Why do I care about Chuck Brown, the so-called Godfather of go-go? Well, for one reason, he was part of my childhood and teen years. I grew up in a suburb of Washington, DC, about five miles from the neighborhood of Anacostia, stomping grounds Chuck Brown knew well. You could not drive down a street between my house and into DC without seeing a brightly colored show poster staple-gunned to a telephone pole announcing another show for Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers. I was always too young to go.
In high school, free time in art class meant playing records, yes vinyl records, or sometimes cassette tapes in the teacher’s boom box. Phrases like “I feel like bustin’ loose,” “I need some money, I need some moolah, y’all” and “Gimme the bridge now” became part of my vernacular. And that contagious boom-chucka boom chuck sound of the go-go drums could be heard blasting from the speakers in cars screeching out of the high school parking lot. At your high school, the kids might have been blasting Black Sabbath but at mine, it was Chuck Brown, Trouble Funk, and Rare Essence. Check it out, this is some badass shit.
For a variety of reasons, mostly related to overprotective parents and a lack of moolah, I never saw Chuck Brown live until his birthday show at the 9:30 Club in 2007. I then saw him several more times including a free show at Hopkins Plaza in downtown Baltimore, an opening slot with The Roots at DAR Constitution Hall and at a New Year’s Ever party with the man who will soon become my husband. (It was at that show that I captured two of video clips that I will post at the end of this writing.)
I had wanted to see Chuck Brown again and had attempted to purchase tickets to the April 21 show at the newly restored Howard Theatre. First the show sold out, then it was canceled because he fell ill. Then it was rescheduled to June. I had a feeling that it just was not ever going to happen. And that is a sad thing, as that historic theatre was a huge part of Chuck Brown’s reputation as the Godfather of go-go. I feel sorry that he never got to to play in that space again. He even had some new music with Jill Scott and sounded as great as ever. I know it would have been epic.
I had a couple of chances to shake his hand but never much more. He was always mobbed with admirers, but Chuck Brown was always gracious, cool and always a gentleman. And while Chuck Brown was certainly a talented musician, he was not a guitar virtuoso or an over-the-top performer. His gravely voice was charming but not the stuff of pop idols. He was just a gentle soul who knew how to bring people from all walks of life together to have a groovy, good time. And in the entertainment business, regardless of what genre you play, you can’t really ask for much more than that. RIP Chuckie Baby. (August 22, 1936-May 12, 2012), you will be sorely missed.