“I don’t think you can overestimate the influence of his sound”: The unsung guitarist who transformed James Brown’s music, and laid a funky path for Nile Rodgers, John Frusciante, Cory Wong and countless others

James Brown performs onstage at the TAMI Show at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California on December 29, 1964
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images, Jasmine Music)

Though he was primarily a singer and entertainer onstage (one of the best in popular music history, mind), James Brown was a well-rounded musician, with a crystal-clear vision of how his endlessly energetic songs should be presented. Famously, Brown would fine his band members for – among other offenses – playing a single wrong note onstage

With that in mind, Soul Brother No. 1, as he was known, rightfully gets a lot of the credit for the transformation of his sound in the mid-'60s – from up-tempo R&B shouters and show-stopping, soulful ballads to something new entirely; a minimalist style that leaned on lock-step grooves. It would come to be known as funk. 

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Jackson Maxwell

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.