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Group Members: Pee Wee Ellis, Pee Wee Ellis featuring Fred Wesley & Fred Ross, Parker, Maceo, The JB's and Fred Wesley, Clyde Stubblefield, Fred Wesley & The Swing ‘N Jazz All-Stars, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker
All Music Guide:
The J.B.'s were the legendary supporting cast of musicians behind James Brown, earning a well-deserved reputation as the tightest, best-drilled instrumental ensemble in all of funk. The name J.B.'s is most often associated with three hornmen in particular -- saxophonists Maceo Parker and Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, and trombonist Fred Wesley, all of whom originally joined Brown's backing band at various points during the '60s. As a recording entity unto themselves, however, the J.B.'s enjoyed a distinctly defined heyday from 1970-1975, under the musical directorship of Wesley (though Brown, naturally, remained a strong presence). The J.B.'s were billed under a variety of alternate names on their own singles and albums -- Fred Wesley and the J.B.'s, Maceo and the Macks, Fred and the New J.B.'s, the James Brown Soul Train, the Last Word, the First Family, and more. The core group of personnel, despite some turnover on the periphery, remained fairly steady from 1971 on, at least until Brown's creative downturn precipitated several important defections.
The first official version of the J.B.'s was formed in 1970, after the notoriously demanding Brown's regular band (excepting organist/vocalist Bobby Byrd) walked out on him. Caught in a pinch, Brown recruited a Cincinnati-based R&B band called the Pacemakers, who'd already toured behind Brown favorite Hank Ballard. Brothers Phelps "Catfish" Collins (guitar) and William "Bootsy" Collins (bass) anchored the lineup, as well as the first J.B.'s single, 1970's "The Grunt." The Collins brothers, of course, would play a crucial role in Brown's transition to heavy, groove-centered funk. One by one, some of Brown's previous bandmembers returned to the fold, including Fred Wesley, who accepted Brown's offer to become musical director of the J.B.'s in December 1970. However, the lineup splintered with the departure of the Collins brothers just a few months later, leaving Wesley with only guitarist Hearlon "Cheese" Martin, drummer John "Jabo" Starks, and tenor saxman St. Clair Pinckney. This nucleus was quickly fleshed out with bassist Fred Thomas and saxophonist Jimmy Parker (who'd never played alto prior to joining the band); soon, there was also a trumpet section, usually featuring Jerone "Jasaan" Sanford, Russell Crimes, and Isiah "Ike" Oakley.
Brown began to release recordings by the newly constituted J.B.'s on his own People label with some frequency beginning in 1971, and the group scored a couple of Top 40 R&B hits with "Pass the Peas" and "Gimme Some More." By 1972, previous Brown guitarist Jimmy Nolen had returned alongside Cheese Martin, and conga player Johnny Griggs was back in tow as well. That year saw the release of the first J.B.'s full-length, Food for Thought. Wesley was still the band's only real soloist, so in early 1973, Brown convinced legendary alto man Maceo Parker to rejoin. His first record back with the group was "Doing It to Death," a long jam with guest vocals from Brown that topped the R&B charts in edited form; it was also the title track of their second album, and the first single credited to Fred Wesley & the J.B.'s, affirming that Wesley was still without question the leader. Still, the J.B.'s also began to cut sides under the name Maceo & the Macks, including the Top 20 R&B hit "Soul Power '74" and the 1974 album Us!!. Meanwhile, under their original name, the Wesley-led J.B.'s released another successful LP that year in Damn Right I Am Somebody, which spun off three Top 40 R&B hits in "Same Beat," "If You Don't Get It the First Time, Back Up and Try It Again, Party," and the title track. The follow-up album, Breakin' Bread, issued later that year, was credited to Fred and the New J.B.'s, even though the band's personnel remained essentially the same (although John Morgan was easing into Starks' slot as the regular drummer).
By late 1974, however, Brown's commercial momentum was beginning to slow, and that carried over to the J.B.'s as well. The First Family single "Control (People Go Where We Send You)," which featured Brown, Lyn Collins, and other vocalists, failed to perform up to expectations. By the time of 1975's Hustle With Speed album, band morale was low, and Wesley was growing frustrated with Brown's sudden loss of direction. On the Fourth of July, Wesley quit the group to join up with George Clinton, and Maceo Parker soon followed. Bassist Thomas, drummers Starks (who'd joined B.B. King's band) and Morgan, guitarist Martin, and saxophonist Jimmy Parker all drifted away, leaving Jimmy Nolen and Russell Crimes the only consistent members left on the final J.B.'s single, 1976's "Everybody Wanna Get Funky One More Time." Polydor subsequently shut down Brown's People imprint, effectively ending the myriad side projects he'd managed during the first half of the decade. He continued to tour with differing versions of the J.B.'s, including a late-'70s outfit dubbed the J.B.'s International, but for all intents and purposes, the true J.B.'s no longer existed.
