There Was a Time: James Brown, The Chitlin’ Circuit, and Me

By Alan Leeds, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson

“Alan Leeds was a protegé of James Brown and a true historian of the world that nurtured the great entertainer. Alan was a witness to the vibrant black music scene of the ’60s and ’70s—whose book is both a memoir and a document of a lost world of sound.”—Nelson George, an American author, columnist, music and culture critic, journalist, and filmmaker

A behind-the-scenes look at the Chitlin’ Circuit during American’s most vital period of soul music—from the eyes and ears of a young, Jewish kid from Queens who joined the team of the hardest working man in show business and learned the art of the music business at the hand of the performer who mastered it.

In the mid-’60s, Alan Leeds was a young DJ looking for his way into the music business. An interview with James Brown to promote a local show in Virginia led to an opportunity to promote one of Brown’s concerts, which then led to Brown hiring him to help run his tours. Soon Leeds was wearing many hats and traveling around the country as Brown battled a complicated web of local promoters and managers, all too willing to try to rip him off.

In this riveting book—part memoir, part history—Leeds weaves a wholly new and remarkable portrait of Brown as an idiosyncratic iconoclast, determined artist, and forceful businessman. It is a rare look into a world little known to white America immediately following the Civil Rights Movement. Leeds discovers that Brown is a fascinatingly complex man and their experiences, both business and personal, range from emotional to humorous. All the while, they navigate the complicated world of popular Black music in America, told by someone who actually lived it.

“Over the course of his long life in music as a tour manager, archivist, writer, and fan, Alan Leeds had a ringside seat for some of the greatest moments in soul and funk history—from James Brown in the sixties to Prince in the eighties to D’Angelo in the first years of the 21st century. His eye for detail and his abiding love for the music shine through in this affectionate, inspirational memoir. Alan is one of my all-time heroes!” –Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson