*Sitting down and talking to music industry veterans is one of our most favorite things. It seems that everyone has a story or two about someone they once associated with. Most of the time those stories are very funny, but they are often sad as well. Recently EURweb.com had the pleasure speaking with longtime industry veteran Robert Funderberg about his onetime client and longtime friend, Rick James.
As you can imagine, it’s almost impossible to speak about the late funk-rocker without the subject of drugs coming up. Funderberg recalls a hilarious, but somber story of the DEA, Rick, a guitar and yes drugs.
[Read on/and or scroll down to listen to Funderberg's account]
“This is during the Urban Rhapsody Tour, so we had a show at the House of Blues in Orlando,” he explained. “I got a call from the DEA. They wanted to know if Rick James would sign a guitar they were going to auction off for a charity function. I said no problem. In exchange they would go take his family on Safari that they had down there. I arrive at the performance and I have two DEA agents on either side of me. We’re talking, enjoying the show. I tell them I’m trying to change Rick’s image and, hopefully, we’re trying to move forward, do a serious come back, he’s changed, etcetera.”
For those that do not know or may have forgotten the Urban Rhapsody Tour was in support of Rick James’ album by the same name. It was his first comeback attempt after serving a 2 year jail sentence on drug related charges and had swore to clean up his life.
“So, as he’s performing I see someone from the crowd throw a cellophane bag on the stage, what I think is cocaine and heroin,” he continued. “Commonly known on the streets as an 8 Ball. And it lands right in front of him. As I’m talking to them I say ‘I don’t believe this’ and my hair starts to turn gray. As we’re talking I say ‘excuse me’. They did not see it because it’s dark in the club, the music was blaring, and they were focusing on him. They didn’t see, I saw it. Once I saw it I’m really trying to engage them to look at me.”
“I tried to block them with my body from seeing in the direction that I’m going, towards the cellophane bag, because I’m a pretty big guy. I walk in front of him, snatch the bag up and tuck it away in my shirt. Went back to them, then excused myself to the men’s room and flush it. By the time I get back the show’s over. Rick then comes up to me and says ‘Robert, where’s that bag at?’ I said ‘the one I flushed down the toilet that you don’t want, right?’ He said ‘Uh, yeah, yeah, that’s right.'”
Though to reminisce on the tomfoolery of his now deceased friend/client gave all that were present a hearty chuckle, it was at a price. Immediately following the laughter the mood became somber indeed.
“Unfortunately, half the time I was battling guys that would come in there because they had benefited from when he was a multi-millionaire tremendously … when he was getting high,” Funderberg explained. “And they would come in there to supply him with drugs at his concerts. So, I would tell security ‘no they can’t come in’. I didn’t want to see them in the building. But I couldn’t watch him 24-7.”
If there was anyone that would have some reason to watch James around the clock it was Robert Funderberg. He was not only Rick’s manager, he was as close to being a family member as one can get without actually being related. Robert went on to tell EURweb.com that, despite reports to the contrary, Rick James was a great guy and was even gullible at times. But there was a dark side to him that was overindulgent in all of his appetites.
“People would take advantage of him. I had known Rick since I was 18. He knew my family he knew my uncles. When he wasn’t doing drugs we would have great conversations. He knew the Bible backwards and forwards. But once drugs were introduced it was like Jekyll and Hyde. He flipped. And that was the bad part. Unfortunately he started to become more Hyde than Jekyll. As he increased his use of the drugs he became more and more negative. More self destructive. Unfortunately, he was the kind of guy where, if there was a bottle of liquor he would want all of the liquor and then would say ‘Let’s get another bottle.’ He was hurting himself. The core of what he was, was a good person. I think him trying to live up to what other people wanted him to be is what killed him.”
We are aware of the circumstances of what led up to the death of Rick James, but many do not know the level to which James’ health had deteriorated due to his abusive habits and physical neglect.
“His heart stopped two or three times. The doctors told him he had to stop getting high because they might not be able to revive him the next time,” he explained. “For myself, if that happened to me just once whatever activities I was doing I would cease and desist. It’s too bad, musically he was a genius, but when the drugs took control … and unfortunately those around him egged him on. They benefited from his lack of judgment. His distraction. ‘Rick give me this, Rick give me that.’ No talent, just hangers on. And those that had talent, he took advantage of them. How long can you stay around and let somebody do that? Plus, on top of that, you don’t want to see your friend destroy himself. Some things you can do, some things are just not in your hands. I told him once ‘Rick, I cannot care more about your career than you do.’ That’s one of the last conversations I had with him.”
On the morning of August 6, 2004, Rick James was found dead in his Burbank, California, home at the Oakwood apartment complex on Barham Boulevard by his caretaker. James had died from pulmonary failure and cardiac failure with his various health conditions of diabetes, stroke, a pacemaker, and a heart attack. Through his autopsy it was discovered he was under the influence of alprazolam, diazepam, bupropion, citalopram, hydrocodone, digoxin, chlorpheniramine, methamphetamine and cocaine. But his autopsy states he died of an enlarged heart.
James’ story is a cautionary tale at its core. One cannot help but wonder how many people are actually listening.
Think that story was something? Shortly we will post the thoughts of Robert Funderberg’s wife Jo-Jo McDuffie Funderberg, former lead vocalist for The Mary Jane Girls as well as background vocalist on several of Rick’s projects. We promise, it’s going to be eye opening!
Listen to Robert Funderberg ‘s story on Rick James