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The Godfather of Go-go (In Memory of Chuck Brown)

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I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that here at DJBeTray.com I believe in paying homage to music legends.  And while the death of an artist who has influenced me often takes the wind out of me for a while, I always try to find the strength to explain why they were important.

Translating the significance of Chuck Brown may be the hardest yet.

I was 11 years old the first time I understood the importance of Chuck Brown and what part his music had and would play in my life. I say “had” because I heard Chuck throughout my childhood.  Bustin Loose and We Need Some Money were in heavy rotation in the early 80’s.  I’m sure those songs were played more on DC radio than anywhere but I never imagined that the man singing those tunes was actually from DC.  It sounded so much like the funk of the day, I figured it was Parliament or one of the other funky soul bands.

But in the mid 80’s, when Brown released Run Joe, everything changed for me.  From the opening of the song, “The policeman is on the premises ya’ll, what his he doing in here?” I knew I was hearing something special.  Unlike the other songs Brown had released before, targeting hopeful radio crossover success, Run Joe was raw, unapologetic Go-go; a sound created and nurtured by Brown.

The melodic fusion of percussion, horns, bass and his classic electric guitar strum had long since moved beyond him and his live band by then.  By the mid 80’s there were a number of Go-go bands, in fact some had already come and gone by then.  There were Trouble Funk, Experience Unlimited (EU), Rare Essence and a new group at the time called Junk Yard.

But Chuck’s sound was different.  It was refined and blended more musical influences than the bands that emulated him.  The blues, Latin, R&B, jazz and at times big band sounds were more obvious.  Brown’s experience as a seasoned musician blended with his teenage heart to create music that spoke to multiple generations.

In fact, I was feeling a mix of shock and aw when I realized that I wasn’t discovering something new when I heard “Run Joe.”  My parents, uncles and older cousins had been listening and partying to Chuck some 20 years earlier.

From the height of Go-go to its lowest point during the late 80’s, Chuck played.  When Go-go clubs became synonymous with violence during the crack years – Chuck’s events were always a safe haven.  No one would dare “wile out” while chuck was on stage.   And when the death toll on the streets of Washington hit an all time high, Chuck reminded the youth through song that DC “don’t” stand for Dodge City.

Until just a few months before his death, Brown played live all over the Washington area to sold out crowds.  The older he got, the more diverse his following became.  In the mid 90’s Chuck did a Jazz/Blues album with another DC music legend, folk singer Eva Cassidy.  This timeless collaboration gave fans from both sides of this City a chance to hear what happens when real musicians cross genres and make music together.  Surely their album, The Other Side,  contributed to the growing diversity of Chuck’s following.

 

The last time I saw Chuck play live it was at the 9:30 Club here in DC.  He was celebrating his 75th and what would be his last birthday.  He was under the weather that night and apologized to the audience for his naturally gravelly voice being a little coarser than usual.  Then he played for hours nonstop.  This is what Chuck did, played without intermission.  If the band took a break it was with a musical interlude.  Soon that music would be filled with chants of “wind me up Chuck,” meaning the crowd wanted Brown to keep going; thus the name Go-go.  That night his now thin and bony fingers strummed that electric guitar giving off his signature echoed riff.  The horn section boomed and leapt across the stage to the Go-go rhythm.  The congo player banged out our miseries as the keyboard player and drummer kept time.  Even members of other Go-go bands joined Brown onstage playing some old Go-go favorites.  And we danced, from Northeast, to Southeast, to Southwest, to Northwest… we danced.  We sweated out our clothes, hair, troubles, cares and we danced.

As Chuck said his goodnights and we all began our slow walk to our cars, there was laughter in the air and a feeling of euphoria.  When we chanted, “wind me up Chuck” he did, just like he always had and always will.

