Throughout the years, a lot of the institutions that are truly D.C. have faded from the scene. A fact I've lamented on these pages for a few months now. But, one D.C. hometown institution that's still going strong is Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go.
In the history of American music, very few genres can have their origins traced to just one person. Go-Go is one of those genres and Chuck Brown is the person. Chuck Brown started the Go-Go sound back in the 1970s when he had the drummer in his band keep the beat going between songs to keep people on the dance floor. From there, his sound got more funky with more bass, percussion and hooks and call and responses that involved the crowd. But, all the time a constant beat was kept to keep the people groovin'.
Chuck started his Friday show at the Barns of Wolf Trap with his version of the "Love Theme from The Godfather". From there, Chuck and his band, the Soul Searchers, played Chuck's takes on several jazz and r&b standards, including "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "Run Joe", before getting the crowd going with the call and response of "Wind Me Up Chuck" and giving some front time to Little Benny and KK, Chuck's daughter. In what seemed a matter of a few minutes, the band had played an hour and the break was upon us.
During the break, I was talking to my friend "Vern" who brought up a good question. Chuck Brown's son, Nekos, plays football at Virginia Tech and Chuck has been quoted several times as saying he never misses a home game. "Vern" wondered if Chuck dressed the same way for Tech football games as he does for everything else, fine clothing with a hat and gold sunglasses. (A Roanoke Times article about father and son is here.)
After a twenty minute break, Chuck and the band hit the stage again. He wasted no time getting the backsides shaking, running through several of his best known songs including "Woody Woodpecker" and "The Party Roll" before turning the mic over again to KK. KK rapped for several minutes before taking the band into "Chuck Baby" and it's famous call and response line "Chuck don't give a f*ck". By this time, a couple of dozen women or so from the audience had decided it was time to do some rump shaking on stage. One of them looked surprisingly like Rick James, if James wore an argyle sweater.
With the groove of "Chuck Baby" intensifying, more of the crowd headed up on stage to dance with the band. One of the dancers was an elderly white man who looked a little like Santa Claus on a cross country vacation. He had a bright red shirt on over his ample belly and was wearing an Indiana Jones style hat. As the song went on, Santa on vacation inched closer to Chuck before he finally got close enough to take off his Indiana Jones hat and place it on Chuck's head on top of Chuck's hat. Chuck's expression was one of disapproval and Santa quickly reclaimed his hat and backed away. I'll give Santa credit for one thing. At least he had the good sense not to swap hats with Chuck.
Not too long after the hat incident, Chuck called for the band to "gimme the bridge", indicating it was time for "Bustin' Loose". "Bustin' Loose" was a #1 R&B hit for Chuck in 1978 and has been his show closing number for years. The audience, including the 50 or so folks now on stage, had one last chance to shake their backsides. After a few more minutes of grooving, the band wrapped up "Bustin' Loose" and the gig.
After the show, Chuck stayed in the bar area of the Barns, greeting fans, posing for pictures and signing autographs for quite a while. One of those fans was Santa. Chuck happily posed for a picture with Santa, sending Santa on his way with a smile on his face. It's good to see, that now in his 70's, Chuck still knows how to please the crowd, on and off the stage.
A 2007 NPR interview with Chuck Brown can be heard here. The above photo of Chuck Brown was taken by me at a 2005 benefit concert for the victims of Hurricane Katrina at the State Theater in Falls Church, Va.