When we heard the sad news that DC go-go legend Chuck Brown had died, I called his friend and sometimes rival Joe Quarterman. Here’s what he said about Chuck…
Back in 62, when Chuck started with the Soul Searchers, I was in a group called the Yellow Crows Band. We’d compete for gigs- you know, cabarets, dance halls. We would sometimes go to his concerts, and sometimes we would see him in the audience checking us out. We were friends – not enemies.
In 1972, I recorded a song called “I Got So Much Trouble in My Mind,” and he recorded a song called “I Feel Like Bustin’ Loose.” You know that one. In 1973, there was a “Battle of the Bands” call-in show where they played both tunes on the air. On that occasion, I beat him out. I got more people to call in. It took Chuck about five more years before that song made it on the charts.
So in that sense, we were sort of rivals. He would steal my drummers, and I would steal his. The first drummer I had quit Chuck Brown to be with my band. Another drummer was too young – 16 years old – and I had to get a work permit so he could play with me. Then he left me to play with Chuck, and played with Chuck 5 years. He had the go-go beat. He wanted to get into that.
Then I went on a USO tour in 74; when I came back I started touring the US. Chuck stayed in Washington, DC and mixed his go-go sound with R&B and Latin type songs, and they kind of created a new sound. He kept it here in DC as opposed to taking it outside of DC.
We were young. We were all young. He played that music, and he didn’t change. Most of us went on to R&B, but Chuck kept that sound. He didn’t change.
How did you hear of his passing?
I was listening to a radio station, and it came across as a flash bulletin. They said Chuck Brown had just passed away in Baltimore in a hospital. I even called into the radio station to talk about it, and they put me on.
It was a shock. Chuck was … he was physically fit, he had a beautiful personality. It was… it was a shock to me. I got calls from everywhere, asking did I hear? It was just unbelievable. Chuck was just such a strong individual. I really thought he’d pull through the illness and get back on the scene.
We talked last 18 months ago, 2 years ago. On the phone. He was asking me if I was still traveling around the world. He said, well, now I got my gogo thing going on. I want to keep that. It’s my baby.
Sometimes when people pass, they become more popular, more mainstream, than when they were alive. I really think Chuck Brown deserves that. He honed this music. He put it together, and kept it together.
What would you say to someone young, who just moved to Washington, DC? How would you explain Chuck’s legacy?
Listen to Chuck Brown. Listen to early Chuck Brown. You’ll hear some unique, funky music. It’s very unique. You won’t hear it anywhere else in the world but here, if you want to hear raw, funky gogo soul music. You should listen to it. Draw your own conclusions. You can’t go to New York to get it; you can’t go to LA to get it. If you want it, you gotta get it here. That’s the glory of it.
You know, a crowd showed up wherever he played.
Chuck is an impressionist. You have to have an ear for it. You have to like go-go music; it’s not something you would look for if you’re not used to it.
But his crowd, they would do it all night long, they would groove with it.
Wednesday night, I was at an Elks Lodge in Maryland. They stopped playing the hand dance music to play Chuck Brown honoring it. They had to change their dance style to fit the music, because it was totally different. That hit me. Wow. I didn’t know you couldn’t hand dance to that music. They started boogieing, rocking side to side.
We’re playing in Richmond, Virginia tomorrow night. We’re going to play “I Feel Like Bustin’ Loose.” It’s his greatest song, his biggest song. The beat that he had is so close to my song, I’m going to mix it with my song – “I Got So Much Trouble On My Mind.” We have a mic check tomorrow at 3, and we don’t play til 8 or 9, so we got plenty of time to figure it out.
If you had a chance to say goodbye, what would you say?
[Laughs sadly] I’d hope it wouldn’t be goodbye. But… if I could say something to him now, knowing I wouldn’t be able to say anything else, I’d say, Chuck, you made a mark. You put DC on the map for an unique sound, and we all will be honoring you by playing your music as long we can.
Photo of Chuck Brown in 2009 via Flickr user Kelvin0001.