While the journey to stardom was filled with its fair share of obstacles, Chuck Brown came a long way from his humble beginnings, to audiences screaming “Wind me up, Chuck,” as he geared up to perform at sold-out venues.
“I’ve been around music all my life and everybody in my family could play some kind of instrument,” Brown told the National Endowment for the Arts in a podcast in 2010. “Walking down those old country roads playing your guitar or blowing your harmonica or playing your accordion. My mother, she played an accordion, and she played a harmonica, and she played a little bit of piano. And I played a little bit of piano when I was 7 years old. By the time I was 13, I didn’t play piano anymore.”
Born in Gaston, North Carolina, on August 22, 1936, a young Charles Brown left home at an early age and spent time in and out of correctional facilities. However, the DMV played a prominent role in forming the future” Godfather of Go-Go.”
“Out of all the other institutions that I’ve been through, they only taught me one thing, how not to go back to those same institutions again. But when I went to Lorton, that’s when I found myself,” Brown said, referring to the former northern Virginia prison complex. “That’s where a lot of inmates found themselves. You were presented with all kinds of opportunities, you know? You could learn a trade. Guys have come out of there and became lawyers. I got serious about music while I was down there.”
Though never formally trained, it was inside Lorton that Brown learned more about music.
“I learned how to play that guitar, I got serious about it within about six months. A young man named Scotty, Bill Walker, Shannon, these guys were three great guitar players, used to play with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, you know, played with a lot of the big bands. I used to sit there and watch those guys and they’d show me a few chords and I never forgot what they showed me because I never learned how to read music,” Brown explained in the NEA interview, conducted two years before he died in May 2012 at age 75.
It was also inside the prison that Brown began performing for crowds, and he became an instant hit with his fellow inmates.
“Showtime every Saturday [was] over at the auditorium at 5 p.m. Chow time on Saturdays was 5 p.m. So it got to the point, if I was on the show— you know, Petey Green was the disk jockey and he broadcasted over the loudspeakers all over— if I was on the show at 5 p.m., wouldn’t be nobody in the mess hall.”
In the 1960s Brown joined a group called Los Latinos, and was inspired and influenced by the Latin sounds. With his work with The Soul Searchers in the early 70s, Brown began exploring different sounds and merging genres, from jazz, to blues, gospel and African rhythms, producing funky tunes like “We the People” (1972), and the 1974 album “Salt of the Earth,” which featured hits such as “Blow Your Whistle” sampled for rapper Eve’s “Tambourine” (2008) and “Ashley’s Roach Clip,” (1974) sampled by Eric B and Rakim, LL Cool J and others.
The world was introduced to a new sound, when Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers revolutionized music with the 1976 hit “Bustin Loose.”
Brown continued the Go-Go sound with hits such as “We Need Some Money” (1984), and his famous tune the “Go-Go Swing,” in 1986. The legendary artist performed and created music until his passing from multiple organ failure in 2012, with notable tunes from his 2007 album “We’re About the Business,” such as “Block Party“ and “Chuck Baby,” featuring his daughter KK.
The Chuck Brown Band, featuring his son Wiley Brown often singing his dad’s hits, still performs to this day.
The Go-Go Swing Lives on
The celebrated musician ushered in a new sound that musicians continue to be inspired by to this day.
Artists and bands like Sugar Bear and E.U., Rare Essence, Backyard, Be’La Dona, New Impressionz, and many more, keep Brown’s sound alive and even add their own rhythmic flares such as go-go’s pocket or more modern bounce-beat sounds. Producers and musicians such as Pharrell Williams, Jill Scott and rapper Wale have also incorporated the go-go sound and shared it with audiences worldwide.
In August 2022, at the annual Chuck Brown Day, go-go artist Sugar Bear, famous for the song “Da Butt,” with the band E.U., paid tribute to the “Godfather of Go-Go.”
“The huge crowd showed that his legacy lives on and that people are continuing to incorporate his musical genius into new forms of music,” Sugar Bear said.
D.C. native Ramon Thompson said go-go taps into African ancestry.
“The drumming in go-go speaks to our melanin,” explained Thompson, store manager at Blue Nile Botanicals.
Thompson remembers the vibrant social scene of go-go and attending countless parties with his friends. He said the next day at school, students all over D.C. would drum on their desks with their pencils, like “we were our own go-go band.”
Thompson said the percussion-heavy groove of go-go resonated with audiences decades ago and continues to inspire people today.
“Over 50 years later and I can still remember the beginning of go-go growing up. It’s a part of our Chocolate City culture and our blueprint of D.C,” Thompson told The Informer. “I don’t know what D.C. would be like if go-go music didn’t exist.”
Source: Washington Informer