It’s sad that now that he’s gone, Rick James has been reduced to a punch line. I just read his posthumously published autobiography, ” Glow ” and it’s obvious that he was a really intelligent guy. He not only was a singer/ songwriter/ multi- instrumentalist but he also was a producer with a long string of hits for not only himself but for a slew of artists ( Teena Marie, The Mary Jane Girls, The Temptations, Eddie Murphy, and Smokey Robinson. )
There was a lot of other things I didn’t know about him. He already had lived a charmed life before he became famous as the ” King of Punk Funk.” We don’t think of him as a hippie, but in the late ’60’s the pot smoking, acid dropping flower child left his native Buffalo, NY and went to Canada to Toronto to dodge the draft. There he ended up being in a band , the Mynah Birds w/ Neil Young & Bruce Palmer. When the F.B.I. finally caught up with him, he went to jail and his band mates went to L.A. and became Buffalo Springfield. After he got out, he moved to L.A. and his now famous hippie friends put him up and helped him get back on his feet. Neil Young in particular stayed close with him and when Neil joined the supergroup Crosby, Stills, and Nash, they enlisted the bass player from James band, Greg Reeves with his blessing.
He was also tight with other L.A. luminaries and partied with a who’s who of stars, even though fame eluded him. Celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring, was a friend and even bankrolled his attempts to get a record deal. James writes that he was a frequent guest at 10050 Cielo Drive, the house in Benedict Canyon that the Manson Family slaughtered Sebring and 4 other people including actress Sharon Tate and that he was invited there that very night in Aug. of 1969 but overslept.
Persistence paid off and in the 70’s he found the fame that had previously eluded him. He revelled in rock star exploits his now burned out old hippie band mates could only dream off but it finally caught up with him. His serious addiction to cocaine finally got the best of him. He was arrested and charged with kidnapping and torturing two women while under the influence of crack. He served a three-year sentence at California’s Folsom State Prison.
He released on a comeback album while on parole in 1996 and gained some new found success by appearing as himself on the Dave Chappelle Show. But even then he bemoaned the fact that people didn’t take him serious.