James Brown performs “Sex Machine” on Late Night with David Letterman, 1982



As David Letterman winds down his multi-decade television career, many are reminiscing about the plethora of musical guests he has hosted over the years. We dug around in the archives and found this gem for you. On July 12, 1982, James Brown made a special appearance on Letterman, singing “Get Up I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine,” “There Was a Time,” and “I’ve Got the Feelin’.”

Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band did a great job of providing a sparse, tight, and funky backing track for the Godfather of Soul, who brought in a couple players from the JB Horns. Guitarist Hiram Bullock is solid on guitar, along with bassist Will Lee, and drummer Steve Jordan, who proved he could keep up and, in fact, was the one who chose to play “Sex Machine” when JB asked the band what they wanted to play (according to Shaffer’s memoir, recounted here). Bullock chose “There Was a Time.”

“On ‘Sex Machine,’ James wanted a fast tempo,” Shaffer wrote. “That’s the tradition of live R&B. It’s all about energy. Steve Jordan, though, was a young buck who wanted to re-create the groove he’d heard on wax. He didn’t quite understand that when you deal with the Godfather of Soul, you put the groove where he wants it. James won out and the funk got thick.”

The best part is when James runs over to the piano during “Sex Machine” to play the iconic lick and Paul just stops playing his B-3 to watch over his shoulder.

Dave bumped a guest so that JB and the band could run through “I’ve Got the Feelin'” at the end of the show, a spontaneous idea that everyone jumped on.


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4 Responses

  1. I thought JAMES BROWN even before Paul mentioned it.. but I wasn’t even sure if Brown was on the show! I thought …hmm the 80s wasn’t a stellar run for Brown – but out of Paul’s lips comes JB . Pretty frickin cool for TV.

    – oats

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