The godfather

Downtown James Brown turns 20

Downtown James Brown won’t let us publish his photo, so here’s his hero busting a jam on the grid.

Downtown James Brown won’t let us publish his photo, so here’s his hero busting a jam on the grid.


You’re getting your drink on in Midtown and suddenly hear clapping, followed by hollering and some jive. Yup, it’s likely Downtown James Brown, Sacto’s most popular street performer, causing commotion. And, love him or hate him, this summer DTJB—no real names—celebrates two decades of impersonating the Godfather of Soul. That’s 20 years of front flips, splits, drunken frat bros tossing dollar bills, beatboxing and DTJB bear hugs. Here’s his thoughts on 20:

How’d you learn to dance?

I was gifted with it from Jesus, of course, because he made me. … I used to dance in front of my grandmother all the time—her name is Beulah—and when I’d do my James Brown, she’d go, “Get it boy, get it, get it, get it!”

What’s your plan for this evening?

I stay up till 2 o’clock, hit up all the clubs, do my James Brown. … But I think next month, after the first, I might stop doing James Brown. I’m burnt out. I’m tired. And it’s hard to get a dollar out here, and I don’t like what I have to go through to get money.

So you’re gonna retire?

Oh yeah. I’m only doing it for the money. This is not my life. But I want to let you know that I’m drug-free. Not problem-free. I drink a lot of coffee, though, so if you ever see me moving around real fast, I’m hyped because I’m on caffeine.

How much do you drink?

Five cups a day. I’m shaking right now, talking to Nick Miller.

That isn’t you on Facebook, is it?

I didn’t know that until about a month ago, when I was at Records [on Broadway]. There was a girl named Molly, who works with Kevin, the owner, and she was looking at my Facebook while I was in there listening and buying records. … I was surprised, and it felt good, because it shows that people appreciate me.

What’s your favorite James Brown routine?

“Sex Machine.” “Stay on the scene, like a sex machine / stay on the scene!” I like that.

Can you still do a back flip?

If I do that, I’ll be in the hospital.

What did John McCain say when you met him?

He didn’t say anything. I saw him on the street on 13th and J. He was walking with some bodyguards, and he walked up and I yelled out, “I’m Downtown James Brown; I can imitate James Brown!”

Tell me about the cash.

Some people have been saying that I got a mansion. I got a house. I got a car. Nah. I don’t make much money. I probably make 30, 40 dollars a day. On the weekends, maybe a hundred dollars. I don’t make that much.

Midtown has changed over the years?

It’s crazy down here. But I think I’m good for business. When I’m out here hustling, getting ready to do my James Brown, people are in their chairs waving and waiting. They be all star-studded looking at me.

Why do you keep doing it?

Because I’m broke. Because I don’t get much money a month. I can’t say where I get my other money, because it’s personal, but I do it because I need help and I have to pay my rent.

You live in Midtown?

No, I live out off Northgate.

Do you consider yourself a Sacto legend?

Yeah, yup. … It’s a blessing. I’m gonna put it this way: My Downtown James Brown fans make me who I am. I give most of my credit to my fans.

Where’d you get the nickname?

I got it from a lady who goes to the Zebra Club. She was one of the first ones to see me do my James Brown, back in 1990. I was standing outside the Zebra Club door, daydreaming, waiting for people to come out so I could make some money, and the lady came out and she pushed me, just to get my attention, nothing disrespectful, and she said, “You know what we’re going to call you? Downtown James Brown.”

I really appreciate everyone helping, you know who you are, for 20-something years. I appreciate you all and I love you all.