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Fred Wesley - former music director 

On James Brown

Fred Wesley joined James Brown in 1968 as the trombone player. He later became the band's music director.

In Mobile [Ala.], we had two good trombone players. We had Freeman and we had me. The guys in James' band knew Freeman, and they offered Freeman the gig. Jab'o [Starks, the drummer] knew him and Bernard [Odum, the bass player] knew him; they were from Mobile. Freeman didn't want the gig because he had family. He told them, "There's a young guy who can play named Fred Wesley."

I had been on the road before with Ike and Tina Turner, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, and B.B. King. I'd been in the Army, and I was out now and I was set to be the first black milkman in Mobile, Ala. I had to clear it with my mother because she was very proud that I was going to be the first milkman. She said, "OK, if that's what you want to do." It was a choice between milk and music.

We weren't really aware we were creating something new. In fact, I didn't like the music I was creating because I thought it was lightweight. I was into jazz. I just looked down on the music. I grew to appreciate it after a while, but it took a while for me to get out of my snobbish jazz ways and into that music. And now, I see that it was a very important change in music.

It really changed the vocabulary of music. It really did. And I would have been left behind.


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