Rick James and acclaimed music biographer David Ritz met in 1979 in Marvin Gaye’s studio while Ritz was interviewing Gaye for a biography. Intrigued, James urged Ritz to interview him, too, for a biography. Decades of those interviews and research have become GLOW: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RICK JAMES (Atria Hardcover; 978-1-4767-6414-6; July 8, 2014; $26), a posthumously published memoir-in James’s own words-of the tumultuous life of the disco-age music superstar.
Famous for his shamelessly raunchy dance songs, Rick James never made a secret of his sex- and drug-loving lifestyle. In GLOW, he narrates his life from the setting of Folsom Prison, where he spent time in the 1990s as part of his sentence for assault and kidnapping. There, he met a fellow inmate named Brother Guru, and GLOW is written as a conversation with Guru, whose probing questions forced James to assess his past behavior.
Little James Ambrose Johnson was a voracious reader and musical prodigy whose mother worked as a cleaning lady and ran numbers at night to support her eight kids in Buffalo, New York. Noticing his interest in music, she sneaked him into nightclubs-where, hidden underneath cocktail tables, he was mesmerized by the performances of jazz musicians such as Etta James and Miles Davis. Years later, he would wander to Toronto, where he ended up playing with Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, and then California, to ultimately create music that led him to become a household name in the 1980s with hit songs like “Super Freak,” “Mary Jane,” and “17.” Later in life, his unstoppable addictions to sex and drugs led him to prison.
In the pages of GLOW, readers learn of Rick James’s connection with dozens of music industry icons, including David Crosby, Marvin Gaye, Berry Gordy, Teena Marie, Prince, Diana Ross, Stephen Stills, Steven Tyler, and Stevie Wonder. He describes his epiphany, as a young man, at seeing John Coltrane and Jackie Wilson on the same night; explains the inspiration behind many of the tracks on his albums; shares how Stevie Wonder was the one who suggested he change his name to Rick James; reveals that the story crediting Diana Ross with discovering the Jackson 5 was fabricated-and who really discovered them; admits that he had several secret overdoses and sought one of the many Beverly Hills “Dr. Feelgoods” to prescribe pain pills; and regrets how he ruined a precious sketch of himself just created by the great artist Salvador Dali.
In GLOW, Rick James describes himself as “A rebel, a renegade, and artist-singer-writer-producer-bandleader intent on branding my identity in the most dramatic terms. My music was about me-a man deep into drugs, sex, and funk.” Yet, despite his bad boy behavior, Rick James was an undeniable talent and a unique, unforgettable human being. His “glow” was an overriding quality that one of his mentors saw in him-and one that will stay with readers who taste this wildly entertaining, profound autobiography of the man who left an indelible mark on American popular music.
RICK JAMES (1948-2004) was an American singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer, best known for popularizing funk music in the late 1970s and early 1980s with million-selling hits.
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