The following is a guest post from AARP entertainment producer Steve Mencher.
Walk by the Washington D. C. Metro station at Gallery Place some evening and you might be lucky enough to see and hear a young percussionist or maybe a band of two or three, banging on white paint buckets suspended on orange traffic cones.
Their syncopated rhythms land heavily on the 2 and 4. And the voice and horns that are the imaginary subtext for this simple musical performance are based on the go-go sounds that are Washington’s main contribution to the world of music since Duke Ellington moved to New York.
The Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown, died Wednesday in Baltimore at the age of 75. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s because he never became a huge star, even as his sophisticated brand of funk transformed the music of the 1970s and beyond.
The double CD — The Best of Chuck Brown — might be a good place to start getting to know Brown. If you can keep your seat while listening to “Blow Your Whistle” or “Bustin’ Loose” then remember to ask your doctor to search for a pulse at your next checkup. And his unique spin on “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That (Go-Go) Swing)” slyly states debt to the jazz and swing his music took off from and built upon.
Chuck was no relation to soul superstar James Brown, who was nevertheless on the D.C. legend’s mind as he started to develop his signature sound in the 1960s.
“I wanted a sound of my own. Like James Brown had,” Chuck Brown told the Wall Street Journal’s Jim Fusilli in 2010. “We used to do R&B before go-go . We’d do 15, 20 songs a night… But with go-go, nobody wanted us to stop. We’d just keep jumping into another tune. It’s go-go because it don’t stop.”
As D.C. mayor Vincent Gray told the Associated Press Wednesday: “Go-go is D.C.’s very own unique contribution to the world of pop music. Today is a very sad day for music lovers the world over.”
Photo: Gogo drummer, Washington DC, 2009, by Flickr user Steve Snodgrass.