Rick James tried, but couldn't
burn all his money
Editor's note: Rick James passed away Aug. 6, 2004. He gave this interview to Bankrate in 2002.
James' story will make a fantastic movie one day. While most people's
knowledge of James boils down to two facts -- that he had a tremendous
hit with the song "Super Freak," and that he crashed in
spectacular fashion, going to prison for a pair of incidents involving
crack cocaine and several women claiming physical abuse -- his story
is even richer, deeper, and more sordid than that.
James entered the Naval Reserve while still a teenager,
but his misbehavior got him assigned to active duty. He was scheduled
to ship off to Vietnam when he went AWOL. He took a bus to Toronto
where he was immediately harassed by locals, and was saved from
the fight by three musicians, two of whom turned out to be Robbie
Robertson and Garth Hudson of The Hawks (later to become The Band.)
He soon joined a band led by the future founder of Steppenwolf.
Another member of that band was Neil Young. James and Young wrote
songs together, and they got signed to Motown Records. But a dispute
with a manager led that manager to inform the Navy of James' whereabouts.
James surrendered, and spent a year in the brig for desertion.
Upon his release, James joined Motown as a staff writer
and released several records that did well in the black community.
Then 1981's "Street Songs," featuring "Super Freak"
and "Give It To Me Baby," made him a superstar. But with
success came excess, and James quickly spiraled into full-blown
crack addiction. James tried several times to get clean, but before
he did, several incidents involving violence against women landed
him in Folsom Prison.
Today, James is clean and productive, touring the
country and preparing a series of new projects. Bankrate spoke to
him about how his portfolio withstood the storms, and how his vices
tapped into his wallet.
BANKRATE: How much money do you think you blew
RICK JAMES: I spent $7,000 a week, and I did
that for five years. I had a serious five-year hiatus where I didn't
record, and didn't want to because me and Motown were in a lawsuit
that I eventually won. But I couldn't record for another company,
so I had a five-year sabbatical where I was just smoking, just freebasing.
So I was smoking $7,000 every week. That's a couple of ounces a
BANKRATE: Did "Super Freak" make
you rich in the long term, or did you blow that money on excess?
RICK JAMES: I made so much. You have to understand,
I wrote and produced millions and millions of selling records, so
my publishing company alone was worth millions of dollars. I didn't
have to work anymore in life because when the rappers started sampling
... I'm the most sampled artist in history. Right now. I mean, Mary
J. Blige just sampled me, LL Cool J, Will Smith, you name it. MC
Hammer, the biggest rap record of all time is "Super Freak,"
(Hammer's "Can't Touch This"), Salt n Pepa, Ja Rule and
Jennifer Lopez, Ole Dirty Bastard.
BANKRATE: So even with all the money you blew,
you didn't come close to blowing it all?
RICK JAMES: Right. I could have never been
broke. See, that was the thing. Even when I was down to a couple
hundred thousand, I would always get a check for 600, 700 more thousand,
from the "Super Freak" album, or Teena Marie. That's the
way it was. That's the way it is. That's because I kept my publishing
throughout the years, and I was probably one of the first black
acts getting $1 million an album at Motown in those days.
BANKRATE: How much are you worth?
RICK JAMES: I don't know. $30 million, $40
million, something like that. You don't really know your own worth
because you don't know what may happen tomorrow. I may release an
album tomorrow that gets me $10, $20 million, then I'm worth $70,
$80 million more.
BANKRATE: Did you invest any of that money
RICK JAMES: I have very good accountants who
look out for me. CDs, land, oil drillings, stocks, bonds, many different
things. I have great people.
BANKRATE: Are you into the market yourself?
RICK JAMES: No I'm not, but I have played
the market, and I have won.
BANKRATE: Any stocks or investments in particular
you did really well with?
RICK JAMES: Pork bellies I'm a fan of, because
people, especially black people, whenever there's hard times, times
of financial insecurity, black people going to eat some bacon. Some
ham hocs, pork bellies. And, because of the baby boom, pharmaceuticals
are a very good investment. And holograms are going to be great.
Holographic imagery. I think it's going to be the next step for
music and TV.
BANKRATE: Looking back, what's the dumbest
thing you ever spent your money on?
RICK JAMES: Cocaine.
BANKRATE: Not counting drugs -- material possessions.
RICK JAMES: A jacket and a pair of boots
I bought from Bijan's in Beverly Hills. I walked by the store, and
this old white woman was sitting at a big ornate desk, and she snubbed
her nose at me. But Bijan waved me in, and I walked in and gave
her this look, like, I'll show you. So I found this leather jacket
cut to the waist with black mink inside, and this plain pair of
black boots. $28,000. When I saw the bill, I said, "There must
be a mistake here." I only did it out of ego. I may have worn
that jacket maybe twice, then I realized it was too small for me.
-- Posted: May 30, 2002