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It’s been four years since the godfather of go-go, Chuck Brown, died, and the District is still finding ways to commemorate him. In addition to Saturday night’s “4Ever Chuck” tribute concert at the Howard Theatre with The Chuck Brown Band, Junk Yard Band, and Sugar Bear with E.U., there will be another homage this year: The first annual “Go-Go New Music Day” will offer new tunes from The Chuck Brown Band, Be’la Dona, Backyard Band, Junk Yard Band, Team Familiar, and others.
In recent years, go-go has received some criticism for its lack of new original material, and “Go-Go New Music Day” is in part a response to that. It’s also another way for the musicians to keep Chuck’s spirit alive. While there are no plans for a physical release of the songs as a compilation, some of the groups will be making their contributions available for download, and the artists hope to get WKYS and WPGC airplay along with online attention from Go-Go Radio Live and other online outlets like TMOTT-Go-Go. With the release of Rare Essence‘s new studio album, Turn It Up, last week, go-go fans suddenly have lots of new material to welcome the summer. The Chuck Brown Band’s “Show Me Love” shows off the smooth vocal stylings of guitarist Frank “Scooby” Sirius, who’s also part of the group Team Familiar. The composition—which producer Lorenzo Johnson had a hand in writing—has a bit of a Stevie Wonder-gone-go-go feel to it, and Sirius says Brown’s vibe permeates throughout the tune:
[T]he vibe and message of the song is all Chuck Brown. The opening lines of the song, ’Born in the City/ Chuck Brown Raised Me…’ sets the stage for everything that follows. If you listen carefully, you can even hear Chuck’s voice in one section of the song. Chuck’s spirit lives in the band, and it lives in the fans that come out to the shows. There are definitely nights we feel him there with us. He was definitely looking over our shoulder in the studio when we were recording. We spend a lot of time thinking about music that represents The Chuck Brown Band, as well as giving a nod to the Godfather by making sure we were true to the quality of music and recording that he always presented. We collaborated with Uno Boss, a writer we have worked with and who co-wrote many of Chuck’s hits over the years, to come up with the message we wanted to be a part of the song.
Keyboardist Cherie Mitchell-Agurs—aka SweetCherie—says Be’la Dona’s song “Night Falls,” with its rapped references to Chuck Brown, Jas Funk and Lil’ Benny, was a group effort. Mitchell-Agurs, who also plays in The Chuck Brown Band, says the tune, which has some sung verses and a nod to Chuck’s song “Party Roll,” started “with an idea from an arrangement we worked on previously. Everyone added a few chords, bass lines and horn shots to make it complete. Once we were satisfied with the form of the music, we got help with the lyrics from some writer friends.”
She adds that “we also wanted to ensure the song appealed to the live audience while maintaining a marketable radio-friendly sound. The beats were tracked throughout the song. The chorus and bridge, however, had a more ‘live’ approach.”
Junk Yard Band’s “Anacostia Bay” is not exactly an original, it’s a go-go adaptation of Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay.” Junk Yard’s longtime manager Moe Shorter says that Gene Pratt, a former member of the group, brought it to the band. Shorter says Pratt “explained that at a funeral we attended last year for a band member, he listened to our members sing and he had reflections. His reflections were of the days when the band started and he said he also just kept thinking about Chuck when reflecting.” When he thought about himself reflecting, he said it was like the song “Dock of the Bay.”
As for the others, Backyard Band’s “Tokyo Spinach” offers a catchy keyboard line, go-go percussion, some speedy bounce beats touches, and Big G’s hypnotic repeating of the title. Team Familiar’s “Straight to the Bar” is a speedy number that mixes D. Floyd’s growled vocals with Sirius’ soulful singing over the group’s potent timbales, congas, and trap drum percussion. Michelle Blackwell’s “Bounce” is a clever ode to “ladies running the show” at the go-go, with sing-song as well as tuneful verses and a mixture of sped-up, warped, and perky keyboard rhythms. DJ Flexx’s “This Ain’t the Water” features Mr. Major and Phil Jaxx crooning and rapping on a funky tune that references Flexx’s 1994 remix of a Northeast Groovers song. Reality and Groove Stu astutely reference classic old-school jazzy Chuck Brown and flow overtop with a mixture of spoken and sung lyrics.