TIME Music

Mick Jagger on James Brown: “I Copied All His Moves”

Mick Jagger and James Brown
Mick Jagger, left, and James Brown Redferns/Getty Images (2)

The legendary rocker talks about the soul king's impact on his life and career

Mick Jagger first met James Brown backstage at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem fifty years ago, when the now-legendary British superstar was a 20-year-old music industry rookie. Singer Ronnie Spector, who introduced them, has said that Jagger was so excited to meet the funk icon that she thought he was going to have a heart attack.

With his involvement in bringing the new biopic Get On Up to the screen, Jagger is now helping to introduce Brown’s unique musical brilliance to a new generation. Jagger spoke with TIME about his relationship with the funk/soul superstar, and shared some additional information regarding his work on the film.

TIME: What’s your first memory of hearing or seeing James Brown do his thing?

Mick Jagger: We all had the Live at the Apollo album. That was the big album before [the Rolling Stones] had come to America. He was a big favorite, and a different kind of music than I played at that time, which was mostly Chicago-style blues and rock. In those days, he did a lot of ballads, and also did super-fast stuff like “Night Train.” All these songs were on this huge-selling album, where you kind of lived the James Brown show without actually seeing it, so I was very familiar with it. When I first went to America, I met James at the Apollo, and he let me hang out with him. I was just a kid, really. He was, like, ten years older than me or something, but he’d been doing it for so long, and he had it down so much. He was kind to let me hang out, and I watched the shows. They did, like, four or five shows a day. Not all with the same intensity, obviously. It’s not possible. So I watched him there at the Apollo, we hung out some, and then I met him various times, we crossed paths on tours and so forth. I went on stage with him at the Apollo in the seventies. He called me up on stage with him. It was kind of a cringy moment for me, because English people don’t really…(laughs)…I just wanted to watch the show. I wasn’t there to be called up to dance with James Brown. But of course, you had to. That was the first time I was on stage at the Apollo, funny enough. James was always very nice to me, always giving me advice.

Can you share some of that advice with us?

James talked a lot about business. It’s in the film. The whole thing about the Apollo was, it’s about renting [it], making your own money, doing your own promotion. He wanted to be his own man. He didn’t want to be bossed around. He didn’t want to be put on a salary. In those days, people got very low record royalties, or never got paid royalties at all. James was very aware of all that. He tried to be his own man, and make sure he wasn’t just used.

Were there any of his stage moves that you, either intentionally or unintentionally, made part of your own persona?

Of course. I copied all his moves. I copied everybody’s moves. I used to do [James’] slide across the stage. I couldn’t do the splits, so I didn’t even bother. Everyone did the microphone trick, where you pushed the microphone, then you put your foot on it and it comes back, and then you catch it. James probably did it best. [Soul singer] Joe Tex did it brilliantly. Prince does it really well. I used to try to do it, but in the end, it hit me in the face too many times and I gave it up. So of course I copied his moves. There was one particular one I used to do a lot, but then I gave up and moved on. You just incorporate everything into your act.

Which was the one you used to do a lot?

When you move laterally from one side of the stage to the other, twisting your foot on one leg. I could do that one. But it’s a kind of attitude, too, not just a body move. It’s a kind of an attitude that he had on stage. You copy it. Little Richard was another contemporaneous performer who appears in this movie, because they’re from the same town. Little Richard also taught me a lot of things. It wasn’t so much moves. It’s about presence on stage in relationship to the audience.

In addition to James’ renown as a performer, he had a huge impact behind the scenes as well, in the construction of his music. Talk about his role in crafting his legendary songs.

James wasn’t a trained musician. He didn’t write music and he didn’t do arrangements. But he did initiate lots of grooves. He had a style. When he reinvented his music from the Apollo-live-period stuff into the funk period, where he did “Cold Sweat,” which was mostly known as the first groove/funk record, he kind of reinvented this. A lot of credit goes to musicians, but a lot goes to him, because he did something that no one else had done. He was into repeating these riffs which were normally used for the outro of a song, and decided to just use that as the whole song. He stripped away a lot of the melodic themes, and just made it into percussive themes for the vocal and the horn lines. His influence on that is massive, because he and the musicians invented this whole new funk genre of music.

His influence has been felt, though, in all areas of music, including hip-hop and the music of superstars like Michael Jackson and Prince. Would any of it be the same without James’ influence?

He’s been a huge influence on all the people you mentioned. Nearly all hip-hop artists acknowledge his influence on their music. Bruno Mars does a lot of his stage act – he does sections which are very influenced by [James]. And also, on artists like myself. I didn’t do much of that kind of music, really, but it’s influenced all the rock bands I know. [Even if] you don’t sound like James Brown, you know that’s in your repertoire. Not on this last tour, but the tour before, we did a James Brown number. We did “Think.” Even though The Rolling Stones is mainly a rock band, if we wanna do that, we can, because we know it. We learned it so long ago.

How big an influence was he on the Stones’ music?

