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Fred for your ass: James Brown's trombonist in Richmond






That's how the world was introduced to Fred Wesley, the longtime trombonist and arranger for James Brown. The godfather may have docked his musicians for missing a note, but he paid them the ultimate dividend by screaming their names all over his hits. After two stints with Mr. Dynamite, one '68-'70 and the second '71-'75, Wesley followed the natural evolution of funk to George Clinton's funk mob, where he played in Parliament Funkadelic and led an offshoot group called The Horny Horns. Since then, Wesley has played with everyone from Count Basie to De La Soul. This Tuesday, he'll be joining Richmond's James "Saxmo" Gates at the Canal Club at 6 p.m.

Style: How did you meet James Brown?

Wesley: I met James Brown in 1968 when he hired me to play trombone in his band. I been in the band about two days with the bandleader, P.W. Ellis, [who] took me in to the dressing room to meet him. He saw I was a little fat you know so he was concerned if I could dance.

He said "Can you dance?" I said yeah. He said, "I hope you make it," and that was it.

What did you learn from James Brown?

Oh, so much. I learned how to be a band leader, how to compose music, how to do it for effect. James Brown said, "Ain't nothin' nothin', till it is. And then it is." I learned how to make music interesting. I knew I had a funny style on trombone. I played those little funky solos, not according to what I learned in a book, but just arranged. Things like "Cold Sweat" broke a lot of rules.

What led to you finally leaving his band?

It got too crazy. He told me to copy some other artists. I didn't think he needed to copy other artists. He insisted that I copy some other music. Plus, I had somewhere to go. I just ended my time with James Brown and went to the next level.

Where were you when you heard that he died?

I was at my sister's house in Montgomery, Ala. I was really shocked, I had just woke up Christmas morning. Maceo [Parker, James Brown's longtime saxophone player] called me. He said, "Have you heard?" I said, "What?" He said James had died.

What did you take away from your time with his band?

James Brown was a learning experience. P-Funk -- I put what I learned from James Brown in to P-Funk. [George Clinton] just wanted the funkiest and unorthodox horns I could come up with. It was an extension of what I learned.

What's George Clinton like?

Oh yeah. He's a really good guy. He's real intelligent. He's the best producer I know of.

What about his business practices?

That's his business and I won't talk about that.

What's your new record called?

"Funk for Your Ass." Out in February or March. People reject me as a jazz horn player. I did an album that was nothing but funk. I call it "Funk for Your Ass." Pure unadulterated funk. I hope it does good, I really went back to my funky roots. Jabbo, Clyde Stubblefield, Bruce Cox, Dwayne Dawson. Reggie War -- these guys played nothing but funk on this album.

Are there still some good funk bands out there?

Les Duke, they play good funk. Groovesect. There are some people around that have kept the funk alive. The Daptones are real good. They are very good.

Are your children involved in the music business?

I got a son that's a really good producer, Fred III. Victor plays band music. My daughter may become my manager.

In 1997, when the members of Parliament Funkadelic were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, you weren't included. Were you disappointed?

I was surprised too. I don't get no respect. I'm a trombone player and arranger; it's an afterthought.

Why did you leave Parliament?

We fell out over an arrangement regarding publishing. So he stopped using horns, period. I thought that horns contributed quite a bit. They always forget me. It's all right, though.

Do your remember hearing your music sampled for the first time?

I said, "Why don't those people write they own, instead of using my parts?" -- then I got the royalty check. Well, it's not so bad. It's alright.

Any favorite uses?

"That's The Way Love Goes" [by Janet Jackson]. I liked the way they used it. I appreciate it. It's alright with me as long as they pay for it.

Anything else you want to add?

I'm looking forward to having a good time in Richmond. I know it'll be good.

Fred Wesley plays the Canal Club with James "Saxsmo" Gates at the Canal Club Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15-$20. 643-1972.


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