The early part of the book looks at James' youth in his hometown of Buffalo, not a pretty picture as Rick gets into petty theft, smoking weed and experimenting with heroin. But his musical inclinations are also developing as he learns to play the drums, and the most important take-away from the early chapters is that James had a strong love and respect for his mother (who, as a numbers runner, operated in the shadows herself) and their bond would hold sway over many of the decisions Rick made throughout his career.
Most Rick James fans never heard of him until he started having hits like "Super Freak" but he had a lengthy career prior to that. James often traveled to Toronto looking for gigs and that's where he met up with Neil Young and formed the Mynah Birds, a group that also included Bruce Palmer who would later join Young in Buffalo Springfield.
The Mynah Birds had a chance at fame but it didn't pan out and James was later hurt when Young and Palmer didn't ask him to join Buffalo Springfield.
Adding to the story are things like how James joined the Naval Reserves only to go AWOL, his romantic and (sometimes graphically detailed) sexual exploits including an affair with Marvin Gaye's wife, his voracious appetite for cocaine and lots of other bad boy stuff.
Between the arrests (and prison time) and the drugs and all the other obstacles that James mostly laid for himself there is so much heartbreak and disappointment to the story that the part where he's riding high is almost just a footnote as the reader knows the other shoe is eventually going to drop.
Because Ritz has put the book together in Rick's voice though the story is told very conversationally, like the late star is sitting right there reminiscing candidly, and that makes for a fun read even through the sadness.
Order the book here.
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