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This week I wrote about Mingering Mike. Mike is a talented singer, songwriter, and artist. For nearly 40 years, he chose to write in secret. Between 1968 and 1977, he recorded songs and drew his own album covers inspired by those secret recording sessions. He actively avoided fame. In fact, he insists on using a fake name in public.
During Mike’s heyday, D.C.’s soul scene was huge. There were dozens of bands and clubs; it was way bigger than go-go and punk would become. I don’t know if Mingering Mike would have “made it” through traditional means—playing clubs, networking, sending demo tapes to New York, etc. But I wanted to find out what it was like for singers and musicians who didn’t record in their bathroom.
Chuck Brown was an obvious first call. Maybe too obvious. He’s been interviewed probably hundreds of times. But that didn’t stop him from telling me a great story.
Chuck Brown recalls how he got his start:
“I used to play in people’s backyards, cookouts. People used to feed me and give me a few drinks. Just me and my guitar. Just singing and playing guitar – do anything they’d ask me to do, blues, mostly blues, a little bit of gospel, a few ballads. It was just me and my guitar. People kept advising me why don’t you get in a band.”
In 1966, Brown formed the Soul Searchers. “I was looking for some guys who could play with some soul. You just go around to different clubs and hear guys play. That’s what I did. I used to see bands three, four times a week…..No problem finding musicians. Finding the good ones, that’s the problem.”
Brown worked three jobs so he could pay his band. Show money wasn’t going to cut it. “I started off playing for no money—barbecue and beer. I was working three jobs so I could pay my band a little bit of money. The club was only giving us food and some beer. I was brick layer, truck driver, and musician.”