Go-go music has provided much in the way of endorsements. From Backyard Band performing an ode to Popeyes’ biscuits and jelly to Fatal Attraction shouting about Grey Goose, bands often mention certain products and companies onstage, but they rarely get paid for their plugs. Godfather of Go-Go Chuck Brown, by comparison, has hit the lotto—the D.C. Lottery, that is, whose Rolling Cash 5 game he’s been promoting in television commercials since late last year. In the past, Brown has appeared in everything from Washington Post ads to commercials for Internet phone service, but not since Junk Yard Band’s early-’80s spots for the local Cavalier Men’s Shop has there been a campaign quite as prominent—or as funky—as that of Rolling Cash 5.
The ads feature Brown, bundled up in a fur coat and wearing his trademark wide-brimmed hat, walking around the city. Guitar in hand, he bops through Chinatown and Southwest’s fish market and lingers in front of Ben’s Chili Bowl, all the while talking about the game. The music boasts a sinister bass line, bluesy guitar, and distinct go-go percussion, all of which is pepped up by rousing call-and-response. Brown asks, “When you walk in the store, you wanna win fo’ sho’—play what?” and receives the reply “Roll, roll, roll, roll!” The whole thing plays out like a snippet from one of his live shows, if he were to play, say, a bodega crowded with lotto players.
“They just wanted a jingle,” says Brown of the D.C. Lottery. “They didn’t know what I’d come up with. But I think this go-go thing hit the spot.”
Bob Hainey, chief of communications for the D.C. Lottery, says Brown was tapped for the campaign based on the success of a promotional CD of the legend’s music that was released in conjunction with its Extra game in 2002. Hainey says the lottery thought Rolling Cash 5—which, unlike, say, Powerball, is a local game—needed a prominent hometown figure to promote its Washington-centrism. “We’re not advertising to Tulsa, Okla.; we’re advertising to Washington, D.C.,” says Hainey. “Everyone listens to go-go here, we have the Godfather of Go-Go doing the spot—it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Brown’s motivation to participate had as much to do with charming Lady Luck as anything. When the idea for the spot was first kicked around last fall, he was immediately interested. “I said, ‘I know I’m gonna win now,’” he says of being a lottery pitchman.
His numbers haven’t hit just yet, but Brown does have a hit on his hands: In the few short months the commercial has been airing, it has already entered the canon of beloved local commercial jingles, right up there with the Eastern Motors and Gebco Insurance themes. The spot escapes the downfall of most celebrity jingles—it’s delightful beyond the novelty of hearing Chuck Brown wax about filling out a bet slip with a baby pencil. The music beneath the plug is brilliant, in part because it was created by what could be the most talented team ever to pen music for a local ad: Brown and producer Chucky Thompson, the D.C. native who made a name for himself working with the likes of Mary J. Blige and the former Biggie Smalls.
The jingle’s music is just a truncated version of a song on Brown’s upcoming studio album, which Thompson is producing. “That’s why that particular track is so strong,” Brown says. “That 30 seconds, 60 seconds—it was hard to get it down to that like we did, but we sat there and worked it out together.”
Brown says the song will appear in a full-length, four-minute version on his new album, which is slated for a summer release—albeit with different lyrics. But for now, he is satisfied by the song’s success in short form. “[People] tell me it’s the only commercial they’ve ever heard that was in the pocket,” he says. —Sarah Godfrey