Why does James Brown always say "hit me!"?
May 25, 2016 4:14 AM   Subscribe

Is it a drug thing? Some variation of telling the band to "hit it"? Was this a part of Southern / Black vernacular? What does it MEAN?
posted by Meatbomb to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I thought he meant hit me with the beat or the music, talking to his band.
posted by ReluctantViking at 4:36 AM on May 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

More likely just a way to engage the horn section in the classic call-and-response structure while indicating to the audience that the sound of the horns carries its own weight and power giving the music itself a pugilistic characteristic with the rhythm itself punctuated by aggression.

Also, boxing itself used to be a sport with strong support nationally and some of the first true nationally-recognized heroes of the black community were people like Jack Johnson and Joe Louis. You can even draw a straight line through from boxing to James Brown's stage act with some of the pageantry (the cape thing) and his dance moves (shuffling footwork), not to mention his jingoistic support of Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV.
posted by GamblingBlues at 4:41 AM on May 25, 2016 [15 favorites]

As a musical cue to the band. "Hit Me, Fred: Recollections of a Sideman" will probably have you covered. "James Brown put that stamp on me," Wesley recalls. "I had to come up to it when he said, 'Hit me Fred.'"
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:04 AM on May 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

He's asking them to hit him with "the one"
posted by sallybrown at 5:14 AM on May 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

I think ReluctantViking has it in terms of how James Brown is using it, but I always assumed he probably got the term via blackjack/card games, where you say "hit me" when you want another card. The meaning of "hit me" has kind of broadened over time from that game use into basically sometimes having a meaning of "I want it now"/"let's do this now"/"contact me now".
posted by gudrun at 7:10 AM on May 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've always taken it as a directive to the band to produce a powerful enough sound for it to "hit" or "move" the listener.

It isn't a drug reference and I do not think its a turn of phrase specific to southern culture or black people.
posted by Julnyes at 7:13 AM on May 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

An orchestra hit, also known as an orchestral hit, orchestra stab, or orchestral stab, is a sound created through the layering of the sounds of a number of different orchestral instruments playing a single staccato note or chord.
Hit's are particularily effective from a horn section, which James Brown pretty much always had. When James Brown said "hit me" he was asking for a "hit" from the horn section.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:01 AM on May 25, 2016 [14 favorites]

Doesn't it refer to card games, when a dealer offers a player another card, like in Blackjack/21 or poker?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:22 AM on May 25, 2016

The term "orchestra hit" as used above refers to a sound played by a digital sampler; it would not have been what James Brown was referring to.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:09 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Orchestra hits" have been around a lot longer than digital samplers. Take the 4th and 5th bars on page 7 of this arrangement [pdf] of Night on Bald Mountain (About 0:29 in this Youtube clip from Fantasia).

Compare that to the "pop pop" of the horns in I Feel Good in the first verse after Brown sings "so good." It's the same effect, which my band teachers always referred to as a "hit."

Then, you have The Payback, at 2:26, Brown says "Hit em Fred, hit em," and gets 2 and a halfish hits back.

I mean, it's also a really popular sample (even my crappy 90s keyboards that that as a "voice" option) but having the instruments all "hit" the same chord for emphasis has a long history.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:20 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd be surprised if James Brown was the first person to use "hit me" like that. It seems about as obvious as saying "guitar" before a guitar solo, or something like that, and, at least early on, the sound that Brown had was not that big a departure from big band music with prominent leaders with big horn stabs, or jump blues with smaller horn sections. The odds that Cab Calloway or Duke Ellington didn't say "hit me" before a big horn stab in their extremely long careers, long before James Brown was a musician, is very low.
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 1:43 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

The odds that ... Duke Ellington didn't say "hit me" before a big horn stab in their extremely long careers, long before James Brown was a musician, is very low.

posted by sparklemotion at 2:14 PM on May 25, 2016

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