genius.