After Two Years Behind Bars, Singer James Brown Is Out to Prove He's a Soul Survivor

Say this for James Brown, the Godfather of Soul: He doesn’t feel bound by the rigors of logic or the rhetoric of modesty. Asked why he didn’t fight harder against the charges, including aggravated assault and possession of a deadly weapon, that landed him in prison for two years and two months—he was released in February—the Hardest Working Man in Show Business had this to say: “I didn’t contest the charges because, being a hero and a legend like Martin Luther King, it would have been detrimental to the community here, and it would have just ruined this country. It was a sacrifice. I’m like Kennedy—it’s not what your country can do for you, it’s what you can do for your country.

Hunh! Good gawd! Lemme hear it one more time! Hunh!

James Brown’s parole says that he has to be tested for drugs regularly and that he isn’t allowed to drive, but it doesn’t say he has to be quiet. Hear the Word from the famous parolee with the implanted teeth and the bouffant hair: “Hell. That’s what it was. It’s hell any time you’re taken away from home at the height of your career and they put you in prison. When I’m trying to set the right tone for the country? You put a man in jail when somebody makes a mistake?”

Just who made what mistake is a subject about which Brown and the Aiken County, S.C., sheriffs department hold sharply divided opinions. The department has compiled a fat file on Brown. His escapades prior to his arrest and conviction include an assault charge by his fourth and present wife, Adrienne. 41 (she later dropped the charges). She reported that Brown fired shots at her and pumped several barrels of buckshot into her fur coats. Plus, there was a highspeed auto sortie near his Beech Island. S.C., home. (Adrienne. despite detailing Brown’s violence in an April 1988 PEOPLE article, now dismisses the beating stories and insists, “We’re more in love than ever.”) For his part. Brown claims the chase that landed him in the State Park Correctional Center outside Columbia, S.C., threatened to turn into something resembling the notorious Rodney King episode that recently rocked the Los Angeles Police Department.

The gendarmes say that Brown burst into an insurance seminar adjacent to his offices in Augusta, Ga., on Sept. 24, 1988. Toting a shotgun, Brown accused the startled audience of using his rest-room without permission. Police were summoned, Brown bolted in his pickup truck, and a 10-mile chase ensued across the state line into South Carolina. Police said that when they finally cornered Brown in an abandoned lot, he gunned his truck and tried to run them down. Officers said they shot out his front tires but Brown took off again. The chase ended with Brown crashing into a ditch—and the Godfather’s arrest. An officer in the Aiken County sheriff’s department once summed up the authorities’ view: “That Brown is a real rascal.”

Brown claims the rascals are the ones wearing badges. “In reality,” he says, “it was only a speeding ticket. All the other stuff was fabrication. Me and the policeman, he asked me to stop, and when I stopped, this deputy sheriff, we’re sittin’ there laughin’ and talkin’—and then these other cats came up at the last minute. They must have thought I just stopped there, and they shot the truck.” Brown adds, with a deep chuckle, “Almost killed the deputy sheriff.”

Still, off to the pokey Brown went. To help him keep his cell tidy, Adrienne brought him Lysol spray. “My husband’s a very clean person, and he wants to have his floors shiny,” she says. On weekend visits, Adrienne, a former beautician, also styled his hair. “During the week, when I couldn’t be there,” she says, “the prison barber would put some sponge rollers on his hair for him to sleep on.”

Outside the prison walls, Adrienne made every effort to get her husband sprung. “I even spoke to President Bush’s attorney at the White House,” she recalls. “He told me, ‘If it was federal, Mrs. Brown, we could do something.’ But it was state.” Meanwhile, Brown settled in. “I wrote an album.” he says. “I played piano and sang gospel. I had four or five groups going. I met some people in there I’d like to see get into the business.”

He also got on-the-job training in new fields. “I worked very hard in the kitchen,” he says proudly. “I used to help cook for about 700 people, three meals a day. I couldn’t cook before. It was something I never fancied. I was always a he-man, a he-man. But it’s something every man should do.”

Brown also talked to teenage convicts about drug abuse, studied the Bible and put in long hours on a work-release program helping the poor and elderly. At last, on Feb. 27, he was paroled. Two days later he flew to Los Angeles to get a new set of eyebrows tattooed on by a dermapigmentation artist, Sheila May. (He says that his own eyebrows fell out because he boxed too much when he was young; he finally grew “tired of waking up without them.”) May also tattooed permanent eyeliner onto Brown’s lower lids. In the process she got the secret of the teeth implants from Brown: “Before he had it done, he told me. he couldn’t sing ‘Papa”s Got a Brand New Bag’ onstage because his [false] teeth would pop out.”

Hair, teeth, eyes and eyebrows at the ready—and with the 20 lbs. he gained on prison food slowly surrendering to exercise—Brown will soon begin rehearsing for his coming-out performance, a pay-per-view cable extravaganza produced by boxing promoter Butch Lewis, to air in June. Brown says that four record companies are vying for the album’s worth of music he wrote in prison; until then, fans can make do with a four-CD, 72-track boxed set of his work from 1956 through 1984, due from PolyGram in May.

Happy to be home on his 62-acre spread. Brown professes a new vision. “Everything I was involved in, I’m a hundred times stronger now,” he says. “This time the good Lord brightened up my career to a high I never could have imagined.”

—Mark Goodman, Victoria Balfour in Augusta

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