Bobby Byrd, a longtime collaborator with the late "godfather of soul" James Brown, has died. He was 73.
A singer, songwriter, keyboard player and arranger, Byrd died Wednesday at his home in Loganville, Ga., said a spokesman for Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home in Atlanta. News accounts attributed Byrd's death to cancer.
One of the chief architects of Brown's trademark sound, Byrd made contributions that can be heard on early James Brown soul tracks and on hits that laid the foundations of funk, like "Get Up [I Feel Like Being a] Sex Machine." The punctuating phrase "Get on up," which repeats throughout that song, was sung by Byrd.
"You listen to those records and those voices together, it was incredible," Keith Jenkins, a member of Brown's Soul Generals, told the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle. "Whether they were singing in harmony on something like 'Licking Stick' or doing call and response on 'Sex Machine,' it was always something special."
Byrd was born in 1934 in Toccoa, Ga. He sang in church choirs growing up and met Brown when they were teenagers playing on opposing baseball teams.
Brown was serving a sentence in a north Georgia reform school for breaking into cars and pitched for the juvenile detention facility's team. Byrd, a law-abiding youth, played shortstop for his local youth team.
Byrd and Brown became friends, and in 1952 Byrd's family arranged to take Brown into their home.
Byrd also took Brown into his gospel group. Soon they changed their name to the Famous Flames and their style to hard R&B.
Byrd stayed with the Famous Flames, and the JBs after that, until 1973. Later, he would have a string of modest R&B hits.
Starting in the 1980s, Byrd enjoyed a resurgence in popularity when hip-hop artists began sampling his music for their recordings, most notably Eric B. and Rakim's use of Byrd's 1971 song "I Know You Got Soul" in 1987.
In 2003, Byrd sued Brown and his record label for unpaid royalties on songs he said he wrote, including the breakout 1956 single "Please, Please, Please." The lawsuit was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.
Despite the legal wrangling, the two men remained on good terms. Byrd performed at Brown's memorial service in December.
"Uncle Bobby and Daddy, they were like brothers," Brown's daughter Deanna Brown told the Augusta Chronicle this week.
Byrd's survivors include his wife, Vicki Anderson, who also sang and performed in Brown's touring band.