OK, so I'll admit the headline is a little misleading.
Ripley (Tenn.) R&B artist Tom Sanders doesn't actually claim to be part of the Godfather of Soul's family tree. But on his new CD "Touch of Class (Remembering James Brown)," vocally and musically Sanders sounds so much like the one and only that nearly every moment on his 12-track indie release makes you want to do Brown's signature Camel Walk.
In fact, Sanders sounds so much like James Brown that to promote "Touch Of Class" he is putting together a showcase performance that will be a full-blown recreation of a James Brown Show and a perfect fit for college campuses, nicer clubs and corporate events.
It's a tall order for any performer to tackle, but according to his producer, Johnny Scott, Sanders has the chops, and the CD will prove it, if you give it a listen. Available now at www.cdbaby.com, Scott is driving around town in a newly wrapped promotional truck pushing the CD and checking out venues to re-introduce Sanders to the local entertainment scene. For Sanders, it's a reuniting with his true love for music. And if Scott's market acumen still works, they might have a real shot.
Remembered for his pioneering television program – "The Johnny Scott Show" on WREG – back in the day, Scott had hung up his microphone and was operating his own small label, Portra Records, when he found Sanders at a nightclub in Brownsville. After finding they were compatible, the two decided to collaborate and released a string of singles.
One of those singles, "Baby I Need Time," had a two-week stay atop a local radio station's chart, said Sanders, but eventually got eaten up by the lack of a real budget. This was long before the hip-hop indie revolution hit and there was just no way to fight the majors, he said.
"That's when there were still records. We sold quite a few, but we never were able to convince the right people to stay with it."
Scott and Sanders walked away from the industry with memories of wine, roses and thorns, but the project never left Scott's mind.
"That sound he has just stayed with me. He just naturally sounds like James Brown! Not remind you of him, not influenced by him, I mean just like James Brown. Seriously. He's just natural at it," said Scott.
"When he was playing clubs, you could hardly keep your drink in your hand, that's how he rocks a house. Plus, he's got great originals. I think people are going to be really surprised when they check him out."
(A snippet of Sanders is available on Youtube.)
Like most club performers, Sanders does all the greats, but it's when he gets to the roots of the funk that he says something else takes over.
"I do great with my own stuff, but when I do James it just blows the roof off the place. It really came to light one night I was backing up Bobby Rush, way back in the day at the Club Paradise. Folks were all over the place. It happened again at Martin Luther King Park, and it just stuck. I never really got big, but we put on a great show."
And that's the key, Scott adds.
"So much of the music nowadays is so lightweight. And for people like me, black and white, that grew up with music, most of it just doesn't hit. Now, old school is big on tours, but nobody's doing James. They talk about him as an influence, but the music never makes it on stage. James started it all, and you can't let that go!"
Sanders was five years away from it all when Scoot called out of the blur.
"He asked me did I want to write a tribute single to James Brown and I said, 'yeah, of course.'"
Back in the game again, Sanders wanted to refresh the funk and found a local rapper named G-Manzee (featured on three songs) to freshen up some of the tracks.
"Aw, G is hot man. We got him wanging on "I Got It (Get On The Good Foot)," "Phenomenal" and "Please Believe Me," and you hear me funkin' on "You Couldn't Touch Him (Remembering James Brown)," "Jamming in the Big M Town" and the rest.
"Plus, I hope people will like my original tunes like "Baby I Need Time" and "I'm So Weak For You." I think it's a complete package. I can't wait to get on stage with it. The concept is me saluting the music of James Brown, and we will be bringing the people a fantastic show."
But the most important question is this: Can he actually do James Brown?
"Oh yeah," he promises, "splits and all. Don't come see us, if you ain't ready."