The iconic image featured on this t-shirt isn’t just a pretty face (with fabulous glossy hair). It is a snapshot of one of the greatest moments in the Godfather of Soul’s long and eventful career. The picture was taken at the Apollo Theater in New York City in 1962, during a live performance that would set James Brown on the path to mainstream acclaim. When the live recording of the show – Live at the Apollo - was released in 1963 it became the breakthrough album that the wildly talented star so desperately deserved.
Flash back to 1962 - and despite being one of the most popular figures on the R&B scene, Brown’s recordings weren’t hitting the sweet spot as much as they ought to have been. With just a couple of hits in the singles charts, he traded primarily on the strength of his live shows and wanted to take the live sound to a wider audience.
Convinced that a live album was the way forward, Brown repeatedly attempted to convince the head of his label, King Records to record and release a concert recording. Based on other artists of the time, the label bosses weren’t so sure that a live album would be a commercial success and they weren’t prepared to take the risk. Frustrated, eventually Brown decided to take his own initiative and bankrolled the recording himself. His gamble paid off. The performance that evening was spell-binding – winning over the Apollo’s notoriously tough crowd. Brown persuaded King to release the recording a few months later and it was a phenomenal success. The record spent an incredible 66 weeks on the Billboard album chart and sold over one million copies. Well and truly setting him on the path to super-stardom and the major-league crossover success that followed. You can check out the full show from the 'Hardest Working Man In Showbusiness' here on YouTube. It still sounds incredible.
Following James Brown’s death in 2006, a public memorial service was held at the Apollo Theater – the place which had helped to set him on the road to stardom all those years before - an iconic venue for an incredible talent, who kept on singing and performing to the end. So you see, this t-shirt is much more than just a portrait of a legend, the picture tells a tale all of its own. Happy birthday JB.