Larry Busacca, Getty Images Next month, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian will be…
- Posted on Jun 13th 2008 5:00PM by James Sullivan
No one, however, enjoyed the laissez-faire attitude at the Plant like Rick James did. Following in Sly's footsteps, the Jheri-curled funk hitmaker set up a bedroom in one of the studios. He ordered a custom doorway that looked like a giant pair of puckered lips and lived there for half a decade. "You didn't have to leave to get drugs or get high," he recalled 10 years ago, after his release from Folsom State Prison.
Born James Ambrose Johnson Jr. in Buffalo, New York, Rick James, as a young man, went AWOL from the Naval Reserve. Fleeing to Toronto, he started a band, the Mynah Birds, that would give a peach-fuzz Neil Young one of his early breaks. A recording session with Motown led to James to some writing work for the label. After several years of false starts with a string of major labels, he returned to Motown, where he had his first hits with 'You and I' and 'Mary Jane.'
Calling his style of music "punk-funk," James hit the big time in 1981 with the album 'Street Songs,' which featured the No. 1 R&B hit 'Give It to Me Baby' and the singer's signature song, the endlessly recycled 'Super Freak.' Between sessions for himself, he found time to nurture the careers of Teena Marie and the Mary Jane Girls and produce the hit 'Party All the Time' for moonlighting comedian Eddie Murphy. (Murphy's brother Charlie is said to have provided Dave Chappelle with the tales of James' wild behavior that inspired Chappelle's recurring "I'm Rick James, bitch!" parody.)
The 1990s were less kind to James than the previous decade had been. In 1991, he and his future wife were accused of detaining a young woman for several days during a crack cocaine binge, forcing her to perform sex acts. While out on bail, he assaulted another woman. After serving two years in prison, the singer's 1997 comeback was cut short when he suffered a mild stroke. At the time of his death in 2004, James was suffering from diabetes and a failing heart. A coroner's report found traces of nine different drugs in his system.
"Rick was a complicated guy, with a crazy lifestyle," Perry Santos, director of the forthcoming documentary 'I'm Rick James,' said recently. He can say that again.