Buffalo Remembers Rick James on His Birthday
There are many that believe that February 1st should be a holiday in the Buffalo area. I find myself among that group of people and look forward to wishing Rick James a happy birthday today.
On February 1, 1948, Mabel and James Ambrose Johnson, Sr. welcomed James Ambrose Johnson, Jr. into the world. Rick James was one of eight children born to the family who lived in Buffalo's Ellicott neighborhood. Like many who lived on Buffalo's east side, life wasn't easy for the Johnson family. Rick James attended Orchard Park High School and Bennett High School before dropping out as a teenager. Eventually, he willingly enlisted in the United States Navy as a way to keep himself from being drafted.
After spending time in the Navy, James eventually was ordered to go to Vietnam. After receiving those orders he fled to Canada to keep from going to war. It was in Canada where he was able to really pursue his career in music.
While in Canada Rick James, now going by the name Ricky James Matthews, met Neil Diamond and also created his first band, the Mynah Birds. After recording music and performing in Toronto, Rick James had the opportunity to meet both Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye in Detroit. It was Stevie Wonder who thought Ricky James Matthews was too long of a name to perform under and suggested he shorten it to Rick James. After a few stints in prison for desertion, going AWOL, and evading prison, James returned to Canada.
Not too long after his release Rick James found himself writing music for Motown Records and penned hits for The Spinners and The Miracles. In the late 1970's Rick James started to see his career really begin to take off. After signing a recording deal with Gordy Records, James formed the Stone City Band and began recording new music.
His first solo album, Come Get It!, has gone Platinum 2 times and has given us the hit singles You and I and Mary Jane. In all, Rick James has released a total of 13 albums, two of them going Platinum, two going Gold, and spawning 12 top-10 charting singles.
In addition to his own hits, Rick James also had a major influence on the careers of Teena Marie, The Mary Jane Girls, Bobby Militello, The Temptations, Eddie Murphy, and Smokey Robinson.
Unfortunately, the life of the King of Punk Funk was cut short as Rick James passed away on August 6, 2004, from a heart attack.