Did James Brown really fine his musicians if he wasn’t happy with their performance? How much?
Absolutely; the hardest-working man in show business couldn’t put on a show with the military precision of his ’60s revue without being a tough boss. Bobby Byrd, who sang backup vocals for Brown as one of the Famous Flames, gave me the details. He said that Brown’s fines were usually five or ten dollars, but they went up dramatically when he was playing at the Apollo Theater in 1962, where he was recording a live album: fifty or a hundred dollars for a miscue. Byrd remembered, “And James would do a routine when he fined you, counting off that hundred dollars. You’d whisper on the stage, ‘Man, get your part right,’ and then he’d see you and fine you for carrying on a conversation.”
(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)