“The people of Buffalo are beautiful. There’s a lot of talent here,” said Rick James upon his return here in 1977 to start a record distribution company.
He told The News he left Buffalo not by choice, but because he’d been called to Vietnam with the Navy after missing too many reserves meetings. After a few more clashes with military brass, he fled to Toronto, where he formed the group “Mynah Bird” with Neil Young.
Just as Motown was ready to release that group’s first album, the old Navy trouble resurfaced and James spent a year in prison. Young split to join Buffalo Springfield, and the future Super Freak went to work writing and producing for Motown.
When James came back to Buffalo in 1977, his name was not a household one, but his star was on the rise. C. Antony Palmer wrote in The News that James “is a performer who gives that little extra effort.”
After several well-received singles, James’ 1981 release “Super Freak” made him a world-renowned funk star.
The rocker returned to Buffalo again in 1997, this time shooting a “Behind the Scenes” documentary for VH-1. He hadn’t been back to Buffalo in six years. Three of those years away were spent in prison. James told News reporter Anthony Violanti that the years in prison were the first of his life that he tried to clean up, dry out and grow up.
A reflective James said he could never move back to Buffalo or his Orchard Park home — the memories were too painful. He did visit School 53, the Masten Boys Club and Masten High School — though school officials demurred on the chance for James to meet with students.
“It’s a great town,” James said of Buffalo, “but it’s a strange place.” He said there was nowhere else that had more influence on his music than his hometown.
Seven years before he died of heart failure, he had one wish for the city.
“There should be more love between blacks and whites in Buffalo," James said. "It’s so cold, and winter’s coming.”