Chuck Brown is known as the “Godfather of Go Go,” Washington’s own brand of funk that he helped create more than a quarter century ago. One of the most important musicians to ever call Washington D.C. home, Brown was born in the town of Garysburg, North Carolina. His family moved to Washington D.C. when he was three, but as a boy he returned frequently to North Carolina. Brown started playing guitar, inspired by the gospel music of his youth, and by jazz guitarist Charlie Christian. In the early ’60s he joined the group Jerry Butler and His Earls of Rhythm.
In 1965 he joined Los Latinos, a popular dance band that was helping spread the mambo craze around the mid-Atlantic. Brown’s notions of rhythmic complexity took shape while playing in this band, particular his desire to bring congas and cowbells into R&B.
In the early ’70s he formed his own band, the Soul Searchers, a powerful group dominated by his funky and jazzy guitar playing, and which quickly became one of the most popular on the black music circuit in town – the “go-go clubs”-venues that included the Maverick Room, the Ebony Inn, Club LeBaron, the Burgundy Room, the Masonic Temple and many more. It was competition with other bands (particularly the Young Senators, but also the El Chorals, Scacy & the Sound Service, and interestingly, an all-white group, Tommy Vann & the Professionals) that led to the development of the never-ending set of music. Bands would play their versions of Top-40 hits, and in order to keep people on the dance floor (and not leave to hear a rival group) they would segue into the next song with barely a shift of gears. It was usually up to the drummer to create the smooth transition, while the rest of the band followed. Brown turned this seemingly simple element into an art form, frequently breaking the rhythm in half (if the song was a fast one) and letting the percussionists vamp for several minutes while he decided which song to play next. Brown would also use this musical “breakdown” to communicate directly with his audience. He would call out names of friends “in the house,” he would start call-and-response cheers, and while the drummers kept the beat going, he would exhort the crowd to never stop moving.
Brown began incorporating these moments into his original compositions which made their way onto his recordings. “We The People,” appeared in 1971, while “Blow Your Whistle” was a big local hit in 1973. It was in 1979 however that things broke wide open, on the release of the single “Bustin’ Loose.” It became the unofficial anthem of what was by then being called Go Go music, and was the number one song on Billboard’s R&B chart for several weeks. The success of the song turned the international spotlight on Washington’s Go-Go scene, and Brown and his growing list of musical followers (in bands such as E.U. and Trouble Funk) found themselves featured in magazine and newspaper articles.
He remained a Washington club staple following his success, and in subsequent years he has released the hit tunes “Go Go Swing,” “Be Bumpin’ Fresh,” “Back it on Up,” and “We Need Some Money.” He released an album of jazz and blues standards with vocalist Eva Cassidy, an album of Holiday Music, several live CDs. Brown has toured Europe and Japan to enormous acclaim, and has always proudly carried the torch for Washington D.C.
Brown continues to perform steadily and to champion the cause of Go-Go. He was chosen to represent Washington D.C. at the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and has received the Mayor’s Arts Award and dozens of Wammies for his musical contributions. The music he created has spawned dozens of bands in the Washington area and beyond, but none comes close to the body of work and the sheer magnetism of Chuck Brown.
Chuck Brown created the Go Go sound. He combined Latin beats, African call and response chants and American Jazz, throwing in a touch of soul with a continuous drumbeat. This non-stop dance music is and has been a trademark of original creative music from the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., and has gained Chuck Brown worldwide fans.
Chuck Brown began his musical career in the early 60′s. His first stage experience was with Jerry Butler and the Earls of Rhythm. Then in 1965, he joined Los Latinos, whose syncopated backbeat enthralled him. This experience gave Chuck the confidence to get out on his own, incorporating all these styles into his band and introducing a sound unlike anything available at that time. “I got sick and tired of watching people sitting around,” Chuck says “Disco was too fast-people didn’t want to get all sweaty, and they just sat down. So we cut the beat in half.” Chuck called this new sound Go Go, “because it never stops.”
Chuck Brown exploded onto the scene in 1971 with his first hit “We The People.” This was followed by the gold album “Bustin’ Loose” and the #1 hit single of the same name on MCA/Source Records. In the mid-80′s, the face of Go Go was changed forever with the Future Records release of “Go Go Swing.” With this release, Chuck Brown broke new ground, and captured the hearts of music lovers young and old, near and far, Black and White. “Go Go Swing” was released around the world, leading to a large international following and numerous international concert tours. A string of hit records followed, producing the now Go Go classics “Be Bumpin’ Fresh,” “Run Joe,” “Day-O,” “Back It On Up,” “We Need Some Money,” and “2001 (That’ll Work).” Five live CDs came next, including “This Is A Journey… Into Time Live!” released in 1992 in the US and 1993 in Europe, followed by another tour of Europe and Japan.
Chuck Brown’s 1993 release, “The Other Side,” is a collaboration with the incredibly talented late vocalist Eva Cassidy (in March 2001 she had the #1 album in the UK). While this project may seem like a radical departure from Chuck’s up tempo Go Go creations, “The Other Side” showcases Chuck’s roots, influences and talents that influenced his unique signature on the Go Go scene. “Hah Man” was released in 1994, combining Chuck’s Jazz and Blues roots with his Go Go rhythms. A duet of “Blues In The Night” was included in the 1997 release of Eva Cassidy’s “Eva By Heart.” In 1998 Chuck released a Jazz/Blues project entitled “Timeless,” building on his acclaimed work with Cassidy and bringing Chuck into his own as a master in the exploration of his roots.
Chuck’s “Greatest Hits” was released in 1998, a collection of his best, spanning his incredible career from “Bustin’ Loose” to the present. Chuck released “The Spirit Of Christmas” in 1999, which contains his renditions of Christmas favorites (including his hit version of “Merry Christmas Baby”) as well as 2 duets with Eva Cassidy. In 2001, Chuck gained national exposure though his association with Eva, when feature pieces on 20/20 and Nightline covered the posthumous resurgence of Eva Cassidy’s music in England and America. “Your Game…Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C.” was released in May 2001 to rave reviews and voted as one of the top 10 albums of 2001 by Billboard R&B Editor Gail Mitchell, Rapper Chuck D and others. DC’s #1 radio station WPGC began a movement to induct Chuck into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a hugely successful petition drive. Chuck’s hit “Bustin’ Loose” is also getting national attention again, thanks to it’s being used in the smash Nelly single “Hot In Herre.”
The power and energy of a Brown performance will be available to the public on DVD and companion CD released on August 20, 2002. Entitled “Put Your Hands Up! The Tribute Concert To Chuck Brown” the concert features performances by Chuck, EU, Back Yard, 911, and guests Little Benny, Maiesha, Whiteboy, Go-Go Mickey, Big Tony and others. Directed by MTV director/producer J. Kevin Swain (2 Pac, Erykah Badu, Outkast, etc.), this will be the first chance in 20 years for fans to own a visual Chuck Brown concert. The 2 DVD set is mixed in 5.1 surround sound and recorded on Chuck’s home turf at the 9:30 Club, allowing viewers to experience the unique excitement of a Chuck Brown concert in DC. Included on the DVD will be the short documentary “From The Belly Of The Drum” featuring interviews with industry notables like Def Jam President Kevin Liles, BET’s Stephen Hill, Warner Bros. recording artist Meshell Ndegeocello and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. In conjunction with the “Put Your Hands Up…” release, select live showcase dates in major markets are in the works.
“Everywhere else, Hip Hop rules. But the sound of DC is Go Go, for one reason. His name is Chuck Brown.” -Jeff Chang, Author “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, A History Of The Hip-Hop Generation”