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Maxx Kidd “was the Berry Gordy of Washington and got radio stations to play go-go,” says Gregory “Sugarbear” Elliot of EU, referencing the president of Motown in speaking of Carl Lomax Kidd, the music industry entrepreneur, producer, singer, and songwriter who died in Maryland on March 13 at the age of 75. ”He really fought for us. If it wasn’t for him I don’t think go-go would ever have really gotten on the radio.”
Although best known for his involvement in promoting D.C.’s homegrown funky polyrhythmic style, Kidd had first established himself locally as a part of the 1960s and 1970s local soul music scene, and later as a music industry marketing person advocating for American R&B acts to get airplay at radio stations everywhere.
Kidd, who grew up in West Virginia, came to D.C. in 1960. After a stint as a calypso singer at a drive-in restaurant, Kidd joined The Enjoyables, whose 1966 Motown-flavored single “Shame”—written and produced by Kidd on the D.C. label Shrine—never became a hit but later became a sought after piece of wax by British vinyl collectors. Shrine was the 1964-1967 R&B label led by songwriter Eddie Singleton and his wife, Raynoma Gordy Singleton (the ex-wife of Motown’s Berry Gordy). Kevin Coombe, a local DJ who is working on a book about the local soul scene, says that Kidd was active at Shrine as a songwriter, and around that time he also met and wrote for Gene “Duke of Earl” Chandler and Billy Butler on other labels. Later, Kidd’s connections got a single distributed through Curtis Mayfield’s label Curtom.
Between 1967 and 1975 Kidd wrote songs for various acts, from D.C. and elsewhere, that got released on a number of different labels from ABC Paramount to Buddah to his own Cherry Blossom label. D.C.’s The Stridells, a group from Eastern High School, had a regional hit in 1970, with a song he co-wrote called “Mix it Up.” A number of tunes from this era were compiled on a now out-of-print 2006 release called Washington Lost Soul—Carl ‘Maxx’ Kidd Singles Collection Vol. 1. It included girl group The Fawns, proto-go-go group The Young Senators, and Elvans Road Ltd., amongst others.
The roots of Kidd’s involvement with go-go also started around this time. Coombe notes that in 1972 “Maxx Kidd was actually the one who introduced Chuck Brown to the representative at Sussex Records” who released Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers‘ We The People. In 1974, Kidd’s awesome and funky number “Blow Your Whistle”— that uses the term “go-go”—appeared on Brown and The Soul Searchers’ Salt of the Earth.
Al Marks, who later worked for A&M Records, met Kidd in the 1970s when Marks was working for record stores, and as a buyer who sold records to various stores. “I was a 21-year-old white kid who didn’t know anything about R&B music,” Marks says. “Waxie Maxie’s was the biggest R&B account in the town. Maxx took the time to educate me as to what it was all about. What the R&B scene was all about. What it took to make a record a hit.” Charles Stephenson, former EU manager and later co-author of the book The Beat! Go-go Music from Washington, D.C. called him “the professor,” and says he “learned so much about the business from him.”
In 1980, go-go band Trouble Funk self-released their “E Flat Boogie” on D.E.T.T., which stood for Dyke, Edwards, Taylor and Tony, the then members of Trouble Funk. Tony, a.k.a. Big Tony Fisher, soon approached Kidd, then pushing his own new label and marketing entity, Al & The Kidd Records, for ideas on selling it and getting it on radio. By 1983 Kidd decided to start marketing this growing go-go scene on his own new label, T.T.E.D. (the initials stand for “Tolerance, Trust, Eternal dedication, and Determination”). Between 1983 and 1988, the label released state-of-the-art go-go records by Trouble Funk, Chuck Brown, EU, Rare Essence, Redds and The Boys, Mass Extension, Hot Cold Sweat, Slug-go, Slim, and The T.T.E.D. Allstars. Kidd was determined to make go-go more than just a D.C. thing.
In 1984, Kidd produced and issued Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers “We Need Some Money,” on T.T.E.D. Tom Goldfogle, who later became Chuck Brown’s manager, says ”Maxx was a force of nature in the go-go movement of the ’80’s.” Goldfogle says Kidd’s “aggressive promotion” of the song helped it to reach 26 on the Billboard R&B singles charts. While Brown had reached the charts earlier with “Bustin’ Loose,” this time was a bigger victory, as radio was becoming more corporate and thus harder to work.
”Chuck Brown was the guy, but Max was the one who spread the word,” Marks says. “He had all the contacts around the country.“ Kidd also helped establish go-go internationally. Kidd’s brother Roland says Maxx did such a good job of popularizing the genre in the U.K. that when he “went to England you thought he was part of the royal family there.”
Goldfogle notes that Kidd had a reputation for being tough and forthright. “[The] stories about Maxx are legendary,” he says. “From bringing a baseball bat with him to radio, to tussling on the floor of Douglas Records in D.C. with one of the managers. He created a stir at a music-related convention during the ‘We Need Some Money’ release by throwing dollar bills from an overhead balcony, showering the people below with money. He was a shrewd promoter who believed in the D.C. sound and fought tooth and nail to get it exposed, usually in a very unorthodox, but very effective way.”
Marks attests to Kidd’s relentless work ethic and championing of the music he loved “If he believed in something he came in with guns blazing,” he says. “I know the reputation that he had, but I didn’t see it. He was passionate, but some took that as aggression.” He says that Kidd also impressed him in other ways. “He’d take artists to schools to educate kids about following their dreams. He was very community-oriented.”
By 1985, Maxx Kidd had convinced Chris Blackwell of Island records of the value of go-go. Blackwell had heard a Chuck Brown song and then, at Kidd’s urging, came down to see a multi-act go-go bill at the Washington Coliseum. Island soon released a compilation of songs licensed from T.T.E.D. called Go-Go Crankin’: Paint the White House Black. In 1986 Kidd was the associate producer for the 1986 Art Garfunkel-starring film Good to Go [later renamed Short Fuse on DVD] that Island hoped would make go-go break into the mainstream.
In 1992 Kidd suffered a stroke and would be faced with health issues for the rest of his life. Goldfogle notes that “Maxx’s stroke made it very difficult to communicate with him, yet in every conversation I ever had with Maxx after his stroke, it was clear that he knew exactly what he wanted to say.” Kidd’s brother Roland says “we’re sad but kinda relieved because he suffered a lot the last few months.” In thinking about Kidd and his legacy, Stephenson says that “he was larger than life. After Maxx there hasn’t been another individual in D.C. to really take go-go to the next level.”
The Home Going Service For Maxx Kidd is Monday March 27 with a viewing from 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m.; tribute from 10:30 a.m.-11 a.m.; and a service from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. at the First Baptist Church Glenarden, 3600 Brightseat Road, Glenarden.