Gone are the carefree days of partying at the 9:30 Club until the wee hours of the morning to celebrate the birthday of the Godfather of GoGo, Chuck Brown. It was a tradition. August 22nd was a holiday some may argue, as year after year we attended that annual party from 1999 to 2011. One could never tell who was having the most fun, Brown himself with his ever present gold toothed smile that could light up a room or the fans themselves.
Chuck Brown died on May 16, 2012 at the ripe age of 75. He still remains the Godfather of GoGo. No one will ever step into his pigeon toed boots although the bands are keeping alive the music that he created, GoGo, with his band The Soul Searchers. People still speak his name everyday. You don't see too many people who have a Celebration of Life at the Convention Center. Brown brought people together from all quadrants of the City and beyond across racial and class lines. He was a humble champion of the people coming from a tough childhood including a stint in Lorton.
Brown was so many things to so many people and was affectionately called "Pops"because he served as a father figure, role model and mentor for many from musicians to fans showing that you may face troubles in your life, but you can always turn it around. The people listened and relished in everything he did.
Tom Goldfogle, Brown's manager and long time friend says, " If I had to say one thing I miss most, it would be our daily conversations and how upbeat and positive he always was. Even when we had to talk about something negative we found a way to laugh and turn it positive - I miss our teamwork !"
James Funk of the bands Proper Utensils and Rare Essence and who has shared the stage with Brown on numerous occasions, misses Brown's friendship and the entertainment aspects of a Chuck Brown show. That friendship spanned decades as Brown would sometimes sneak an under aged Funk into the club and early on in late 1974 to 1976, he would have Funk DJing between his sets.
"Big Tony" Fisher of Trouble Funk recalls, "Chuck would call me at least once a week and always have a story to tell even if it was the same one. Sometimes I would say, 'Chuck you told me that one already'. Then he would say, 'I must be getting old' and we both would laugh about it. He had a wonderful sense of humor. I really miss that and he told some of the funniest jokes. Chuck was a man of many talents. I always told him he could have been an actor or comedian."
"Teebone" David, also of Trouble Funk shares a birthday with Brown. He relays, "I'm truly honored to share birthdays with Chuck. He was a great spirit and I really looked up to him. I miss his big heart. He always gave me a pat on the back and gave me motivation. What I am most thankful for is that he played a big part in getting my musical career started. He got the first band I played with, Triple Threat, our first gig at The Ebony Inn in the late 60's and we became the house band there for three years. So Chuck Baby, Happy Birthday! Rest in Paradise. You are Truly Missed."
Gregory "Sugar Bear" Elliott, who recently travelled with the Chuck Brown Tribute Band to a wildly successful show in Atlanta, says, " I miss talking to him twice a week."
Emmett Nixon, the original drummer of Trouble Funk recounts, "When I first met Chuck back in the 70's, I was impressed by the fact that though he was a legend even then, he was still approachable and remained that way throughout his career. You can't miss what you never had which is any new music he may have produced had he still been with us; however, his presence in the go-go game will be sorely missed. He was a musical pioneer; a force to be reckoned with who left a template for this genre of music. What's done with that template in terms of the future of go-go remains to be seen."
Lloyd Pinchback, the last original member of The Soul Searchers, shares a lifetime of memories and deep insight of Brown. “What do you miss most about Chuck? As they always say, as far as people are concerned, the first impression is usually your last. Whenever I think of Chuck, I always see him smiling that big smile we all know so well. When we first met at Chase’s Lounge in 1968, he greeted me graciously with that smile, and as a very shy person then, that smile was most encouraging, assuring, and engaging to me personally. To contrast that first impression, the leader of the Los Latinos, as well as his partner, seemed rather distant, uninviting, and if I may say a tad arrogant at that first meeting. Surely that was due to the group’s popularity and appeal. Clearly and immediately I knew where the heart and soul of that unit rested."
"Although I’ve seen Chuck angry at times, it was usually due to something occurring on/during a gig, but I don’t remember ever walking in on Chuck to find him surly or in bad spirits because of personal issues, which we all must endure. I miss Chuck’s good and warm nature and how he made folks feel at ease almost immediately. In some ways, he was like a father-figure, but I never found him overbearing and overtly demanding," continues Pinchback.
