Ty Stone behaves as if he is the Godfather of Soul even when he’s not on stage performing the “James Brown Experience.”
There are rules for members of the 12-piece band that will accompany the singing and wardrobe changing Feb. 13 at 8 p.m. at Pepito’s Parkway Theater. One is that there will be no fraternizing with the go-go dancers. His older brother no longer has a role in the show because he didn’t like taking such orders from his sibling.
Just like James Brown, Stone believes discipline and respect are paramount.
I interviewed Stone, whose main job is in manufacturing, last year when he performed at the Parkway.
To me Stone looks more like Sly Stone, no relation, although a wig and some flashy costumes help the impersonator pass for James Brown.
Stone said he got to see Brown perform half a dozen times, mostly in Chicago, where Ty’s uncle had entertainment ties.
“We’d go in a room with Tyrone Davis, Johnnie Taylor, Staple Singers. Junior Walker and the All Stars would come there; Jackie Wilson,” said Stone. “You know what made me want to go on stage when I was about 11? Watching all these great artists. I met Gladys Knight at a club called the Sunset Ballroom. Gladys Knight was always asking the same thing: How are you doing in school? We didn’t want to hear that,” he laughed. “We were making $35 a night. We were in heaven. She would always bug us: You saving any money? How are your grades? We had to call her Miss Knight — it was all about respect. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas — “How are you doing, Miss Reeves?”
But Gladys Knight, who still sings very well and recently survived a few weeks on ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars,” was the one who pushed education the hardest?
“Yep,” said Stone. “We’d duck her, go the other way, because we were kids.”
In shows later this year, Stone said he’ll work with James Brown’s widow, Tomi Rae Hynie.
“She is coming to share some of her history with James Brown and sing background vocals,” said Stone. “Ms. Brown’s son, James Brown Jr., [Wikipedia says he’s Brown II] does a little rap, so he will sell himself to the younger generation. He wants to get involved with music. What Ms. Brown likes about me is that the show is always tight and respectful. We are trying to keep the legacy alive.”
A Fox 9 crew is scheduled to go to Stone’s private rehearsal studio “to watch me prepare for the show. There will be no more wardrobe malfunctions, I’ve got to make sure of that.”
When I interviewed Stone I asked him if he had ever split his pants.
“Never,” he said.
That night …
Q: Is this all you do for a living?
A: Not right now. I’ve got a day job. I like to eat.
Q: Do people think you look like James Brown?
A: Not really. The hair helps.
Q: He didn’t have all these freckles on his face, did he?
A: No. You want to know the truth? I think I’m cuter than James Brown.
Q: I think you’re cuter than James Brown, too, but it wouldn’t take much.
A: [Laughter] That’s not nice!
Q: Did you pick James Brown because he had a very messy life?
A: No, I picked James Brown because of that soul, that soulful thing he had, that emotion. He kind of hypnotized his audience.
Q: What’s the most thrilling part of your show?
A: The entrance. Some folks have never seen James Brown. We’ve got a generation that [doesn’t] know anything about James Brown whatsoever. About 25 percent have heard his songs but don’t know what he looks like. You thought Michael Jackson was good, you thought all these other cats were good — you should’ve seen James Brown.
Q: My Daddy was a big James Brown fan.
A: Who wasn’t?
Q: My mother.
Q: What’s a part of his life you would’ve enjoyed experiencing?
A: Watching him on the road. Watching him interacting with his people. He demanded respect and I liked that. James Brown was all about respect.
Q: Between drugs, mistresses, domestic abuse, shooting at cars and other incidents, I think I know which parts of his life you’d prefer to avoid but you tell me.
A: Jail. [We both laughed] Don’t like being locked up. You can’t even go to the bathroom when you want. Go to the shower when you want, eat when you want.
Q: The federal government is not looking for you for any reason, is it?
A: Ahhh, no, not now. I did some crazy things. Thank God, God saved me. Wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here seriously.
Q: What crazy things did you do?
A: In my 20s I decided to be a dope dealer. Nah, nah, nah. You don’t factor in that the police are involved in that and they’ve got three shifts to follow you and catch you. When they do, you’ve to make one mistake. People don’t factor in that it’s illegal. You’re not going to excel in something that’s illegal. They are not going to let you.
Q: How long were you a drug dealer?
A: I did it about 10, 15 years.
Q: Ten or 15 years? You never got in trouble?
A: Oh yeah. The technology is [going to] get you. [Laughter.] I met some FBI guys; they really turned my life around; they start showing you jail and talking about 15, 20 years, you’ll turn your life around.
Q: How much time did you end up doing?
A: I didn’t do any. I called myself too slick. My father told me once It’s time you dummy up. I dummied up. I’m too smart, eventually they [were] going to catch me.
Q: Dummy up, what does it mean?
A: Stop being so smart. I outsmarted them this time. Eventually they [were] going to catch me.
