Rick James was born James Ambrose Johnson.
He was raised by his mother in a family of eight boys and four girls.
James only had vague recollections of his father, who he labeled a womanizer he “wished” he could “kill.”
Rick James was raised in a variety of housing projects in Buffalo and by the age of nine he had lost his virginity.
He also started digging through his mother’s record collection.
He was fascinated by the jazzy sounds if artists like Billie Holiday, Dakota Staton and Billy Eckstein.
At the age of 13, Rick James started gangbanging and terrorizing the projects, fighting other gangs and stealing bicycles, even if the rider was still on it.
When he was on the street, he would listen to records and sing songs by artists like Frankie Lymon, Sam Cooke, The Drifters and Elvis.
After a stint in reformatory school and then being booted from Bennett High School, Rick James joined the Navy reserve and eventually he was called to serve in VietnamAt the age of 17, Rick James fled the United States, went AWOL and headed to Canada.
It was in Canada that Rick James formed the Mynah Byrds, a group that included Neil Young who would eventually find fame as a member of Crosby stills Nash and Young.