It’s hard to discern. My point is, it’s all there in the background. Particularly that Live at the Apollo album, and all those early funk records. All these bands, the Stones included, could all play [some of that].

James’ music is generally referred to as funk, soul or R&B, and rarely mentioned as an influence in the classic rock realm. But for bands like yours, or even Led Zeppelin, that influence is in there.

Definitely, it’s there. Dave Grohl will be able to do those songs too. The influence is major.

Brian Grazer says you were instrumental in giving feedback on the script for Get On Up. What was the script like when you first read it, and what changes did you feel needed to be made?

First of all, when you find these scripts that are in turnaround, often the reason they aren’t made is because they’re awful or unworkable or something. I found that the Butterworths (English screenwriting brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, who wrote Get On Up) are very talented, and to them, it was a labor of love. I liked the script very much. I thought it had an incredible amount to offer. It was unlike other biopics, which go in for an extremely small snapshot of a person’s life. But this is more extensive. So I thought it was a very good script, but every script needs [some work]. We did change accentuations of character. We amalgamated some characters, because there were just too many. It was slightly confusing. We made it funnier, we took out a lot of early stuff – we just shaved it around and got it into a workable state. It took a while, but the Butterworths did a rewrite, and also, as we got [the film's director Tate Taylor] on board, we did dialogue changes, and Tate did a polish.

Were there any specific aspects of James’ life you felt needed to be corrected, or portrayed in a different light?

For myself and for Brian, [this film] is about James Brown wanting to be master of his own fate, against the odds – to be in control of his destiny, coming from a place of extreme poverty where he’s in complete disarray and not in control of his destiny. He wants to be master of his own fate, but while doing this, of course, he often alienates people and becomes a loner, and that’s the price that he pays for wanting this success – for being so extreme in his work ethic. That was one of the things we wanted to show. We wanted to show in this movie how it happened, and how he was ultimately a lonely person.

Why was Chadwick Boseman the right choice to play James?

It was a tough ask, and everyone I spoke to said, “You’ll never get anyone to do it well enough.” And, [there was the question of], were we going for a dancer that could act, or an actor that could dance? And so on. You just have to look at everybody that comes your way. Chad had come off this movie, 42, which was successful in the United States, and he was very confident about his ability to play this part. I was very confident, and so were Brian and Tate, about his acting ability, but he knew he had to work – as anyone would have to work – really hard on the performing part, because he wasn’t a stage performer. Apart from immersing himself totally into the character, that was a load of work. The hours that Chad put into this with the choreographer, he really put in the extra hours to make it work, and it paid off.

So there wasn’t significant apprehension on your part knowing that he wasn’t that sort of performer?

Well, yes. Everyone had apprehension, or whatever word you wanna use. (laughs) You never know ‘til you do the first dance scene how it’s gonna work. That’s the nature of any of these things. I think everyone, including Chad, was a little nervy at the beginning. I’m sure they were. But as it went on, you could see how Chad had really taken on the character and made it his own.

TIME movies

Neighbors Made Zac Efron Want to Do More Comedy

Film Title: Neighbors
Glen Wilson—Universal Pictures

Zac Efron, Seth Rogen and director Nicholas Stoller tell TIME why Neighbors was so much fun to make

When the comedy Neighbors — which stars Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as Mac and Kelly Radner, a couple with a baby whose lives are upended when a rowdy fraternity led by Zac Efron’s Teddy Sanders moves next door — was originally conceived, Rogen and Efron’s characters were written as hate-filled rivals from minute one. But after hearing the two stars’ obvious chemistry at an early table read, it became clear that having them bond before developing their rift was essential. “We realized how much we would get along, and how funny we could be together,” Rogen, also a producer on the film, tells TIME. “Because of that, we extended the honeymoon period.”

In the film, which hits theaters May 9, the disparate lifestyles of the new parents and the fraternity lead to subterfuge and all-out war, including sexual schemes and violent booby traps all intended for maximum laughs. But first, Mac and Kelly see the last vestiges of their youth in the fraternity’s booze- and drug-fueled bashes, and integrate themselves into the perpetual party next door.

For Rogen, now is the time to deal with the issue of trying to sidestep adulthood — however unsuccessfully. “I’ve been the star of almost every movie I’ve had some hand in creating, and because of that, I’ve always made movies that focused on people [my] age,” says Rogen. “Now, I’m 32, I’m married, and a lot of my friends have kids or are having kids. So it only seemed natural to make a movie that embraced that.”

Neighbors marks an even greater turning point for Efron, with the 26-year-old heartthrob top-lining (along with Rogen) his first adult comedy, and also for the first time playing a villainous character. “Mostly I was just excited,” says Efron. “The caliber of work when you’re on set with [guys like this] is really smart and funny. You have to be ready for anything. The hardest part [for me] was finding some heart in this character, because he does a lot of really heinous things, and he’s nothing like me. This is the furthest character from myself that I’ve ever played.”

