The King of Punk-Funk: Rick James’ Unbelievable Yet Very Real Life

Becoming Rick James

In Toronto, James was hanging out with Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. He formed a band called the Mynah Birds with Young. The Mynah Birds signed a record deal with Motown, and James got to meet Stevie Wonder and perform for him. Wonder was impressed and wanted to know this young man’s name.

Rick James performing circa 1983
Photo by Alan Berliner / BEI / Shutterstock

James, still a teen, told the blind musician that his name was Ricky James Matthews. Wonder then suggested that he shorten it to a simple Rick James. At the time, James was still a fugitive and ended up serving time in a military prison. It resulted in the end of the Mynah Birds record deal. But for Rick James, it was just the beginning of one of the wildest musical careers in the history of music.