I got to see him in action, at least. About ten years ago - I know I've talked about this before, but surely if there's any time that it bears repeating, it must be now.
It was a big three-day outdoor festival called "One World" at some country-club type venue that I don't think was ever used for live music before or since. He played Friday night, and was the only performer of any note on that day's bill - Saturday and Sunday were stacked high with a lot of great acts late and some truly atrocioius ones early. His band was actually pretty tight, running through several medleys of hits, but I have no idea who any of them were. I guess it could have been some real pro pickup guys he rehearsed the shit out of or his actual touring group - I'd guess the latter. JB seemed pretty game to perform, but clearly already too old, stiff and feeble to be dancing and singing with the incredible athleticism that all his nicknames imply. The saddest thing was that he appeared to have abdicated the role of showman in the band to his bassist, a white guy with a beard, specs and combover that gave him the appearance of the stereotypical cube-dwelling wageslave, an impression he dressed up to balance against with a costume featuring a cape, frogged and epauletted jacket and gold rope. The overall impression was Johnny Fever ready to go trick-or-treating as Shazam. The guy was a pretty good player, though, and clearly on top of the world to be playing in the band of a living legend. Anyway, even though they didn't take the stage till after dark, we're still talking about Texas in summer here (it's been long enough that I can't recall which month - could've been any from late May through August, though I'm thinking most likely June) so it was HOT AND MUGGY AS FUCK and I can't blame an old man for not wanting to overexert himself in the bug soup that passes for evening air down here at that time of year. Furthermore, either because he was really the only thing to see on Friday - unlike the other days of the festival, or because a lot of the audience didn't arrive until the second day on account of coming in from way the fuck out of town, or some shit like that, the crowd for that night was much, much too small for the area furnished for it - only a few hundred people in a field that could easily many, many more. By the end of the night Saturday and Sunday, for example, I'd guess the crowd was around ten thousand.
Overall, what can you say? The show was just okay and fairly short at an hour and a half or so, but on the other hand, it was James Motherfucking Brown! A stand was set up to sell fake roses with electric lights in 'em to throw on the stage, and a ribbon attached reading "James Brown, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business." They were $5 apiece, I think, and a lot of people did it, with most buying one to throw and one to save. I didn't (cheapskate, broke) but kind of wish I did, now. I've missed my shot with Johnny Cash, Nina Simone, and Miles Davis, but no-one can take JB away from me.