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On This Day in Music… February 27, 1991: James Brown Is Paroled After Two Years in Prison

The Godfather of Soul was jailed for resisting arrest after a car chase across two States.

james brown mr dynamite
Source: WENN/Newscom/The Mega Agency

James Brown was no stranger to prison food.

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On February 27, 1991, after serving a little over two years of a six-year sentence, James Brown, aka the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, aka Soul Brother No. 1, aka Inmate No. 155413, was released on parole from South Carolina’s State Park Correctional Center.

The Godfather of Soul had been jailed for carrying a deadly weapon at a public gathering, attempting to flee police and driving under the influence of drugs. It was not the first time he had fallen foul of the law, nor would it be the last.

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james brown godfather of soul
Source: WENN/Newscom/The Mega Agency

The Godfather of Soul doing what he did best.

The incident that led to Brown’s incarceration occurred in September 1988, when, allegedly high on PCP, he picked up a shotgun, stormed out of his office in Augusta, Georgia, and burst into an insurance company based next door. Waving the gun around, he screamed that “strangers were using his bathroom”, and ordered the terrified workers to leave.

He didn’t calm down after the police (inevitably) arrived, instead taking off in his pickup truck and leading the law on a high-speed chase along Interstate 20, across the border into South Carolina and then back into Georgia. After he tried to ram the pursuing police cars off the road, officers shot out two of his tires – but even that wasn’t going to slow down Mr. Dynamite: despite the blowouts he managed to drive on the rims for a further six miles before his eventual capture and arrest. Three months later, on December 15, he was jailed.

The chase came just five months after Brown’s third wife Adrienne had filed assault charges against him, alleging he had attacked her with a lead pipe and fired a gun at her car, riddling her $35,000 mink coat with bullet holes (mercifully she was not wearing it at the time). Brown was subsequently released on a $15,000 bond, and she later dropped charges. On April 4, 1988, he appeared on CNN to discuss the incident. What followed was… bizarre. Watch it below.

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Brown had first developed a taste prison food aged just 15 when he served three years in a juvenile detention center for breaking into cars. It was during his time inside that he discovered his musical talents, forming a gospel choir with four fellow inmates. After his release he joined a gospel group called the Flames, and in 1957 changed their name to James Brown and the Famous Flames and created a wholly unique sound of his own. Over the course of his career he would release a total of 59 studio albums and gain a reputation as the instigator and catalyst for the funk music explosion of the mid-sixties, and an influence on everyone from Mick Jagger to Michael Jackson.

Unfortunately the self-styled Minister of Super Heavy Funk was as excitable and unpredictable as the music he made. Seven years after his release from the South Carolina State Park Correctional Center in 1991, a civil lawsuit alleged he held a woman named Mary Simons captive for three days, as well as discharging a rifle in his office. She later dropped the suit, but a further conviction on drug charges saw Brown ordered into a 90 day stint at a drug rehabilitation facility.

james brown testifies
Source: mega

'Can I get a witness?' James Brown testifies at a 2002 sexual assault case, telling jurors: 'I'm a church-going man.'

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Further allegations and arrests for sexual assault, domestic violence and drug abuse continued until his death of congestive heart failure in 2006, aged 73. Alongside his rap sheet, obituaries noted that Brown was amongst the inaugural inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and that in 2004 was placed seventh in Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of all Time. Perhaps most remarkably, between 1958 and 1986 he also found the time to score no fewer than 116 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.


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