If you ask why Go-go has never gone pop beyond EU’s Da Butt, I don’t know what to tell you.  While artists from Beyonce to Salt and Pepa and Grace Jones have used or sampled the sound, very few of our bands get recognition.  The musicians who have dedicated their lives to this music sacrifice.  They play in church on Sunday to earn the money to jam with a band on Friday.  They studied their craft with the high school band and dreamed of playing for the Backyard Band.  Then there are the countless kids who set their buckets up on downtown street corners earning change while cranking out the “bangingest” beat they can.  These musicians may say, it’s not fair, Go-go deserves a national audience.

But for Washingtonians who have traveled this Country and the world, we love it.  We love that Go-go is all ours.  Only we know how to dance to it, only we understand the call and response and know that “wa-wa-wa where we’re from” matters.  And when I’m homesick and away from DC, I blast my Go-go and wear it like a tattoo.

This is why Grammy nominated, Chuck Brown is the Godfather.  While most musicians struggle to make a hit, Chuck created a musical genre that is the soundtrack of my life and the lives of countless other music lovers and musicians.  It’s the last non-commercial music format.

Thank you Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-go, for leaving Chocolate City and this world a funkier place!

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A 90’s Kind of Love

 

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I’ve been thinking for sometime now, “What should my next mix be about?”  While listening to music and looking for inspiration, I thought about the 90’s.  This was a magical decade for me.  I graduated from high school and college and became a young woman in the 90’s.  It was also a great time in music.  Hip hop was maturing, grunge was budding and hair bands were dying (thank goodness).  R&B was also coming into its own.

After courting in the 70’s and making love in the 80’s, R&B was clearly having SEX in the 90’s.  The lyrics were stronger and well beyond suggestive.  The beats were memorizing and the vocals strong.  This was the decade of the R&B singer and this mix features some of the best.  It spans the entire decade and showcases some of its most popular R&B slow jams.  I’ll take my next 90’s slow jam mix back underground… but for this first volume, I wanted everyone to have the chance to think back and remember when.  Enjoy and Love!

The Soul Sessions Vol. 1

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Since I started DJBeTray.com I’ve been asked time and time again, “When are you doing a soul mix?”  I am a lover of 70’s soul, I mean it is the music I was created to… shout-out to all 70’s babies.  I actually started working on compiling a soul mix a few months ago… then news of  Don Cornelius’ death hit.  To say that I was broken hearted is an understatement.  When I was a little girl in D.C., Soul Train came on at 5 pm on channel 5.  Every Saturday, I’d run into the house after playing outside and watch for the latest dances, music and fashion trends broadcasted from the Soul Train dance floor.  I would run to my bathroom afterward, stand on the vanity and pretend to be one of the dancers on the platforms who got all the close-ups.

So needless to say, hearing about Cornelius’ death knocked the wind out of my excitement about my soul mixtape.  And then after Whitney’s death I was musically exhausted.  But now I’m proud to present this fantastic mix of some of my favorite 70’s soul.  I believe pretty much every song on this mix has been sampled at least once if not numerous times, as is the case with Lyn Collins’ hit Think.  

The photo featured along with this mix is a picture of some of the actual equipment from the old Stax recording studio.  I shot this photo myself while visiting the Stax Museum in Memphis last year.  Since Stax is my favorite Soul label, I thought it was fitting.

This is a mix to party and groove to.  So as we move into spring… let’s do it with Soooooooul!  And please don’t download this mix without telling your girl (me) what you think.  Love!

Where Do Broken Hearts Go? (For Whitney Houston)

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 The first time I saw Whitney Houston’s video for “You Give Good Love,” I thought, “that’s a pretty woman.”  She also reminded me of my older sister.  It was her first single and just a mere introduction of what was to come.  And when I saw Whitney sing, “How Will I Know” I knew I was watching greatness.  She looked perfect… her hair, her make-up, that cute grey dress with the matching bow and that smile.  Houston looked so happy that I remember thinking, “I want to be that happy when I grow up.”  That was my introduction to something I don’t think I’d ever seen presented that way before;  Pop music, from a black woman.

