James Brown on Gerald Ford
As far as I'm aware, the late Gerald Ford never made a public statement about the merits of the late James Brown. Brown weighed in on Ford, though, in his 1986 memoir The Godfather of Soul, written with Bruce Tucker:
I released another message song around this time, too: "Funky President (People It's Bad)." It was about President Ford, who had taken over from Mr. Nixon in August. Every time he made a speech, it gave people the blues. He was a nice man, but he talked a lot and didn't say anything. He was there as a caretaker after Watergate, and I think he did that. He was a good man, but I never looked at him as a president.
That last line wasn't meant as praise, but as far as I'm concerned it's the kindest thing you can say about a politician. I can fault Ford for many things, from pardoning Nixon to meddling in Angola, but I'd take a Ford over a Bush any day. Caretakers are my favorite kind of president, and it would be wonderful to have a chief executive who doesn't fret about his "place in history."
As for "Funky President," for years I assumed the song was about Nixon, who Brown infamously endorsed in 1972. I even wrote as much in an obit for Nixon in Liberty 12 years ago. (Consider this post a belated correction.) In my defense, it has some of the most opaque lyrics in the history of political songwriting. Here's a sample:
Let's get together and get some land
Raise our food like the Man
Save our money like the Mob
Put up a fight down on the job…
Turn up your funk motor, get down and praise the Lord
Get sexy sexy, get funky and dance
Love me baby, love me nice
Don't make it once, can you make it twice
Brown was a great musician, a great composer, and a great American, but he wasn't always a cogent commentator. The important thing is that "Funky President" is one of most danceable singles he ever recorded. If Gerald Ford inspired it, it ranks as one of the greatest accomplishments of his administration.