I’m not overly familiar with the French magazine Soul Bag, but they published the charming review below of Douglas Wolk’s book about James Brown’s Live at the Apollo. Many thanks to our in-house Francophile and all-round publishing starlet Gabriella Page-Fort for providing the translation.
Here is a cool little book published, in English, in a spiffy pocket-size series. Its point is simple and efficient: each volume concerns a particular album that has marked the history, as they say, of rock, from Let It Be to Sign of the Times, for example. Here, the monograph approach fits perfectly to James Brown’s first Live at the Apollo: Douglas Wolk tells you everything you need to know about the thirty-one minutes and thirty-four seconds that changed the history of black American music. You weren’t there in the room that Wednesday night, October 24, 1962? The author wasn’t either, but despite the cruel absence of photos in this bargain collection, he paints the scene for you, showing and describing everything. In incisive little chapters in the form of news briefs, Douglas Wolk retraces the international context, the Cuban missile crisis that broke eight days before the concert and put the world at the edge of nuclear war. But above all, in this book there is everything one hears, more or less, on the record and everything that underlies this historic recording, a long player made by JB against the advice of his label. The author delivers all the versions that inspired the songs sung that day by James Brown; he reinstates the original credits of the instruments played by the group; he questions the force with which the godfather of soul sang (response: “my friends, Live at the Apollo is the sound of James Brown holding back.”); he advances, word by word, through the centerpiece of the disk, “Lost Someone”; he tracks the cries emitted from the audience by a mysterious “little old lady”; and then he speaks very well about the knees, the microphones and the capes of James Brown the tragedian. Written in clear and precise language, this book is ideal while listening to this record in, for example, the Deluxe edition brought out last year with noticeably improved sound.