Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Urban Beat: Chuck Brown Busts Loose

Chuck Brown, the godfather of "go-go" music, died on Wednesday from sepsis and pneumonia.
Unless you were some sort of musical fanatic or had black relatives or friends who lived in D.C. you may not have heard of him but he was a regional musical giant who had some modest success over the years outside of the D.C. area. The music that he pioneered was called "go-go" music not because of any affiliation with strip clubs but because it was made for dancing and could make people "go go" all night long. It was basically funk music but of a particular variety. Whereas groups like The Meters or early Funkadelic slowed the beat down and introduced all sorts of tricky drum patterns, Chuck Brown kept a relentless quick beat and as he told a journalist, kept the drum beat very simple for dancers. "I'd been trying to get drummers to play that particular groove for the longest time. The beat is so simple most drummers don't like to play it."*

As a young man Brown had played in Latin groups. Unsurprisingly go-go music parallels the endless rhythmic energy found in Afro-Cuban music or other close relatives like reggaeton, calypso, reggae or merengue. As we've discussed before all music is related. I can't emphasize enough that go-go music was made for dancing, for getting out on the floor and shaking what your mama or daddy gave you. It was fun stuff. Chuck Brown created music that pretty much split the difference between Afro-Latin music, Duke Ellington, James Brown, Fela , P-Funk and disco.  If you were looking for long turgid guitar solos or navel gazing lyrics this genre didn't really feature that. But in its way it was a counterbalance to the insipid disco that dominated the radio airwaves in the late seventies and the quiet storm R&B that would follow it in the eighties. You can't just listen to go-go music. You experience it. If you're not sweating and dancing then you're not doing it right. There is nothing digital about go-go music. One "song" could last for 30 minutes or longer depending on how Brown felt that night or the energy that he was receiving back from the crowd.

Anyway enough rambling. Here are some Brown cuts that if you're a fan you've definitely heard before. If you were unfamiliar with his music then these are excellent introductions that are typical of his work.

* Funk The Music, the People and the Rhythm of the One by Rickey Vincent
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