Name at birth: James Johnson, Jr.
James was a leading funk singer/songwriter of the 1980s. He got his start as a bassist in various bands before going solo in the late 1970s; his 1978 solo debut Come Get It! included the hits "Mary Jane" and "You and I" and made him a force in the world of danceable funk. His signature hit came from his 1981 album Street Songs; "Super Freak" was nominated for a Grammy and remained a dependable party tune for years. (The rapper MC Hammer had a major 1990 hit with "U Can't Touch This," which featured Hammer rapping over the catchy bass line from "Super Freak.") James's personal life was uproarious; he was arrested several times on drug charges and served nearly two years in California's Folsom Prison (the same prison made famous in "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash) from 1994-96. James was found dead in his Los Angeles home by an assistant on 6 August 2004. Although an autopsy showed the presence of illegal drugs, the official cause of death was a heart attack.
James was briefly bandmates with Neil Young in a 1960s group called the Mynah Birds… James is a nephew of The Temptations member Melvin Franklin.