In 1967, Rick James was just getting out of military prison, having served a year for going AWOL from the Navy, and was pondering a return to music with the Mynah Birds, a band that had been signed to Motown and had briefly included Neil Young on guitar. Few people know that James at this time was a tea-totaling, God-fearing, neatly groomed young man who was shy around women and had never heard of funk. Uncle Donnie intended to set him straight and help him spice up his life and career in this 32-year-old memo. – RS
TO: Rick James
FROM: Don Skwatzenschitz
RE: Career Advice
Hi, Rick. Don Skwatzenschitz here; we met at the Motown building about a year and a half ago, while you and the Mynah Birds were recording “It’s My Time.” That should have been a hit, but we all know you had to meet your military obligation, and it’s good you ‘fessed up and faced the music, so to speak. Feels good to not having that hanging over your head, doesn’t it? By the way, how’s the food in the Brooklyn Brig?
Rick, you are a singular talent, but it has to be nurtured. I know you’re thinking about going back to Motown, but I ask you to reconsider. There are new musical worlds being discovered in places like San Francisco, Berkeley, and right around the corner from where I’m writing—Haverhill, Massachusetts (we have a swingin’ acid rock collective nearby called Captain Dusty Verkota and His Electric Hookah All-Stars. You should come by and check them out, next time you’re around). Soul music is great—you know me; I’m all about the soul of things. But there are other avenues of expression to consider. And, for God’s sake, don’t act so scared around the ladies! You’re a good-looking guy!
All great artists have a 15-year plan for success. It’s true! The Beatles know exactly what they want to be doing in 1982, and they’re working their way toward those goals (though I think that Sgt. Pepper thing might have been a step too far, don’t you? I mean, even the Jefferson Airplane haven’t freaked out that badly, and I’da put money on them to be the first ones to fall down the rabbit hole, you know?). Here are some things to consider for yours:
Try marijuana. I’ve never extolled the use of drugs, but I think in your case it might be a good idea. A little wacky tobacky will loosen you up a bit. And I know you, Rick—you’ll keep it under control; you won’t go overboard. Just try it. It’ll be fun!
Think about a new hairstyle. The short-cropped hair might be fine for Uncle Sam, but this is 1967! Get some relaxer and some beads and grow it out a little. You’ll look great!
Look into this “funk” thing. Remember George Clinton, that songwriter in the Motown mill? Strange guy? Said things like “Shazamalockin'” and things like that? He’s got this new sound that he laid on me a couple months ago—kinda like the James Brown records from a few years back, with the accent on the one beat, only George is throwing all sorts of distortion and electronics and such into the mix. It’s a pretty heady thing; you should check it out.
Change how you introduce yourself to people. “Hello, I’m Rick James. Nice to meet you?” No, you need something a little snazzier. Like, “I’m Rick James, madam!” Or, “I’m Rick James, Mon Cheri.” I’m sure you can come up with something that works.
Update your lyrical output. You played a song-in-progress for me back at Motown—”Pretty Young Lady” or something. I remember the lyrics:
She’s a very pretty young lady
The kind you take to meet your parents
And she’ll never let your spirits down
‘Cause she’s in church all the time
It’s a good start, but I think it needs some work. Once you get around a bit, get back into the swing of things, I think you’re perspective will change, and you’ll maybe want to spice things up a bit. You know, you should hold onto that one until you get it right. Fifteen-year plan—remember!
All the best,