Rick James (born James Ambrose Johnson, Jr. February 1, 1948 ÔÇô August 6, 2004) was an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer.
Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, James began his musical career in his teen years in various bands and groups before entering the U.S. Navy to avoid being drafted in the early 1960s. In 1965, James deserted to Toronto, Canada, where he formed the rock band the Mynah Birds, who eventually signed a recording deal with Motown Records in 1966. James’ career with the group halted after military authorities discovered his whereabouts and eventually convicted James on a one-year prison term related to the draft charges. After being released, James moved to California where he started a variety of rock and funk groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
After forming the Stone City Band in his hometown of Buffalo in 1977, James finally found success as a recording artist after signing with Motown’s Gordy Records, releasing the album, Come Get It!, in April 1978, where the hits “You & I” and “Mary Jane”, were released, helping the album go platinum and selling over two million records. This was followed with three more successful album releases. James released his most successful album, Street Songs, in 1981, which included career-defining hits such as “Give It to Me Baby” and “Super Freak”, the latter song becoming his biggest crossover single, mixing elements of funk, disco, rock and new wave. James was also known for his soulful ballads such as “Fire & Desire” and “Ebony Eyes”. In addition, James also had a successful career as a songwriter and producer for other artists including Teena Marie, the Mary Jane Girls, the Temptations, Eddie Murphy and Smokey Robinson.