By Ray Negron
In the spring of 1998, I received a phone call from Bobby Rossi who is responsible for scheduling all of the incredible talent at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida.
Bobby told me that the godfather of soul, James Brown, was going to be performing at the arena and that Mr. Brown really wanted to meet Dwight “Doc” Gooden. When I told Doc he was very excited and thought that l might be pulling a prank. We arrived at Ruth Eckerd Hall early so that we could watch the sound check.
I was amazed at how totally in control Mr Brown was of everything that was happening on stage and in the arena. It was as if he had eyes in the back of his head. At one point, I pulled out an instamatic camera that I had in my pocket and at the flash of an eye Mr Brown stopped everything, turned around and in his famous voice screamed out, “No pictures.!” I was shocked and Doc just couldn’t stop laughing, which made it even more embarrassing. Then, in a flash he was back to rehearsing his song “This is a Mans World.” After the rehearsal we were escorted to Mr Brown’s dressing room. The first thing that Mr. Brown said was “Did I shake you up?” I said, “You sure did!” Doc again went into a laughing attack which made me the center of Mr. Brown’s jokes.
Mr Brown Enjoyed talking to Gooden about the fact that when he was young he was also a pitcher. He said that he could have been as good as Satchel Page, the famous Negro League pitcher. At this point, Doc and I looked at each other because we hear things like this all the time. Mr Brown even went through some pitching motions that Doc thought were pretty impressive–Mr Brown was actually a very good athlete. He had to be in order to able to do some of the moves that he did on stage. At one point the three of us sat alone in his room and talked about the “demons” that the two of them had dealt with and would always have to deal with, their drug addiction. What they talked about I will leave up to Dwight to share with you if he ever cares to. I will say that Mr Brown was quite sincere.
Mr Brown and I stayed in touch up until his death. I became very close to his manager through his love of baseball and I was always able to hook them up with tickets whenever they were in town.
Mr Brown and I had another thing in common, our great fascination for Elvis Presley. Mr Brown loved Elvis like a brother. He used to tell me some incredible stories about times that they spent together and I just couldn’t get enough of the stories. For me, the best story the one about the song, “In the Ghetto” The song was written by the artist Mack Davis, who had a pretty good singing career in his own right. When Davis gave it to Elvis, his people thought that he (Elvis) shouldn’t do it. They thought that the song and its message maybe should be delivered by a black singer. This really bothered Elvis because when it came to this subject he was different from a lot of his friends and always went out off his way to help many African Americans. So Elvis called Mr Brown and Mr Brown told Elvis that he and only he should sing that song and deliver the message. That song was received well by all people and wouldn’t you know that it would be Elvis Presley’s last number one song. Mr Brown was very proud of Elvis and what he did with that song. Mr Brown also told me that when Elvis Presley died it was one of the worst days of his life and he said that other than the people that lived at Graceland, he was the first person there upon hearing the news. He said that most people never knew how close they really were and told me that the only arguments they had were over who knew more Gospel songs. He said that no one respected Elvis as much as he did and vice versa.
Baseball has afforded me the luxury of meeting some of the greatest stars of all time. This being the end of Black history month, its my honor to share my story of one of the truly all time great entertainers. I thank God that through his interest in Dwight Gooden, I was able to know him enough to say that he was a very good man and an incredible talent. This World was lucky to have him.
James Brown, The Godfather of Soul!
Additionally, Ray can be heard on weekends on IMPACT on ESPN Radio 1050am talking baseball and entertainment. His writes a weekly column for NY Sports Day, Newsmax And Baseball America. A powerful and inspirational speaker, he passionately shares his amazing journey, revealing his experience with the Bronx Bombers, special relationship with Steinbrenner and what it was like to hang around some of baseball’s greats. For more information about Ray please check out his website batboyhelps.com