September 29, 2010


Chuck Brown: Tiny Desk Concert (Frannie Kelley, NPR: Tiny Desk Concert)

No one in D.C. can really explain why go-go hasn't traveled beyond the city's environs — we love it here, it's all over our commercial R&B and hip-hop radio stations and, at least when I was in high school, a go-go in a school's gym was the most packed party of the weekend. Chuck Brown is a local hero. A few days after he played our offices, Brown and his whole band played at the Redskins' stadium for the halftime show.

So to have Brown play a corner of our office — not a 90,000-capacity football stadium — was like a dream come true for a lot of NPR staffers. Sweat started pouring immediately, between the 11 musicians (that's congas and a stripped-down kit; saxophone, trumpet and trombone; two backup singers and a rapper) and all the go-go-heads in our building.

It's not like the band was going to slow down, though. It played "Bustin' Loose," which got everyone singing the refrain: "Gimmethebridgenow, gimmethebridgenow." The song has been a hit in D.C. since 1979, so nobody was standing still. The crowd was yelling out requests, too: "Chuck Baby" and "Run Joe," a go-go cover of the Louis Jordan song. Go-go is based on a syncopated beat and the use of congas in addition to drums. A lot of it is call-and-response, some of which was led by Brown (his web address is in fact

Go-go is mostly about the groove, though, and Chuck Brown just settles in and leans back. He showed up looking like a million bucks in a vest, Dior shades and his signature hat, and then he did what he does best — get the crowd on his side and hand its members something to dance to.

The Godfather of Go-Go (Jim Fusili, 9/29/10, WSJ)

Go-go music's lack of broad appeal seems to boil down to the perception that it can draw a violent crowd: Promoters would rather steer clear of it, and as a result a wide audience hasn't been nurtured. That's a shame, because go-go music, at least when Mr. Brown serves it up, is an undeniably infectious strand of dance music with the potential to draw in fans of old-school R&B, hip-hop and '70s jazz funk. Put Mr. Brown on stage at a festival like Bonnaroo or Glastonbury and he'd come away with thousands of new fans—and so would go-go music.

Mr. Brown built his legacy from the ground up, as an 8-year-old shoeshine boy who worked a self-designed circuit not far from where Ben's Chili sits on U Street—or from Chuck Brown Way, a thoroughfare so designated a few years ago. His base was the Howard Theatre, home to touring jazz titans in the '40s. Mr. Brown recalls shining the shoes of Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan. "I used to say, 'Shine. Five cents, a nickel or half-a-dime,'" he said. "The Trailways bus station was on one corner, Greyhound on the other. The police chased me back and forth. Then I'd go to the Rocket Room where the country-and-western guys played." He remembered shining Hank Williams's shoes. "He gave me a 50-cent tip."

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted by Orrin Judd at September 29, 2010 12:10 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus