CHUCK BROWN / “Chuck Brown Mixtape”
Chuck Brown is old school. I don’t mean he went to a one-room school house—in fact he left formal education after seventh grade, got a GED while he was serving a bid. He learned to play music in The Mount Zion Holiness Church in Fairmount Heights, Washington, D.C. And, oh yeah, he was a child preacher for a couple of years—started off at eleven and stopped when he was thirteen. Born Charles Louis Brown in 1934 over in Gaston, North Carolina, my man was one of millions of black people seemingly fated to a life of poverty and constant encounters with the criminal so-called “justice” system. Chuck Brown finished off his formal education in the fifties at Lorton Reformatory (i.e. prison), which is where he earned his high school diploma and bought his first guitar. During the sixties his day jobs included, well, almost anything that was available.
“I was a bricklayer, tractor-trailer driver, sparring partner, ex-boxer, you know? A lot of good things: ex-pool player, ex-hustler, you might say. Back in those days, the word 'hustler' meant you were a good gambler – pool, cards, craps, and women. I hadn't made up my mind what I wanted to do.” —Chuck BrownHis night jobs were any music gig he could find, plus stints playing guitar with Jerry Butler and a seminal gestation period with Los Latinos, a DC-area covers band that added a Latin flavor to national hits of the period. After he left Los Latinos, Chuck started The Soul Searchers band in 1966. That went on for a whole decade before the birth of Go-Go. In the seventies Chuck invented Go-Go. He seems to have had two goals in mind: one objective was to counter disco (which, as a musician, he hated) and the other dream was to come up with a sound to represent DC.
Disco? Well, dis-got-to-go! Talking 'bout disco? OK, dis-go dis way and dis-go dat way. No! We goin' go-go this way! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! —Chuck BrownChuck credits Grover Washington’s “Mr. Magic” with providing the final ingredient needed to garnish the Go-Go recipe. It was the beat.
We used to do the disco, then break it down and do all the percussion in between. But then I just decided to cut the whole thing in half. Disco was like 120 beats a minute. So now we cut that in half and put that groove up in there and start talking and messing with them people out there in the audience, call-and-response, back and forth. That's when you come up with the go-go. —Chuck BrownChuck put that Go-Go beat with a set that averaged over two hours without a break and kept it moving with a continuous stream of call-and-response that included individual shout-outs to people he knew and who signed up on the shout-out list. Go-Go is not passive music. It’s trance music, a music that engages the audience not just in dancing but in singing and verbal exchanges with the conductor. In some sense the source music doesn’t even matter: it could be the theme song from the historic movie 2001 or, for that matter, the theme from The Godfather—(how appropriate is that?). But then it could be vintage Duke Ellington (afterall Duke was from DC)—take the Go-Go Train cause it don’t mean a thing without that Go-Go swing. Don’t even get started talking about chestnuts like “Harlem Nocturne” or “Midnight Sun,” songs you would not expect at a block party for young people but somehow it all fits perfectly in a good Go-Go set with Chuck Brown’s gravelly baritone belting out the lyrics and his encyclopedic guitar riffs providing the melodies and harmonies. And don’t forget soul classics like The Stylistics’ “People Make The World Go Round,” or Sly & the Family Stone’s “Family Affair,” or big Barry White’s “Playing Your Game Baby,” or hell, play a cartoon diddy like the “Woody Woodpecker” theme, it don’t matter, just drop whatever into Go-Go’s deep, funky drum pocket and you’re good to go. Just as important as the beat is the blues sensibility, from actual blues classics like T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” or Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Choocie Man,” to all of that combined with the blues as dance music for down home folk. Without the blues, Go-Go don’t go nowhere; with the blues, Go-Go can go everywhere—like check the opening cut that includes classical music melodies. After five years or so in the mid-seventies of working block parties, church gatherings (remember, Brown’s initial parole restrictions didn’t allow him to play venues where alcohol was sold), high school dances, picnics & barbeques, in other words after a period of developing an audience for the new sound, in 1978 Chuck dropped the anthem “Bustin’ Loose.” Almost forty years later Chuck Brown is the acclaimed “Godfather” of the Washington, DC Go-Go dance music movement. Chuck has spawned not just a sound, he has also mentored hundreds of musicians and several noted Go-Go bands, plus supported a whole business infrastructure that has grown up around Go-Go. A lot of people eat behind Chuck dropping that Go-Go beat. Chuck’s current manager, Tom Goldfogle summed up the lasting impact of Chuck Brown on the DC music scene:
