AKA James Johnson, Jr.
Birthplace: Buffalo, NY
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Superfreak
Military service: US Navy Reserves (1963)
The third in a family of eight children, James Johnson, Jr. was born in Buffalo and raised primarily by his mother, a strict Catholic who made ends meet by running numbers for the mob. At the age of 15 he ran away from home and joined the Navy, but quickly discovered that military life conflicted with his musical ambitions. After being reported AWOL as a result of skipping out on weekend training, James fled to Toronto where he established The Mynah Birds, a band that featured future Buffalo Springfield founders Neil Young and Bruce Palmer, as well as Goldy McJohn who later became part of Steppenwolf; helped by James' family connections (his uncle was Melvin Franklin of The Temptations), a deal was secured with Motown Records, but little was recorded and nothing ever released. Upon returning to the States, James was forced to serve time for abandoning his military service and the Mynahs dissolved, its other members seeking to establish themselves in Los Angeles while James moved to Detroit.
Now working as a staff songwriter for Motown, James (having changed his name from James Johnson to Rick James after founding The Mynah Birds) traveled to London and established an R&B group called The Main Line; for most of the 1970s he maintained both situations, regularly commuting back and forth across the Atlantic. In 1977, after finally re-establishing a permanent residence in the U.S., he put together The Stone City Band and began to formulate the rock/funk hybrid for which he later became known. With a full record's worth of songs in the can, he once again approached Motown in 1978 and was immediately signed to their Gordy subsidiary. His debut album, Come Get It, materialized later that year, its singles You and I and Mary Jane reaching the #1 and #3 R&B positions, respectively.
James embarked on well-attended U.S. tours in support of his second and third releases, Bustin' Out of L Seven and Fire It Up, accompanied for the latter by a girl group he had created called the Mary Jane Girls and a still largely-unknown performer named Prince. Both support acts benefited considerably from the exposure, and the flamboyant nature of the shows attracted a great deal of media attention. With the release of Street Songs in 1981 he reached the peak of his popularity, the album itself climbing into the upper reached of both the pop and R&B charts and it's singles Give It To Me, Baby, Ghetto Life, and -- of course -- Super Freak making a similarly strong showing. In subsequent years he juggled his own music with a parallel career as a producer, organizing successful projects for acts such as The Temptations, Teena Marie, The Mary Jane Girls, and (somewhat questionably) Eddie Murphy. The 1980s also marked the rise of his problems with drug addiction, which would continue to plague him well into the 1990s.
With the 1986 release of The Flag, his 11th record for Motown, James brought an end to his long-standing relationship with the label and threw his lot in with Reprise. This new arrangement resulted two years later in his first #1 single in five years, Loosey's Rap, which featuring contributions from rapper Roxanne Shante. Following this resurgence of popularity his career went into a decline, and in the 90s he became noted less for his music and more for his drug and legal problems. Assault charges were brought against him by young women in both '91 and '92 -- the second charge resulting in a five year jail sentence (two years of which he served before his release in 1996) and a public admission from the musician that he was addicted to crack. Prior to this, a comeback of sorts had taken place in 1990 in the form of the MC Hammer single U Can't Touch This, which sampled from Super Freak; ironically, it was through this that James earned his only Grammy award. Throughout the 1990s, sampling of this kind was how the bulk of the corporate-music-buying public primarily heard James' work, bits of it turning up in material by Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez, LL Cool J and Ja Rule. At the time of his death in 2004, he was in the midst of finishing an autobiography titled Memoirs of a Super Freak and a double CD of new material.
Father: James Johnson (autoworker)
Wife: Tanya Anne Hijazi (m. Dec-1997, div. 2002)
Daughter: Ty (musician)
Son: Rick James, Jr.
Son: Tazman (b. 1992)
Girlfriend: Linda Blair
Girlfriend: Teena Marie
High School: Bennett High School, Buffalo, NY
Grammy Best Rhythm & Blues Song (with MC Hammer, 1990)
Ran Away From Home
False Imprisonment Jul-1991
False Imprisonment Hollywood, CA Nov-1992
Death Threats Hollywood, CA Nov-1992
Torture Hollywood, CA Nov-1992
unknown detox facility 1994
Hip Replacement Surgery Feb-1998
Inmate: Folsom Prison
Risk Factors: Cocaine, Smoking, Diabetes, Stuttering, Pacemaker
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Life (13-Apr-1999) · Spanky
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