Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go, died today at 75
image courtesy James Hilsdon | Hilsdon Photography LLC
Chuck Brown (1936-2012)
DC lost one of its musical titans today. Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go, died today at the age of 75, after a weeks-long battle with pneumonia. A long-running chapter of DC music history closed today. Chuck Brown’s musical career stretches back to the mid-60s, where he played guitar with local bands before forming Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers in 1974. Chuck Brown developed the laid-back, syncopated funk rhythm and call-and-response vocals he became famous for (equal parts R&B, funk, and gospel, with an admitted rhythmic influence of “Mr. Magic,” a jazz-funk hit for Grover Washington, Jr.). In a fertile (and fiercely competitive) DC music scene that included acts like Black Heat, Rare Essence, Aggression, Experience Unlimited, and Trouble Funk, go-go bands developed the strategy of playing the beat non-stop throughout their live shows to keep their audiences dancing, even between songs. Go-go was so named because ‘the beat kept going, and going, and going…’
Despite a loyal following in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, the go-go sound never broke out in a big way nationally. Chuck had a 1979 #1 R&B hit with “Bustin’ Loose,” EU hit big in 1986 with “Da Butt” (thanks to a memorable appearance in Spike Lee’s School Daze), DJ Kool had a 1997 hit with “Let Me Clear My Throat,” and Wale most recently rose to international fame sampling classic go-go records in his hip-hop mixtapes, but go-go remained a regional (and ever-evolving) phenomenon, relegated to curiosity status for DJs and record collectors worldwide.
One part of that evolution is the discovery and advancement of the go-go sound by current producers, even if it is steps removed from the multi-percussionist, live band sound of go-go’s origins. Besides Wale, DC-born producer Rich Harrison utilized go-go percussion on Amerie’s massive 2005 hit, “One Thing,” and underground producers from around the world (Morlack, Arcadion, Bobby C Sound TV, and our own All Good Funk Alliance) are pushing into new electronic territory (and calling the new style Future Go-Go), keeping the legacy alive while remaining respectful to the sound’s originators (Chuck Brown, EU, The Junkyard Band, and Trouble Funk, in particular). Morlack just uploaded a Chuck Brown tribute mix on Mixcloud.
I was lucky enough to meet Chuck Brown back in 1998. He was promoting the release of his greatest hits collection, Back It On Up, signing autographs and giving away Chuck Brown bobble head dolls (!) at Metro Center. The lunchtime crowd that gathered around him was surprisingly small but enthusiastic. He was seated at a small table near the farecard machines, dressed as always in a razor-sharp suit and his signature fedora, flanked by lifesize promo cardboard cutouts of himself. Despite the modest surroundings, he was gracious and patient, sharing a few words with each fan, myself included. While straight-laced downtown DC continued with business-as-usual in the streets above, the party-starting innovator Chuck Brown remained underground.