Rick James

February 1, 1948 – August 6, 2004

James Ambrose Johnson Jr. was born in Buffalo, NY. His mother worked as a dancer and numbers runner to make ends meet. Young James would often accompany her on her rounds and he was exposed to bars that featured musicians like Miles Davis and Etta James. Needless to say, he liked what he saw and it was music from there out. Well, music and drugs, but I digress. He got in trouble quite a bit as a young man, so he joined the Navy, as one does. Not finding military life to be for him, and finding himself under orders to go to Vietnam, he fled to Toronto and started performing music under the name Ricky James Matthews. Long story short, he met Neil Young, moved to Detroit, met Stevie Wonder (who encouraged him to shorten his stage name to “Ricky James”) and signed with Motown. Motown found out about his fugitive status and refused to work with him until he got his legal issues settled. A couple stints in the brig later, and Ricky James finally found himself writing and producing songs for Motown and recording in various duos and groups. Eventually, he headed to Los Angeles where his solo career took off. His use of crossover genres led to a new sound in funk. His massive 1981 single “Super Freak” marked the peak of his career. Not that he stopped there. In all, he released a dozen albums and worked with everyone from the Temptations to Eddie Murphy. Health issues, accusations of abuse and drug use started to take their toll on James and he went quiet for a while in the ’90s following a small stroke. His pop-culture relevance was revived in 2004 when he was featured on an immensely popular “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories” segment during an episode of Chappelle’s Show. A few months after the episode aired, James was found dead in his home in L.A. The official cause of death read like a laundry list of health conditions and drug cocktails.



Forest Lawn Cemetery – Buffalo NY

Specific Location

Enter the large cemetery’s southwest gate (intersection of Delaware and W. Delavan Avenues) and continue straight-ish until you reach a small bridge that crosses a stream. Turn left before the bridge and stop at the 7th tree on your right. Rick is buried 16 rows from this tree.


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