Two weeks ago, we found ourselves in the kind of bind that weekly newspapers often get into. James Brown had died on Christmas, a day before we had to send the paper to the printer.
That's way too late for us to switch out cover stories, but we did have enough time to get Senior Editor Scott Freeman to write a quick, insightful article.
OK. But this was James fucking Brown, perhaps the most influential Georgia musician ever (some would say Ray Charles, others might say the Allman Brothers). We figured we needed to do a cover story.
Scott was the obvious guy to do it. He's a great writer, who's written the definitive book on the Allman Brothers and a bio on Otis Redding. He knows the territory and has all kinds of great sources. Great.
Then, I looked at the calendar. Our long-planned Fiction Issue was due to hit the streets Jan. 4. We'd hyped the Fiction Issue in promos. We had an event tied to it. And we were afraid that the winners -- whose theme was "blood," after all -- might cut us if we kicked their moment of glory down the line.
So, we were looking at this week -- the Jan. 11 issue -- for the James Brown cover story. I was concerned that it wouldn't be timely anymore, that all the buzz would have gone past by then, that readers' attention would have moved on to other things.
But Scott, along with A&E Editor David Lee Simmons, argued that people would still be into reading about Brown if we told a story worth telling and we told it well. So Scott went ahead with the piece. Then, he got lucky.
Scott had been talking a lot recently with longtime Atlanta musician Col. Bruce Hampton -- famed as one of the founding fathers of Southern rock 'n' roll. He mentioned to Hampton that he was writing about Brown, and Hampton offered to help Scott get his phone calls returned.
"I couldn't have done this story without Col. Bruce," Scott says.
Hampton helped Scott get in touch with at least five musicians who once worked for Brown -- Jab'o Starks, Hollie Ferris, Clyde Stubblefield, Fred Wesley and Bernard Purdie. All of them are quoted in Scott's story, which evolved into an oral history of Brown's career. Largely because of all the key people he talked to, it's an awesome read.
You may also want to check out Scott's podcast [mp3], in which he talks about researching the article and where you can hear some of Brown's old colleagues telling the stories themselves.
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