Dashboard Confidential
When the Godfather calls, I answer

By Dave Sweetman, Contributing Columnist

I am sometimes amazed that my distant past has a habit of creeping up on me when I least expect it. It happens often enough to remind me how being in the public eye can make for some interesting adventures. I also recall a past editor telling me to keep my words soft and true, as someday I may have to eat them.

Roll back to the year 2004 when I was writing a monthly column for RoadStar magazine. I reported on the fact that I had transported a beautiful 1947 Lincoln Continental for the “Godfather of Soul,” Mr. James Brown. Of interest was the fact that Mr. Brown was a very cordial host and loved the car. Or at least he did until he looked inside and asked, “What’s that other pedal for, man?”

I replied, “clutch, brake and gas pedal. Shifter is a 3 speed on the steering column.”

“It ain’t automatic? Man … I don’t drive no stick!” Mr. Brown shot back. It seems he had bought the dream car without driving it at the California dealer. That was surprise No. 1. Surprise No. 2 was Mr. Brown stating matter-of-factly, “You ain’t doing nothing; show me how to drive my car.” So, for the next little while I went over the fine points of “three on the tree” and he got it. He picked it up quickly.

At the same time, I was pretty tripped out to be in that position, and in a normal conversation I pointed out to him how much his music meant to me and my generation and how he had brought so many people together, regardless of race. His reply to me was one I can still hear to this day.

“But that’s what music is supposed to do, son.” An incredible goose bump moment that I will never forget.

Now roll forward to just a few weeks ago, as I had finished fueling and was grabbing lunch at the Spaceway near Meridian, Miss. A well-dressed gentleman stepped out of a nice-looking silver Peterbilt and headed straight for me. He stuck his hand out, introduced himself, and told me he had been on the lookout for me for many years. He quoted past columns that I had written but stated there was one that was his favorite. He quoted me line and verse about the James Brown Lincoln delivery.

It seems my new friend had been the tour manager for blues legend Etta James, and some years ago they were playing the Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point, Calif. My ears perked up, as not only did I live in Dana Point at the time, but I had attended that blues festival and got to see all the performers, including James Brown, Etta James, Keb Mo and more. Kind of a déjà vu moment as I listened and smiled.

My new best friend then told me that he went to Mr. Brown’s tour bus on-site, introduced himself, and visited for a while. He made the mistake of calling the Godfather of Soul by his name, James. To which he was promptly told that he would be addressed as MR. BROWN! All the while, James Brown was wearing silk robes and enough hair curlers to signal Jupiter on shortwave. Too funny.

Now that the ice was broken between them, he asked Mr. Brown about the ’47 Lincoln delivery and did that guy Dave Sweetman really show him how to drive a stick? Yes, yes and yes. My honor was saved, it seems. I was deemed to not be a fiction writer, as it really did happen as I had said. They traded tales about the tour, cars and, I humbly admit, my services. They then jousted about who was going to close the show at night’s end. I recall that Mr. Brown did, so I know who won that argument. James Brown just tore that house down, it was that good.

It is always a pleasure meeting readers of my goofy stories and tales. I am often amazed that I can be recognized from a small 2-inch picture and have a person come up and recite darn near whole stories. Some of those stories being 22 years old and, in this case, 13 years old. Very humbling, indeed.

As always, thanks to Land Line for a place to sling it and thank you for being readers. LL