Periodic J.B.'s reunions ensued in the years to come; Wesley, Parker, and Alfred Ellis (who actually only played on a couple of J.B.'s sessions) toured Europe with Bobby Byrd in 1988, and cut a reunion album, Pee Wee, Fred and Maceo, the following year. They continued to tour and record together off and on during the '90s under the name the JB Horns. A more extensive J.B.'s reunion took place in 2002 on the album Bring the Funk On Down, which also included Bootsy Collins, Bobby Byrd, and Jabo Starks, among others.
The J.B.'s (sometimes punctuated The JB's or The J.B.s) was the name of James Brown's band from 1970 through the early 1980s. On record the band was sometimes billed under alternate names such as The James Brown Soul Train, Maceo and the Macks, A.A.B.B., The First Family and The Last Word. In addition to backing Brown, the J.B.'s played behind Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins and other singers associated with the James Brown Revue, and performed and recorded as a self-contained group.
The "original" J.B.'s 
The J.B.'s were formed in March 1970 after most of the members of Brown's previous band walked out on him over a pay dispute. (Brown's previous bands of the 1950s and 1960s had been known as The James Brown Band and The James Brown Orchestra.) The J.B.'s initial lineup included bassist William "Bootsy" Collins and his guitarist brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins, formerly of the obscure funk band The Pacemakers; Bobby Byrd (founder of the original Famous Flames singing group (organ), and John "Jabo" Starks (drums), both holdovers from Brown's 60s band; three inexperienced horn players, Clayton "Chicken" Gunnells, Darryl "Hasaan" Jamison, and Robert McCollough; and conga player Johnny Griggs. This version of the J.B.'s played on some of Brown's most intense funk recordings, including "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine", "Super Bad", "Soul Power", and "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing". They also accompanied Brown on a European tour (during which they recorded the long-delayed live album Love Power Peace), performed on the Sex Machine double LP, and released two instrumental singles, the much-sampled "The Grunt" and "These Are the J.B.'s".
Other lineups 
In December 1970 trombonist Fred Wesley rejoined James Brown's organization to lead the J.B.'s. Other former Brown sidemen including Maceo Parker and St. Clair Pinckney eventually followed his lead, while the Collins brothers and most of the rest of the "original" J.B.'s left Brown to join George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic collective. The J.B.'s lineup shifted frequently thereafter, and the group that had been the J.B.'s essentially disbanded following the departures of Wesley and Parker in 1976.
In addition to backing Brown on stage and on record during this era, the J.B.'s also recorded albums and singles on their own, sometimes with Brown performing on organ or synthesizer. Their albums were generally a mixture of heavy funk tracks and some more jazz-oriented pieces. They scored a number of chart hits in the early 1970s, including "Pass the Peas", "Gimme Some More", and the No. 1 R&B hit, "Doing It to Death". Credited to "Fred Wesley & the J.B.'s", "Doing It to Death" sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in July 1973.
The 1974 album "Breakin' Bread" is unique, in that most of the songs have a Fred Wesley spoken reminiscence dubbed onto the beginning of the song, each time over a canned backing track. This is in sharp contrast to James Brown's real-time dominance of the proceedings on the classic "Doing It to Death" LP. A similar oddity is encountered on the other 1974 album, "Damn Right I Am Somebody", where 20-second extensions of that album's track-2 jam (each including James Brown's trademark shriek) have been spliced onto the beginnings of most of the other songs. Nearly all of the J.B.'s recordings were produced by Brown, and most were released on his own label, People Records. As funk music gave way in popularity to disco in the 1970s, the group's material and arrangements changed accordingly.
Under the name A.A.B.B., the group released a single, "Pick up the Pieces One By One", which reached No. 108 on the U.S. charts in 1975. The name was a reference to the then-popular funk group Average White Band and stood for "Above Average Black Band".
Like most of James Brown's music, the J.B.'s recorded output has been heavily mined for samples by hip hop DJs and record producers.
The JB Horns 
During the 1980s and 1990s, Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley intermittently toured under the name The JB Horns, sometimes with other former Brown sidemen such as Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis in tow. The JB Horns recorded several albums for the Gramavision label which were later reissued by Rhino Records. They also recorded an album under this name with producer Richard Mazda called I Like It Like That.
The JB Horns are also associated with The Horny Horns, staple members of P-Funk and Bootsy's Rubber Band, which was led by Fred Wesley and included Maceo, as well as Rick Gardner and Richard "Kush" Griffith on trumpets.
A version of the J.B.'s including Fred Wesley, Bootsy Collins, Pee Wee Ellis, Bobby Byrd and Clyde Stubblefield assembled to record the 1999 "reunion" album Bring the Funk on Down, dedicated to the memory of St. Clair Pinckney. The album was released in Japan by P-Vine Records, and in 2002 it was reissued in the U.S. by Instinct Records.
More recently, a reunion of the original JBs rhythm section, with Bootsy and Phelps Collins, Clyde Stubblefield, and Jabo Starks, and supplemented by Bernie Worrell, recorded the Superbad movie soundtrack. In December of that year they went on to perform the first tribute concert remembering James Brown.