She's a very freaky cinnamon girl

This #sotd is a great little bit of British-invasion-inflected pop from 1966.  It's a kind of unexpected pivot for Motown Records to take, which sadly (as we'll see) didn't last.  And it's evidently something Robert Smith took to heart when he was writing "Boys Don't Cry."

Who's that singing like Mick Jagger?  Why, it's Rick James.  And the guitar and backing vocals?  Neil Young.

If you are as ignorant of the Mynah Birds as I was until yesterday, you too will be saying, WTF?  But this actually happened.

James signed up with the Navy when he got out of high school in 1966.  He went AWOL when he found he would be shipping out to Vietnam.  Like a whole lot of American kids his age, he fled to Toronto.  There he met up with a bunch of other musicians who had come to the big city to try their luck in its blues-rock music scene.  Which is how Rick James and Neil Young ended up as roommates.

(I'm now imagining a version of The Odd Couple starring Dave Chapelle and Jimmy Kimmel.)

I think my favorite part of this story is that when the Mynah Birds signed with Motown, Berry Gordy gave them the whole treatment:  matching outfits, choreography lessons, the Four Tops singing backup vocals.  There is so much dazzling What Might Have Been here.

What happened instead is that their manager stole all their money.  

James went back to Canada and confronted him, and in retaliation the manager let Motown know that their new band's lead singer was a wanted man in the US.  Motown dropped the band.  The manager ODed on heroin.  Neil Young and Bruce Palmer went off to California and found their way to Buffalo Springfield.  Nick St. Nicholas (along with former Mynah Bird Goldy McJohn) went to LA and formed Steppenwolf.

Rick James went back to America, turned himself in, and did a year in prison for desertion.  He kicked around in the music industry for seven or eight years before hooking up with Motown again, releasing "You and I" and "Mary Jane," and becoming the Rick James of legend.


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