Peter Benjaminson

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'Super Freak: The Life of Rick James' Out in March

Super Freak: The Life of Rick James

Rick James played with Neil Young, self-produced his first album (later picked up by Motown), crossed rock and funk to come up with one of the best-selling albums of the 1980s, became one of the biggest pop stars of the era, turned a young white woman named Teena Marie into an R&B superstar, displayed an outrageously sex- and drug-filled lifestyle, was tried and found guilty of assaulting and imprisoning a young woman, went on to record new music that was compared to the Beatles’ White Album, and ended his life as a punch line for Dave Chappelle. James attempted to tell his own story—in two different books—but left out many incidents that showed who he really was. Now, based on court records, newspaper archives, and extensive interviews with dozens of family members, band members, friends, and lovers, here is the definitive biography of Motown’s most controversial superstar.

"A matter-of-fact biography of a musician whose extremes—both the highs and the lows—defy belief. Has popular music ever spawned a more unlikely superstar than Rick James (1948-2004)? Incorrigible at school and at home, sexually active since the age of 9, he was an unlikely and underage Navy enlistee and then a deserter while still in his mid-teens. He fled across the border to Toronto, where he found himself in a musical hotbed that led to connections with Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and future members of Steppenwolf but also to all sorts of criminal activity that led him to be deported at least twice. Any hope for a musical career depended on America, where he would be subject to military justice if he returned. Then there was the fact that he really wasn't much of a musician. "Although Rick would occasionally boast about being a great instrumentalist," writes the author, "no musician who ever heard him play any instrument for more than a couple minutes ever believed him"—and he was only serviceable as a singer. Yet he was always an outsized personality, a flamboyant figure, and a gifted mimic ("Rick Jagger" in his Toronto days), someone whose ambition was exceeded only by the appetites that eventually destroyed him. It's a good story [and] suggests how much more there was to both [Rick's] artistry and insanity...." - KIRKUS REVIEWS.