Think of [go-go] as an industry that he created. You think of what he's really responsible for: 10 to 20 bands coming up behind him, and their livelihoods, and all the livelihoods of the sound companies, and the record labels, and the folks that work with the bands, and the sales in the stores. It's just one person responsible for bringing this about, and continuing it, not just doing and going away. I don't know of any other artist that can play three to six nights a week for 30 years and be more popular than the day he started. —Tom GoldfogleOutside of DC, Chuck is relatively unknown but around the beltway, there is probably only one other black man who resides in DC who is more revered than Chuck—and at the street level Chuck would give Obama a run for the most popular. For sure Chuck knows more DC-ers by first name than any other person whether politician, pastor or whatever. In 2009 the nation’s capitol named a street after him: Chuck Brown Way. Chuck Brown is a walking definition of the folk saying: make a way out of no way. From his early years shining shoes outside the Howard Theatre and hustling on the streets well into the post-mellennium period when most of his peers have long since transitioned into ancestor-hood, Chuck is still making music, still dropping hit records. His latest album is We’re About The Business (2007) and includes the hit “Chuck Baby,” featuring his daughter Takesa (aka KK). Chuck’s latest was put together by multi-platinum producer Chucky Thompson (can you say Mary J, P. Diddy, Nas, Biggie?), a Chuck Brown protégé who shares the “Chuck” moniker. “Chucky Thompson happens to be one of my former musicians—I hired him when he was 17, and he told me he was 21,” Chuck Brown chuckles. We’re About The Business includes snippets of oral history in addition to updates of the Go-Go sound employing modern recording techniques including using computers and electronic instruments to transform the signature Go-Go percussion beats. According to Nielson SoundScan, We’re About The Business, which debuted at #2 on R&B/Hip Hop charts, ended up selling in excess of 65,000 in 2007, which is phenomenal numbers in today’s entertainment industry, especially for a music that is regionally based and relatively unknown nationally and internationally. Trivia note: Chuck’s previous release, 2001’s Your Game ... Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C. sold over 72,000 copies. No, Chuck’s not a sales superstar but he’s doing better than 90% of the youngsters in the game. When you’re 75 years old and out-selling sex symbols and the latest hyped Mr. or Ms. Whatever, that’s saying a whole lot, especially in an industry that is monolithically youth-oriented. But then again we are checking out Chuck Brown. Don’t bet against him. He’s been in the game a long time. A looooonnnnggg time! Chuck Brown is the Godfather of Go-Go. And like his music sets, he’s no where near ready to stop. Check out Chuck's oral history video interviews and don’t miss his video for “The Party Roll.” In it, you see old school Chuck Brown: hustler par excellence! It’s the hustler’s mentality—work with what you got whenever you can get it. Take what you can get and then twerk it. Or like the fans say: Wind Me Up, Chuck! —Kalamu ya Salaam Chuck Brown Mixtape Playlist 01 “Wind Me Up Chuck / Hoochie Coochie Man” - Your Game…Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C. 02 “It Don't Mean A Thing - If It Don't Have The Go-Go Swing” - Go Go Swing Live 03 “Midnight Sun” - The Best Of Chuck Brown 04 “Moody's Mood” - Go Go Swing Live 05 “Woody Woodpecker” - Go Go Swing Live 06 “Bustin' Loose” - The Best Of Chuck Brown 07 “Run Joe” - The Best Of Chuck Brown 08 “TuTu” - This Is A Journey.... Into Time 09 “We Need Some Money” - This Is A Journey.... Into Time 10 “Family Affair” - Any Other Way to Go? 11 “Playing Your Game Baby” - Your Game…Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C. 12 “People Make the World Go Round” - Your Game…Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C. 13 “2001 (That'll Work)” - Your Game…Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C. 14 “Take The Go-Go Train” - Go Go Swing Live 15 “Sound For The Town Interlude” - We're About The Business 16 “Jock It In” - We're About The Business 17 “Chuck Baby (Feat. KK)” - We're About The Business 18 “Chuck Brown - The Party Roll” - edit of video soundtrack 19 “Block Party (Feat. DJ Kool)” - We're About The Business
This entry was posted on Monday, December 28th, 2009 at 1:44 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
3 Responses to “CHUCK BROWN / “Chuck Brown Mixtape””
Leave a Reply
| top |