Pinchback adds, "Although Chuck has always been the real leader of the Los Latinos and the Searchers, he was never too arrogant or drunk with power that he wouldn’t or didn’t take advice from others in the band, including younger folks, like myself. I’ve known band members who claimed that Chuck disrespected them in one way or the other. The fact of the matter is that in most of such cases, that member disrespected Chuck prior to being offended themselves. He did know how to achieve vengeance if a member became mouthy or unmanageable. He approached everyone in the same manner as described: with that big grin, but he simply didn’t take shit off anyone under his employ. I suppose I also miss his no-nonsense manner respectively. These factors led to his success and longevity: a warm heart and a strong hand."
Curtis Johnson, also a Soul Searcher, "What I miss? I think it was the jokes and the fun time sitting in the back of the limo,and the music collaboration."
"The love he showed for GoGo, his style and voice and the energy and drive he gave us younger guys in the game is missed", adds Larry "Stomp" Atwater of Da Mixx band. "At the age he was, he did it to the fullest every night, sometimes sick, and never complained. He was a true icon and role model."
Kato Hammond, owner of TMOTTGoGo Radio and Magazine feels, "It's kind of funny, because in many ways to me, it feels like he's still here. I would say that what I personally miss most about Chuck is his wisdom and his stories. It was like sitting around listening to Confucius talking. He would be the teacher, and we would be the grasshoppers!"
Musician Vincent Coleman, of the Wellman musical dynasty, misses Brown's professionalism.
Author and poet Thomas Sayers Ellis misses Brown's folk-mouth. "He once told me, 'I've always been religiously inclined' and 'Man, my mama used to play a lil' harmonica.'"
Fans and musicians alike miss everything that Brown brought to D.C.'s homegrown genre of music, GoGo, and shared their comments online.
"Top flight musical arrangements! Unlike what's profusely apparent now in the GoGo circuit particularly which is musical mediocrity," expresses Lovell Brooks.
Sidney Thomas states, "I miss Chuck's status as the unofficial ambassador of DC music (not just go-go music). That role has yet to be filled by another musician."
Lincoln Drake shares, "The fact that we wont hear anything new from Chuck or [Lil] Benny makes a brother tear up."
Greg Herbert misses "the voice, the chucking of the guitar and his guitar riffs..."
A fan from across the great pond in Nottingham, England, Eamon O'carroll, also misses his voice.
Jeno Meyers, who has performed all over the world with bands such as Heatwave and The Stylistics, remembers Brown as "always in good spirits! When I saw Chuck I remember rehearsing at Perfect Sound studio and he got out of his Lincoln and he spoke to me. I felt like I saw God! Well, he is the Godfather, but I was excited to meet him off the stage!"
Schooner Theman recalls Brown being real down to earth. "Real grounded, he was."
Promoter Ron Duckett enjoyed the "real grown folks events" where Brown would perform.
Michelle Blackwell, founder of the band Chocolate City, had gone to see Brown weekly since the age of 13 until early adulthood when her priorities shifted to raising her son, summarizes everyone's thoughts. "I miss his presence and what it meant to us all. In addition to the many things he brought to us, just his very presence gave me hope for the future of this genre with all he was doing with his most recent projects, Grammy nomination and his travels all over the world. He was our ambassador as was Lil Benny. Thank God we still have Jas. Funk, Bear, Buggs, Rapper, Gingus and other bandleaders, but Chuck transcended all the bad PR, inner bickering, subgenres and all of our issues. He was the embodiment of what we all strive to be. He was the complete package and the essence of Gogo in its purest form. Chuck Brown is/was the soul of Gogo. Thank God music is eternal and his music will live on forever. But the man is missed by us all!"
Blackwell will be a Special Guest along with Buggs of Junkyard and Sugar Bear from E.U. performing with the Chuck Brown All-Star Band for the annual birthday celebration on Thursday Night, August 22 at the Howard Theatre. Showtime 8:00pm Doors 6:00pm
Goldfogle, manager of The Chuck Brown All- Star Band promises, "We do have some special things planned!! This is a not to be missed show for Chuck fans and Go Go fans!"