Her influence was so great, that just a few months after “The Greatest Love of All” was released, I found myself standing next to my Mother as she played the tune on the piano with me singing it with all I had.  My Mom stopped mid song and asked, “What are you doing?  You are trying too hard to sound like her (Whitney Houston).  You need to sing the song like you would sing it.  That’s what the song is all about… proudly being who you are.”  I thought to myself, “If I can’t sound like her then what’s the point in singing at all?”  After singing that song at a family reunion or two, I hung up my mic.  No, singing was not my calling. I figured that after Whitney, I had nothing to offer in that arena, I would have to find my own stage.

So much has been said about Houston this past week that I don’t think there is much left to add.  It’s taken me a week to think of what I could contribute to the dialogue.  This is the thought I’d like to share.

I remember when my feelings about Whitney changed.  Instead of looking up to her Pop image, I thought, “She’s too Pop, I like more Soul in my music.”  I guess that after maturing and knowing what I liked in music, Whitney no longer fit.  I remember when she was booed on the Soul Train Awards… I understood the community rebelling against her Pop image because I too had gone astray.

Whitney would later pull me back in; it’s impossible not to be pulled in by that woman’s talent.  And now looking back there are a few things that are clear to me.  I believe that Whitney Houston must have lived one of the most isolated lives in music.  She lived a life of firsts, breaking every record imaginable; records for singers, not just black singers or female singers but all singers.  She changed the face of MTV and the sound of Pop music.  Maybe what we all rebelled against was the idea that we could be this talented and that we could be this important.  Perhaps fear is what caused that audience to boo instead of rising to their feet in admiration.

How sad she must have been to work so hard to break through barriers to only be judged by her people in the end.  When you are that talented and that gifted and when you are the first at so much; before you know it, you are alone with everyone else standing behind you.  Surely she tried to find ways to make the average people who surrounded her feel better about themselves by dimming her light.  What womanhood has taught me is that if one is blessed with greatness it’s nothing to apologize for, it’s too rare.  We must shine whatever our light is as brightly as we can.  Because she shined her light, artists like Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Mariah Carey, Rihanna and too many more to name, can now enjoy their Pop success without apologizing for being Pop.  They don’t have to say sorry for their talents or whatever greatness they have.  Yes, learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.

Please enjoy this collection of my favorite Whitney Houston songs, including a live performance of her enduring “I Will Always Love You,” performed here in Washington, DC.

Thank you Whitney for your contributions, your smile, your talent, your effortless voice and perfect pitch.  And thank you for triumphantly standing alone, so that so many of us can boldly stand today.  Now rest in peace.

Download the 192kbps/HQ version (59.2 MB) here!

BELIEVE – “Be” Mixtape Vol. 4

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I’m so proud to present Believe, the 4th installment in my signature “Be” Mix Series.  This mixtape explores various concepts of believing.  It also examines the idea of true love sustaining despite the baggage from past relationships.

I’d like to give a special shout-out and thank you to up and coming Neo-soul singer, Tracy Cruz; she blessed me with her forthcoming single Happy.  This mix features a number of new artists who I hope you’ll explore including Jose` James, KING, and my home girl Carolyn Malachi.  She opens this mix with her song Organic Soul.  There’s also some classic Soul on this one including music from Roy Ayers, the Pointer Sisters and Deniece Williams.  My friends, family and their hilarious voicemails have once again provided my interludes.

The “Be” Mixes are like my babies, and I take months carefully selecting each song.  My goal with these mixes is to be cutting edge while challenging you with new music and experimental artists who push and break boundaries. Be sure to also check out Betrayed, Between, and Behave as well.  Please stream or download all of my mixes and tell a friend about DJBeTray.com.

I hope you enjoy Believe, remember to comment  and tell me what you think.

And on a side note – it is official, Erykah Badu is the only artist featured on all of the “Be” Mixes.  Nina Simone follows her with appearances on 3 of the 4 mixes including this one.  Love!

Download the 192kbps/HQ version (107 MB) here!