Q: Have you got kids?
A: One son.
Q: He had to be a piece of work? That’s what always happens to you people who think you’re slick.
A: Oh God. Me and his mother did stay [together] long and I didn’t see him that much. She didn’t like my lifestyle I chose to live. She wanted a regular house and all this kind of crap. You see I said “crap.” My life was, “I want to be an entertainer. I’ve got to do this.”
Q: So you wanted to be an entertainer from what age?
A: Eight. I [saw] Elvis, “Viva Las Vegas.”
Q: But James Brown has always been your favorite entertainer?
A: Believe it or not [it was] Elvis Presley. My father eventually bought me a guitar. I was doing all the old songs. I was jammin’.
Q: What kind of undergarments do you wear just in case you split your pants?
A: [Laughter] Draws.
Q: There’s a generation of people who say “draws.”
A: [I’m] from that generation, right.
Q: Do you have your pants reinforced?
A: Depends on the costume. You have certain clothes you can do a split in and some you don’t. Can’t be tearing up my clothes. [Laughter]
Q: How do you accomplish those splits on stage without damaging reproductive organs?
A: You have to practice. The worst part about the split is your knees. It’s going down; that knee on the left side hurts. I have to put on a knee bandage.
Q: Do you bandage your knees before you perform?
A: Sometimes, it depends.
Q: Have you ever gotten down, while doing a split, and couldn’t get up again?
A: That’s how you start off, [laughter] the first thing you learn. You can’t get down, if you can’t get up. [Laughter]
Q: Do you take Pilates or anything like that?
A: No. I go to the studio. I have a dance studio I go to and they give me a key. I go in early in the mornings about 5 o’clock, and I practice. And I practice at home every day. Out in the garage I have a little floor, I practice. I put on my shoes and I put on my hair. You have to have on your hair. The dancing doesn’t look good unless you have the hair on; you hair has to be right.
Q: Do your boots have slick bottoms?
A: There’s a secret to that. I don’t know if I want to share it.
Q: How often do you slip and fall on stage?
Q: What if it happens tonight?
A: No. Never [He did however split his pants that night.]
Q: Are you a good dancer and if so have you always been?
A: Oh yes. No. My father told me — I had a brutally honest family — You can’t carry a tune in a bucket. You can’t dance, you can’t even boogie. Your brother’s a dancer. You can’t do nothing. I proved them wrong. Watch me now.
Q: Do they come to the show?
A: No. My brother used to play with me but he can’t take orders from his younger brother. He said, Oh man. You think you’re James Brown for real. Yeah, ’cause I wanted him to be on time. He said, Oh man, that’s why I don’t like working for you. Then why do you take my money? [Laughter]
Q: That’s funny. Your brother doesn’t want to follow orders and you try to run this like James Brown? So that means no drugs…?
A: No drinking. No fraternizing with the girls in the show. That was his next problem. [His brother complained:] Oh, man, you’re always trying to block. I’m trying to keep discipline.
Q: Ironic that James Brown had that rule about no drugs and years later kind of had a drug problem?
A: It’s a situation where [there should be] no drugs where you work. I’m sorry, can’t. You can’t drive a car high. He had done it recreationally but when I [saw] James Brown he wasn’t doing that.
Q: How many times did you get to see him?
A: About six or seven times. Chicago, mostly.
Q: Who’s a better dancer? Chris Brown, Michael Jackson or James Brown?
A: James Brown had so much style. All these guys are bad, but James Brown was the innovator. There’s no comparison. That’s what I do. I walk like James Brown. I used to get albums and look at the poses he was doing. He [danced] the Boogaloo, the Funky Broadway; his thumbs are up when he walks. He had certain things he did. And James Brown clowned a lot. You remember Satchel Page? When James Brown had one leg up like this he was imitating a baseball player, Satchel Page, on the mound before he [strikes] you out he goes like this he’s wiggling around and he’s throwing the ball. And when he does the jerk, he’s imitating a monkey. [see the video] He’s imitating animals.
Q: Can you play football in your James Brown boots?
A: [Laughter] No. I can’t play football at all; nah, I can’t run.
Q: I’m reading Monte Burke’s book about Nick Saban. When Saban worked with Jerry Glanville, coach of the Houston Oilers, James Brown used to come to their practices. [That’s on page 80; on page 176 is an account of Saban being cajoled into a dance-off with players during which the coach of the Crimson Tide “did a reasonable impersonation of James Brown.”]
A: I didn’t know that. I couldn’t do that ’cause I don’t like being hit or tackled.
Q: It was James Brown, a celebrity. They weren’t going to tackle him.
A: Yeah, right.
Q: Who besides James Brown could you build a show around and hit the road?
A: Wilson Pickett. I have not seen anybody who can do Wilson Pickett.
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her, check out Fox 9’s “Jason Show.”