The book: Rick James has a wild story. He became the sex- and drug-obsessed yet one of the biggest pop stars of the ’80s from humble beginnings in Buffalo, N.Y., housing projects. While still a teenager, he abandoned his post in the Navy, fleeing to Toronto where he became bandmates with folksinger Neil Young. Just as they signed with Motown Records, James found himself facing charges of desertion and ended up watching his bandmates rise to stardom serving from a jail cell. A few lovers, two children, and a marriage later, James was back with Motown, creating “punk funk,” taking that company into uncharted musical waters.
Rick James attempted to tell his story in two unfinished autobiographies, but he left out many incidents that reflected poorly on him. Until now, nobody has written about every part of his life. Peter Benjaminson paints the full picture in Super Freak: The Life of Rick James (Chicago Review Press), drawing from court records, newspaper archives, and interviews with dozens of James’ family members, friends, band members, and lovers.
The author: Peter Benjaminson *77 is also the author of The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard, Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar (Chicago Review Press), and Investigative Reporting (Iowa State Press) with David Anderson. He has also written for the Detroit Free Press and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Opening lines: “In February 2004 Dave Chappelle iconically portrayed Rick James as an obnoxious, coked-up lunatic on Chappelle’s Show on Comedy Central, giving a boost to James’ legendary status. Rick’s out-of-control drug use and crimes against women in the 1990s had received widespread publicity, informing Chappelle’s characterization.
But years earlier Rick had blazed a musical trail that led to him becoming one of the Motown Record Corporation’s final superstars. He was a talented composer, a riveting performer, and a gifted producer who made hits in the 1970s and ’80s not only for himself but for his protégés, including Teena Marie, the Mary Jane Girls, and the Stone City Band, with whom he signed a contract with Motown’s Gordy Records in 1977.”
Reviews: Kirkus Reviews says, “Benjaminson … delivers a matter-of-fact biography of a musician whose extremes — both the highs and the lows — defy belief.”