date published: February 25, 2008

5 questions with...

Fred WesleyFred Wesley
by Josh B. Wardrop

Trombonist Fred Wesley is a bonafide funk/soul/jazz legend—an ex-member of James Brown’s band The JBs, Parliament and The Count Basie Orchestra—whose work can be heard on classic songs like “The Payback” and “Sex Machine.” Wesley performs at Berklee Performance Center on February 28.

Q: You’ve played for two genius bandleaders. How were James Brown and George Clinton similar, and how did they differ?
They were both extremely creative—they could make a big hit out of the simplest idea. Their attitudes differed—George was a friendly guy who’d say “just do your thing.” James was more “do it just like this”…and then he’d take all the credit!

Q: The 1968 James Brown show at the Boston Garden the day after Martin Luther King was killed: what do you remember about that night?
I was brand-new to the band, and I was worried about playing well. I was mourning Dr. King and worried about my family possibly being caught up in the violence. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the show had helped reduce violence in Boston.

Q: What do you think of today’s popular music?
I like some of the artists with a groove, but I think hip-hop overall is getting less musical. I guess I’m too old school!

Q: At Berklee, you’ll be playing with the school’s James Brown Ensemble. Is it exciting to be around young talent?
It’s a real thrill. Berklee is a mecca of music, and I’m very anxious to share what I know with these students.

Q: How does it feel to see the endurance of the songs you recorded?
I’m really gratified…and those songs still earn me a great living. James actually had to force me to take writing credits! He offered me 25% of “Soul Power,” and that song alone has taken care of my family. He was a very smart man.