Hinging as it does on the chemistry between the two leads, the film found a bonding point in an early party scene where a wasted Mac and Teddy compare Batman impressions. The improvised scene sets the stage for the battle to come, making the film’s central feud not just a disagreement between neighbors, but the result of a perceived betrayal between two people who, if even for just a fleeting moment, cared about each other.

The scene evolved from a desire to find a funny way to depict the difference in age between the two. “We were trying to find slight variations [in our tastes],” says Efron, “small generational differences in things like video games.”

“We knew we wanted them to talk about the difference in their generations,” says director Nicholas Stoller. “I noticed Zac doing Batman impressions [on the set]. He does a really good Bane. So we were shooting the scene with all these jokes we’d written, but it felt forced. If they don’t bond in that scene, then the movie won’t work. One of them started talking about Batman, and I yelled from behind the monitor, ‘Just compare Batman impressions.’ I’m rarely sure that I got something until I’m cutting the movie, but [after that], I was like, that’s gonna be in the movie. That’s kinda magical.”

“It perfectly demonstrates the generational divide between the guys,” says Rogen, “but it also shows that if circumstances were different, they would really get along.”

For Efron, the set’s free-flowing nature was liberating, if not a bit stressful.

“In a film like this, in this genre, it’s instrumental to be able to be on your toes and stay in character,” says Efron. “Improvising with certain people brings out the best in you, and the advantage here was, these guys are incredible at it. It’s a challenge, because you don’t know what you’re going to say, so you literally just have to be. It’s freeing in a way. I had a blast.”

Now that he’s been seduced by the improvisational comedy bug, Neighbors could represent a turning point in Efron’s career: audiences are likely to wonder if he’ll join the likes of Rogen, Paul Rudd and more in becoming a staple of the modern comedy.

“I could see that happening, for sure,” says Efron. “I think it’s all [about] who you surround yourself with. I’m really lucky to be in a movie with these guys, and I would jump at the chance to do it again.”

TIME Television

Who’s Honoring Him Now: Comedians Commend Colbert on His Late Show Gig

ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" - Season Ten
Colbert and Jon Stewart on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" in 2012. Jeff Neira—ABC via Getty Images

Outpouring of comic love on Twitter

Today’s announcement that Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman as host of The Late Show in 2015 was not really that big a surprise. Ever since Letterman announced his impending retirement last week, Colbert has been the agreed-upon frontrunner. But the quickness of the deal certainly was a shocker.

That no one else, it seems, was seriously considered for the job shows how controversy-free the choice was, as Colbert will take over for Letterman with the apparent full approval of the comedy community. Just yesterday, his friend and mentor Jon Stewart, himself once mentioned as a top candidate, took himself out of the running to endorse Colbert (although it now seems likely that Stewart knew about Colbert’s impending deal).

Stewart told Vulture that Colbert would be “amazing” as Letterman’s replacement, talking up his skills as a writer, actor, interviewer and improviser. “He’s wonderful in The Colbert Report, but he’s got gears he hasn’t even shown people yet,” said Stewart. “He would be remarkable.”

Stewart is far from alone in the comedy world in believing that Colbert will crush this opportunity, as many took to Twitter to offer congratulations and express their delight. Colbert’s soon-to-be competitor, Jimmy Fallon, showing how much less bitter the late night landscape is these days, tweeted:

 

It was a reference to their third network competitor at 11:30, Jimmy Kimmel, who himself tweeted:

 

Others in the comedy world sent simple messages of congratulations, including:

Judd Apatow

 

Craig Ferguson

 

Mindy Kaling

 

Olivia Munn

 

Andy Richter

 

John Hodgman

 

Jon Favreau

 

Wendi McLendon-Covey

 

Noël Wells

 

Billy Eichner

 

Meanwhile, some used the occasion to take comedic pot shots at others:

Funny Or Die

 

Frank Conniff

 

Laurie Kilmartin

 

Steve Martin, of course, just wanted to get paid.

 

Others expressed mixed feelings: delight at the prospect of the new show, but despair at the loss of the brilliant comedic character that made Colbert a star.

Paul F. Tompkins

 

Kristen Schaal

 

Michael Ian Black

 

Some comedians took the chance to reflect on what the news means for them:

Rob Delaney, who for some reason deleted his post, wrote:

@StephenAtHome I’m flattered but network will prob want you to have Hanks/Jolie/etc as first guest. Happy to come on the 1st week though?

Delaney followed that with a playful jab at Letterman’s sidekick.

 

Todd Barry

 

Ted Alexandro

 

Unsurprisingly, some took the chance to gloat about the timing regarding the recent #CancelColbert campaign, and the activist who launched it, Suey Park. While The Colbert Report will now end next year, this is clearly not what they had in mind.

Patton Oswalt

 

Kate Hendricks

 

Andy Daly (host of Comedy Central’s Review)

 

One Family Guy writer saw fit to point out the ridiculousness of our obsession with late night.

Julius Sharpe

 

Perhaps the most meaningful tweet, though, came from the man that Colbert will be replacing.

David Letterman

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