Charles Sweet Sherell

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Although his successor, Bootsy Collins, receives most of the recognition, bassist "Sweet" Charles Sherrell was no less a pivotal figure in shaping James Brown's groundbreaking evolution from…
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Although his successor, Bootsy Collins, receives most of the recognition, bassist "Sweet" Charles Sherrell was no less a pivotal figure in shaping James Brown's groundbreaking evolution from soul to funk. The much-copied "slap" technique and syncopated, thumping rhythms Sherrell introduced on such landmark records as "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)," "Mother Popcorn," and "Soul Power" remain the essence of the almighty groove. Born March 8, 1943, in Nashville, Sherrell began playing the trombone at age eight, later learning the trumpet and drums as well. While majoring in music at Tennessee State University, he played drums in an R&B band featuring then-unknown guitarist Jimi Hendrix and bassist Billy Cox. When rumor spread across Nashville that Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin was traveling to town to assemble a backing band for her upcoming U.S. tour, Sherrell bought his first bass at a pawnshop for 69 dollars, sufficiently mastering the instrument within three weeks to land the gig. After Brown's longtime bassist Tim Drummond contracted hepatitis in mid-1968, Sherrell was tapped as his replacement. Upon making his debut as a member of the J.B.'s with "I Can't Stand Myself (When You Touch Me)," he gradually honed the pioneering slap approach that remains his greatest contribution to contemporary music. "[Sherrell] hasn't gotten the credit as a bass player that he should have," Brown later admitted. "A lot of stuff that Bootsy Collins and some other bass players did later -- like thumping the strings -- 'Sweet' did first." As the decade drew to a close Brown issued a new record virtually every month, each further defining the basic formula of funk: bold, precise horns, repetitive rhythms, and a minimum of melodic embellishment. But the relentless pace, combined with Brown's infamously tight-fisted business practices, forced Sherrell to resign from the J.B.'s in January 1970. In the years to follow he played on sessions headlined by Al Green and others, and also attempted to mount a solo career. He returned to the J.B.'s in 1974, also cutting a solo LP, the superb For Sweet People from Sweet Charles for Brown's People label. Despite his appealingly honeyed vocal style, the album did not sell, and except for a handful of subsequent solo singles (including the 1976 novelty "Do the King Kong" and 1981's "If I Only Had a Minute") Sherrell confined the remainder of his career to sideman duties, assuming the title of Brown's musical director upon trombonist Fred Wesley's 1975 departure from the fold. Sherrell remained with Brown until October 1996, when internal friction again forced his exit. This time he teamed with another J.B.'s alumnus, the legendary saxophonist Maceo Parker, with whom he toured well into the next millennium.