CULTURE- FRIDAYS UPDATE Brown study: Big Payback honors the godfather

The Big Payback

It was one of the most unpredictable twists of fate Richmond drummer Dusty Ray Simmons has faced: after nursing his love for James Brown's music for years, he finally took it upon himself to start a tribute band in February 2006. But Brown died on Christmas morning later that year, creating the opportunity for The Big Payback to fill the void in 2007.

"We didn't set out saying, 'Hey, James Brown looks like he's about to croak,'" Simmons insists with a laugh. He says the band has been bearing down on reworking their arrangements of Brown's classics, even if the older versions aren't yet road-worn.

"We constantly work on the show, because we don't want it to be the same thing," he says.  "James Brown continually changed up his show– if he wasn't firing musicians, he was re-hiring them or hiring new ones."

The Big Payback's lineup has remained relatively stable, however, with musicians from assorted Richmond bands like Outback Lodge staples the DJ Williams Projekt, with whom Simmons plays drums.

It's hard to keep them all in one place these days, though, what with all the festivals and heavy gigging schedules. "Summer, as a musician, is prime working time," says Simmons. That's what landed him a slot at Charlottesville's most popular weekly musical event, a show he says will be their largest yet.

"Do you know anybody who doesn't like James Brown?" he asks. "If it's advertised correctly, I think it'll be packed. That music brings everyone together."  

That's exactly what it did last summer, when the late Godfather himself graced the stage of the Pavilion for one of the last shows of his 50-year career.

"To be the band that's going to bring back whatever was there that people felt, or at least try, is an honor and a challenge," says Simmons. The hardest working man in show business may have left some of the biggest shoes to fill, but Simmons and company are sure going to try.