James Ambrose Johnson Jr., more familiar to the world as Rick James, was a singer, songwriter, and musician often regarded as one of the legends of funk. His career spanned multiple decades throughout the 60s and 90s and then a comeback in the 2000s before his passing away in 2004. He performed successfully as both a solo act and as a part of multiple bands like the Mynah Birds and the Stone City Band.
Johnson was born in New York’s Buffalo on 1 February 1948. He grew up in Buffalo with 7 siblings and their mother Mabel. His father James abandoned the family when Johnson was just 10 years of age. His actions left the family fighting for survival and the mother was forced to work multiple jobs to ensure they made it through. She used to work as a dancer under Katherine Dunham and also started working as a numbers runner at a lottery house. Johnson switched between two schools but ended up never completing his high school education. He joined the U.S. Navy Reserve to avoid the draft after lying about his age when he was just 14 years old. He also started playing drums for various bands in his locality.
At the age of 16, he ran away from the navy to Toronto and earned himself a fugitive status in the process. There he coincidentally came across Levon Helm, one of the people who helped him fend off an attack by some drunk men. Levon used to be a member of the backing band for Ronnie Hawkins and he invited Johnson to perform on their show. Soon, Johnson formed a band of his own called The Mynah Birds. The group went through several lineup changes as well as recording under different music labels.
In 1966, Johnson had a dispute with their handler, and their label Motown too came to know of his fugitive status with the U.S. Navy. the label put a hold on all of the band’s activities and Johnson ended up surrendering himself to the FBI. It was decided for him to serve a sentence of hard labor for 5 months. However, he decided to flee again after just over a month. Johnson surrendered himself again and got some help from his attorney cousin.
Johnson had adopted the name Ricky Matthews during his time in hiding, which he later shortened to just Ricky James upon the suggestion of Stevie Wonder. James kicked off his solo career in 1974 under the label A&M Records with his single My Mama. James ended up releasing 12 studio albums between 1978 and 1997. Two more of his albums were released posthumously in the years 2005 and 2007.
During his peak, James was addicted to cocaine and was arrested alongside his girlfriend for keeping a girl hostage and torturing her, in 1991. He served only two years in prison and came out in 1996. In 1997, he released Urban Rhapsody which turned out to be his final album while he was alive. His career continued on a steep decline for years before his appearance on the Chappelle’s Show in 2004 revived his career. Unfortunately, James passed away just months later from cardiac failure.
Birthday & Zodiac Details
- Date of Birth – February 1, 1948
- Birthplace – Buffalo, New York
- Zodiac sign – Aquarius
Body Appearance Height, Weight
- Height – 5’11”
- Weight – 138 lbs / 63 kg
- Profession – Singer, Songwriter.
- Educational Qualification – Middle School
- Religion – Christianity
- Nick Name – Ricky
- Nationality – American
- Residence – N/A
Social Media Accounts
- Instagram – N/A
- Twitter – N/A
- Fb – N/A
At his peak, Rick James was one of the most popular and successful artists of funk and punk worldwide. He earned a big fortune during his time at the top but also spent a lot of it. It is estimated that James’ net worth at the time of his death was just $250K because of the decline he faced for nearly a decade.