Posts Tagged ‘go-go’

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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New Years Party Mix 2012

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Just in time for your New Year’s Party!  Stream or download this mix and let it flow for the night.

This is a mix from a party I recently deejayed… we had 20 somethings to 40 somethings in the crowd.  Most of them were from either DC or the Baltimore area.  It wasn’t easy finding a mix to satisfy these extremes but judging by the crowd’s reaction, I think I did it.  This mix has it all R&B, female emcees, classic east and west coast Hip-hop, Baltimore Club, Go-go, electronica, dancehall, new music and more.

Happy New Year and Enjoy… let’s get it in 2012! Love!

Grace Jones – Slave to the Rhythm

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Slave to the Rhythm is one of my favorite songs from the 80’s.  I remember this song debuting and sounding like nothing I had heard on the radio before; but the sound was still familiar, that was because members of the D.C. Go-go band, E.U. were backing Grace Jones up on this groundbreaking single.  As much as I love this song, it’s so hard to work it into a mix because of its uniqueness.  Grace’s vocals are too rock to group it with 80’s R&B, the strings in the music don’t blend well with old school Go-go and the song’s too soulful to sit next to 80’s pop; just like Grace Jones, it stands alone.  Please enjoy Slave to the Rhythm, and if you can find it, the 9-minute extended version is a real masterpiece.

 

Top 5 Neo-Soul Females

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Erykah Badu

One of my favorite albums, across all music genres, is Erykah Badu’sMomma’s Gun.”  I honestly believe it’s one of the last true albums produced; and by that I mean it’s not a collection of singles… it’s a well-arranged production of songs.  Erykah is the mother of Neo-Soul;  I say this because she was the first major female Neo-soul artist, and has also “birthed” a number of new Neo-soul singers.   A couple of her background singers, N’Dambi and Yahzarah, have gone on to be hit makers in the genre as well… like Badu said, “[she] goes on and on and on and on.”

Badu calls her self an “analog girl in a digital world,” but that’s just her modesty.  She’s actually one of the most forward thinking and creative artists in music today.  A good songwriter can express the words and thoughts that you may feel everyday but don’t know how to say on your own; that’s why we love good music, it’s relatable.  A good singer can bring well-written lyrics to life; they have soul and passion.  A musician finds the notes to tie it all together…  but an artist is all this and more.  Whatever has created Erykah Badu, I love it.  She is a fantastic mix of flawed yet unapologetic womanhood.  She strips herself bare, sometimes literally, and shares her soul.  I don’t hear artists paying tribute to Badu or crediting her genius and influence, but isn’t that always the way for women?  The industry may not appreciate her now, but it will.  Maybe what’s really going on is she is the digital girl and we’re stuck in an analog world.

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Jill Scott

When the “Who is Jill Scott” album was first released, I put it in my car’s CD changer and didn’t take it out for like two years.  From her soft vocals echoing hope of lasting love to her screams of celebration, “Who is Jill Scott” is a classic album.  While I obviously love her recordings there is nothing like Jill Scott live.  She writes with the soul of a poet, performs with the intensity of a dramatic actress and sings like a goddess… I would say an angel, but I don’t’ think angels bring it like “Jilly from Philly.”  When her heart is broken, yours breaks too.  When she’s in love, you can’t wait to feel the same way.  That’s what Philadelphia soul has always done and that’s what flows through Jill Scott, from her hair follicles to her toenails.

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Ledisi

Not since Sly and the Family Stone has a sound so raw and real come out of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Ledisi’s vocals can make you want to kick off your shoes in celebration or ball up in the corner and cry.  In her music, she asks the hard and serious questions aloud that so many women keep inside like; “How am I going to pay my bills?”  and “Will you be there in the morning?”  She is a down-home “gal” from the left coast and represents for the everyday sister everywhere.

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Amel Larrieux

Now here lies the voice of an Angel. From the first time Amel Larrieux sweetly said, “Tell me if you want me to give you all my time,” the answer was a resounding yes from music fans everywhere. This singer, songwriter, musician and producer, began as a member of Groove Theory in the 90’s and has since become a solo, Neo-soul staple. Her sweet, soft and often pain stricken vocals always seem to feel a little melancholy even when she’s singing a happy song. She was a part of pioneering Neo-soul and continues to perform it better than most.

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Me`shell Ndegeocello

From the fist time I heard Me`shell Ndegeocello’s low moan over her sensual bass guitar I thought, “Thank you God for sending my generation the music of Ndegeocello.”  She was so wonderfully retro-soul it almost seemed like a cosmic mistake.

Originally from the DC area, she flirts with hints of go-go in her percussion-driven up-tempo songs but is obviously in a serious relationship with soul.  She is a visual and stimulating songwriter; I can see what she’s describing and I can feel what she’s feeling.  My favorite Me`shell song changes from time-to-time, but my top two would be Outside Your Door and Rush Over.  These are literally two of my favorite songs of all time and there are quite a few other Me`shell songs that would easily go in my Top 50.  This musician, singer, songwriter is simply amazing and if you haven’t heard her album “Bitter,” get it immediately.  From the first note to the last, it is one of the most haunting R&B, Neo-Soul, Funk, Soul compilations ever!  And “Bitter” is great after a hard break up… just stay away from all sharp objects while you listen.