Here's How Rick James Got His Name

If anyone were ever born to break the mold of "regimentation and conformity" of the United States military, it was Rick James – or, as he was named at birth, James Johnson. Quoted in The Buffalo News, the "Super Freak" singer said that he was "able to bring people together, make people fall in love," and any of us who can't not shake our behinds when "Give It to Me, Baby" comes on can agree that it would have been a tragedy to lose someone like that to the stark convention of the armed forces. 

Thankfully, James "told the military draft board to kiss his ashy black a** and promptly fled to Toronto, Canada," according to Vibe. While in the Great White North, James got by gigging on the drums for jazz bands and immersed himself in a new world of sex, drugs, and music. This is where he began the transformation that would end in the iconic and controversial character that the public came to know and love as the incorrigible, the irascible, the flammable Rick James.

It was Stevie Wonder's idea to go with 'Rick James'

According to The Buffalo News, Toronto, was experiencing "a music renaissance." There James met and collaborated with numerous artists, including Joni Mitchell, Kenny Rogers, Gordon Lightfoot, and Neil Young. His musical formation would also include the direct influences of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Etta James, Stephen Stills (of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young), and more. According to the New York Post, he once woke up on Stills's couch to find Jim Morrison stoned out of his mind, absolutely enthralled by the blood flowing out of his slit wrists, saying, "It's the blood beautiful? Isn't that the deepest red you've ever seen?"

James would end up forming a band with Young, which they called the Mynah Birds, and they were signed to Motown Records. James met a young Stevie Wonder at Motown's Detroit headquarters and wowed him with a rendition of Wonder's "Fingertips." When Stevie asked him his name, he replied, "Ricky James Mathews."

Wonder didn't like the sound of it. It was too long. He advised the new guy to shorten it. So, in addition to giving the world "Superstition," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," and "For Once In My Life," among so many other classic pop hits, Wonder also gave Rick James that now instantly recognizable name found among pop music's royalty at the end of the 20th Century.